Chase Utley and Charlie Manuel argue a disputed call in the ninth inning of the Phillies' loss to the Braves. (AP)
A month ago, the Phillies hoped this would be the start of a big series.
That was before the losses started piling up.
Now, it might be an important series for the Atlanta Braves, but for the Phillies it’s just three games on a march to nowhere.
The series that might have been began Friday night with the Phillies absorbing a 6-4 loss to the NL East-leading Braves at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
Atlanta has won eight in a row to improve to 65-45.
The Phils are a miserable 50-59 and sit just percentage points ahead of the fourth-place New York Mets, who are 49-58. Both clubs are 14 1/2 games behind the Braves.
To get firmly into the division race, the Phillies needed to come out of the gate with a bang after the All-Star break. Instead, they’ve come out with a dud. They have lost 11 of 13 games after the break.
There’s no crying in baseball, so manager Charlie Manuel allowed himself a good laugh after this loss. He wasn’t happy about the defeat. But he couldn’t help but laugh about getting a quick hook for arguing with the umpires in the bottom of the ninth inning. Jimmy Rollins was also booted. It was just the second ejection of his career and first since Aug. 2004.
“It might have been time he got thrown out, really,” Manuel said with a laugh. “That’s a long time. It’s time for him to go a few times.
“I don’t mean to laugh because losing isn’t anything to laugh about. But it’s kind of the way things are going for us. We’re having a hard time of things going our way. At the same time, we’re not doing a whole lot to make them go our way. We’ll come out tomorrow to see if things can go our way, OK?”
Manuel and Rollins were ejected after Delmon Young was called out on strikes for the first out in the bottom of the ninth. He foul-tipped a third strike into catcher Brian McCann’s glove. Replays showed the ball hit the ground before finding McCann’s glove. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza and first base umpire Gary Cederstrom both claimed McCann made a clean grab.
Manuel got a quick heave from Cederstrom; he must have said something good. Things had started to calm down when Rollins got rolled. He had seen a replay on the TV behind the dugout and came out to the top step to give Carapazza an earful. Bye-bye.
“Everybody knew he missed the call but him,” Rollins said of Carapazza. “Even Brian (McCann) was surprised he had the ball. He was like, ‘Ooh, look what I’ve got.’"
Rollins wanted Carapazza to check the ball for a scuff mark, but Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel alertly threw the ball into the Braves’ dugout, where it got lost.
In the end, the missed call mattered little.
The Phillies opened July by going 9-4 to close within 6 1/2 games of the Braves. Now they are in freefall.
“You go out and play ball and hope it turns around,” Rollins said. “But it hasn’t.”
Friday night’s game offered a ray of excitement when hard-throwing right-hander Ethan Martin came up from Triple A to replace rookie Jonathan Pettibone, who went on the DL with tightness in his right shoulder.
Martin, 24, joined the Phillies from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade last year. He figures to join Pettibone, who is just 23, full-time in the Phils’ rotation down the road.
Martin grew up in the Atlanta area so facing the Braves in his big-league debut was an extra thrill. He came out of the gate firing 96 mph heat and struck out four of the Braves’ first seven hitters.
By the middle innings, the Braves’ hitters had gotten a look at Martin and the pitcher’s fastball had lost a few ticks. That resulted in the Braves scoring five runs in the fifth inning to blow the game open. McCann and Chris Johnson had back-to-back homers. McCann’s was his 20th in 123 career games against the Phils. He has 79 RBIs against the Phils.
McCann’s homer came on a 2-2 fastball that was actually up and out of the strike zone. He turned it around in a blur. The Braves lead the NL with 135 homers.
“Their lineup, they do strikeout quite a bit, but after you go through once or twice, if you’re still throwing high fastballs, you got a chance to get in trouble because they can get on those,” Manuel said. “I think that’s why McCann loves hitting in our ballpark. Every time we throw him a high fastball, he’s right on it.”
Martin said it was a dream come true to make his first big-league start, but he wasn’t happy with how he fared.
“It was a tough one to swallow, especially in that fifth inning,” he said. “I didn’t make good pitches in that inning.”