Where's the fire?

Ryan Madson, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard just don't have the same look they had a year ago. It seems the Phillies have lost their fire. (Ron Cortes/Inquirer)

A few real quick things this morning.

1) Both Charlie Manuel and Brett Myers yesterday brought up the fact that they thought the team was too tight. One of the big keys to success, they said, was recapturing some of the vigor they displayed last season down the stretch. It all made sense to me. But then Chase Utley said something that made a lot of sense too, and made me think again that the problem with this team is a lot more fundamental than its inner psychology. I'm paraphrasing here, but Utley pretty much said that teams who are having success at the plate tend to look a lot more fired up. It is kind of a chicken-and-egg thing: maybe that vigor last season came from the fact that the Phils were absolutely hitting the cover off the ball, and when you are hitting the cover off the ball its a lot easier to feel like you are invincible.

2) Speaking of hitting the cover off the ball, the Phils haven't been horrible at the plate lately. But their situational hitting continues to plague them. When the pitcher leads off an inning with a double, it's a killer when he doesn't end up scoring.

3) Here's something I didn't pay much attention to in my game story or notebook today, but is as big a storyline as any swirling around this team. For the past month, the eighth inning has existed as some sort of Bermuda Triangle for this team. Yesterday, they gave up a lead in the eighth, as they did a couple of times in Chicago and once against the Mets. That wasn't a problem when Tom Gordon was healthy and pitching this season. J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin have been great all season for this team. Without them, the Phils probably wouldn't be as close to the postseason as they are. But Tom Gordon was a true, veteran set-up man who knew how to close down an eighth inning.

4) On a lighter note, Jamie Moyer showed why he is such a professional yesterday. For close to an hour before yesterday's game, he guided the family of Tyler Babel around Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies clubhouse, introducing them to players and chatting about life in general. Babel is the six-year-old who was struck in the face by a foul ball off the bat of Jeremy Hermida in early August. Babel spent three days at CHOP recovering from three fractures in his face, but seems to be doing well. A lot of times these type of things are real cursory: Babels, player, player, Babels. Sign a few balls, take a few pictures, get back to business. But Moyer and the rest of the Phils were great. So Taguchi hooked Tyler and his older brother up with a pair of bats. Cole Hamels chatted about school with them. Shane Victorino hung out by his locker with them. Jimmy Rollins, as he always is with kids, was great. The look on the two kids' faces were priceless when Chase Utley stopped to talk. I don't think Tyler will ever remember that the Phillies went on to lose a baseball game yesterday.