David Murphy: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn't have a whole lot to work with

Hunter Pence begins and ends Phils’ scoring with RBI single in first inning. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Hunter Pence begins and ends Phils’ scoring with RBI single in first inning. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: June 07, 2012

IT WAS THERE. For two innings, it was there: the crowd roaring with each pitch, the rightfielder gunning down a baserunner, the starting pitcher throwing out the lead runner on a sacrifice attempt. Cliff Lee was dominating and the Phillies were winning and for one of the few times this season, Citizens Bank Park was alive with the kind of energy that used to come standard with each home game.

And then it was gone. A hanging curve, a saucer-eyed swing, a 5-11 leftfielder crashing into the wall, and that was that. The lead vanished, and so did the noise, and Citizens Bank Park returned its sad state of normalcy, host to a team with too little punch and too few weapons and not enough ability to power the ball into play.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run on first base, Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker did his best to sell the introduction of pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot as potential savior. But it was hard to focus on anything but the last syllable.

Now batting for the Phillies ... Noooooo!

That about sums up the season, doesn’t it? Down, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run on base, Charlie Manuel looks down at his bench and sees Fontenot, Pete Orr, Brian Schneider and Hector Luna as the last men standing between the Phillies and a fourth straight loss. It was the kind of loss that can fool you into believing that it might have been avoided, until you realize that you are quibbling over which former Lehigh Valley IronPig should have been facing the closer throwing cutters in the mid-90s.

Hell, maybe it could have been avoided Tuesday night, but simple truth is that the Phillies, at least in their current incarnation, are going to lose these games most of the time, because the Phillies are a .500 team, and that is what .500 teams do. Manuel said Tuesday night that he would not have pulled Lee in the eighth inning even if he had a lights-out set-up man at his disposal. The veteran lefty allowed a double to Matt Treanor to start the eighth, putting the tying run at second base as his pitch count neared 120. But Manuel says he still liked Lee.

And maybe he did. But at some point down the line, in a situation similar to the one he faced Tuesday night, Manuel is going to need to have another option, and the fact that he lacks one is why he is the manager of a .500 team. So is the fact that Fontenot was the first pinch-hitter off the bench, and the fact that diminutive veteran Juan Pierre was in leftfield when Elian Herrera smashed a hanging curveball and sent it soaring to the alley, where Pierre could not make the grab while crashing into the wall. You might second-guess whether John Mayberry Jr. should have been in the game as a defensive replacement, except you are probably already second-guessing Manuel’s decision to not bat Pierre and his rosy on-base percentage at the leadoff spot, and Pierre was due to lead off the next inning, which is why Manuel kept him in there.

Pierre, it should be noted, took the blame for the loss, saying that he watched video of the play and deemed the ball to be catchable.

"I’ve got to make that catch," he said, shrugging off the degree of difficulty that prevented him from doing so.

Maybe Mayberry would have made it. But like Fontenot-or-Orr-or-Luna conundrum, the mere fact that we are discussing whether Mayberry or Pierre should have been in leftfield is why the Phillies are a .500 team. It is why they can score one run in the first inning and none in the next eight and let another marvelous pitching effort go to waste. It is why they are losers of four straight. It is why they are 28-29 overall. It is why they have scored three or fewer runs in 26 games. It is why they are 1-28 when tied or trailing after eight innings.

It is why the Phillies are 12-17 at Citizens Bank Park, and why the energy that was so abundant in previous years is now in short supply.  

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com.

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