Phillies fall again to Braves

Posted: July 29, 2012

ATLANTA - Ruben Amaro Jr. watched this latest failure, a 2-1 Phillies loss to the Braves, from the Turner Field press box. He fiddled on his iPad and talked with a few team officials. There was no magic button to push Saturday, the night this charmless season may have unofficially died.

Eleven minutes after Chase Utley took strike three to end it, Amaro and three of his lieutenants emerged from a somber Phillies clubhouse and scurried away with decisions to make. They had met briefly with manager Charlie Manuel, who was later asked to consider the possibility of his boss raising the white flag.

"I don't know," Manuel said. "I've been hearing that for so long I've kind of gotten immune to it. How long have I been hearing that?"

Maybe for a couple weeks?

"A couple weeks? Sounds like 10 years," Manuel said. "Feels like it."

The 2012 Phillies: It feels like 101 games of misery have taken 10 years.

At times Saturday, all Amaro could do was stare into the abyss. The defense made more mistakes. The offense stumbled against a pitcher with a 5.49 ERA. There was little energy from a team with its fate in the balance.

The Phillies are 111/2 games back of the second wild card with eight teams ahead of them. They have shown improvement since the all-star break, and all they have gained is nothing. In fact, they have lost 11/2 games in the wild-card race since then.

Amaro established a modest goal of winning two from the Braves during this weekend series. One more loss Sunday and the Phillies would be swept, which the GM said would make things "very daunting."

A year ago, Amaro put the finishing touches on a blockbuster deal to acquire Hunter Pence, the righthanded bat the GM believed was the missing piece to another championship.

"Yeah," Pence said, "it's difficult to understand how we got here from there."

Atlanta scored twice in the game's first three innings without the benefit of an extra-base hit, and it was enough.

Utley homered in the fourth, which provided a glimmer of Phillies hope. (Utley reached five home runs in 213 plate appearances last season. It took a mere 92 in 2012.) It was the only blemish against Mike Minor for eight innings.

Ultimately, Utley was standing at home plate when the night was lost. He took strike two and then strike three, which was a 99-m.p.h. Craig Kimbrel fastball on the corner.

At least Joe Blanton performed well Saturday, possibly pitching his way into a trade. The current pitching market is deprived of decent options. He has allowed seven runs in his last three starts (23 innings) and has a 3.55 ERA over his last eight starts. He leads the National League in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has pitched six or more innings in each of his last 10 starts.

"You try not to think about it," Blanton said of a possible trade. When asked to describe his time in Philadelphia, he said: "Phenomenal."

That is, until the possible end.

"I think a lot of guys are kind of thrown off by it and trying to figure out why and all that stuff," Blanton said. ". . . It kind of makes your mind spin a little bit."

Blanton has his warts, but he could certainly improve a contending team's rotation. That could allow the Phillies some salary relief - Blanton is owed about $3 million for the remainder of the season - or possibly net them a young bullpen chip.

Either way, the focus is shifting toward 2013. Amaro has made a trade July 29 in each of the last three summers. The circumstances this time, of course, are vastly different.

"The season's not over yet," Pence said. "We're not saying that."

These Phillies need not voice it; 2 hours and 14 minutes of baseball Saturday said plenty.

Contact Matt Gelb at or follow on Twitter @magelb

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