Stephen A. Smith | Laughable, but it's just not funny

If the Phillies were nearly as attractive as the park they play in, perhaps there would be something to cheer about. But everyone knows that is not the case, mainly because they can't pitch, can't get a trade out of their front office, and can't hoodwink anyone into thinking otherwise.

The Phillies are not officially a joke, folks, but they are inching closer after yesterday's 8-3 loss at Citizens Bank Park - despite what their 41-40 record might indicate.

Any major-league team that goes against a division-leading rival in a four-game series and puts three rookies with a combined four starts in front of paying customers should be mocked and laughed out of its own city - after giving those customers the difference for what they would have been charged had they attended a triple-A game.

Take a moment and ponder how Mets manager Willie Randolph must have felt knowing his defending National League East champions would be facing no-names J.D. Durbin, J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick (today's starter).

"Let's just say I'm not complaining," Randolph said after watching Paul Lo Duca, David Wright and Carlos Beltran smack home runs.

Actually, the complaining should be reserved for Phillies fans, specifically the 45,003 in attendance who didn't discover that Happ wasn't ready for major-league duty until after he had surrendered seven hits and five earned runs in four innings, then was sent back to the minors before he had a chance to remove his uniform.

This situation is such a shame because, deep down, you want this team to succeed, but you know there's no way it will.

The Phillies called up pitcher Anderson Garcia after the game. (No, we don't know him, either.) So, with Jon Lieber, Francisco Rosario, Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers and Tom Gordon on the disabled list - throw Scott Mathieson in there, too - the Phils are handcuffed better than most prisoners.

Worse, they don't seem that upset about it.

Obviously, the Phillies lack spending money and any interest in spending the little they claim to have. So we can scratch the idea of acquiring a quality starting pitcher such as Steve Trachsel or Carlos Zambrano or relievers such as Eric Gagne, Aki Otsuka or Chad Cordero. Where exactly does that leave this team for the rest of the season?

"With the injuries we've got, it's obvious that we're thin," centerfielder Aaron Rowand said. "So we need help. But if [there is] just not a lot out there, we're just going to have to do it from within, with the guys that we have. All these guys here have lockers with numbers on their lockers that doesn't say [general manager] next to it. So we can't do too much about it."

Which brings me to my saddest point: Charlie Manuel. Baffling doesn't begin to describe the flustered Phillies skipper as he tried yesterday to explain the state of his team.

"Any time you have to give up something to get something, it's going to cost you," was one of Manuel's points.

"I wouldn't want to give up some of our core players - Utley, Rollins, Howard, someone like that," was another point.

The word duh comes to mind, along with a few head scratches. But it also comes with a touch of sympathy to his plight.

This is what can happen to a man forced to put a pitcher - Durbin on Friday - on the mound who had been on four teams since spring training, a man obligated to spew the company line instead of calling the company out, a man stuck with a team that simply can't win. The Phillies are destined to spend an exorbitant number of days beating themselves before their bats (i.e., another homer from Ryan Howard yesterday) are even given a chance.

"It's all a part of the season," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, feeling the effects of losing three straight to a team that he promised the Phils would dethrone this fall.

The Mets "came in here the first three games with something to prove," Rollins said. "Now if this were September, it would be devastating, no doubt about that. But it's still June. There's still time for this team to get hot and play good ball and for teams to fall off. We have a couple of issues, but we've worked our way through to this point. We just have to find our way through the woods again."

Good luck.

For all of us. Not just Rollins and the Phillies.


Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillynews.com.