iT'S NO FUN at the Bank anymore.
It hasn't been for a while.
The Phillies won the hearts of a city that had forgotten them by playing baseball with a joy unlike any other team in town.
They smiled. They laughed. They ran hard and they dived and they had a ton of fun.
Now, it's about dollars, and wins, and branding.
It has been ever since the Phillies broke the bank and raided their farm system for Roy Halladay, then Roy Oswalt, then Cliff Lee, then Jonathan Papelbon.
The ballclub has become a corporation. Each game is a venture. Each loss riles stockholders.
Yes, winning is fun. But even last year, in winning 102 games, the Phillies performed with precision, if not pleasure. It created a poisonous atmosphere.
So, this season, when the club needs extra pep, there is none. This 2012 squad is doomed to mediocrity by youth and injury and expectations.
Zero come-from-behind wins; a disconnect with a fan base that is not filling the seats the way it once did; and a 12-19 home record, worst in the league.
This is not chicken-or-egg.
Playing without abandon inevitably means playing badly. When the player who plays with the least abandon holds back, things get ugly.
"We need to have fun. We aren't. Until this past week or so, I was doing it, too," Victorino admitted to the Daily News. "Then I realized it. And I was, like, [bleep] it. Just let it all hang out. If I ground out to second base, I ground out to second base."
As it turned out Thursday, Victorino grounded to second base in the second inning … but with old-time hustle, he beat out the soft throw.
In the third, Victorino went first-to-third when he should not have. Cole Hamels did the same thing earlier in the inning. Hamels then scored from third when he should have stayed put.
"That's what I'm talking about," Victorino said. "Playing without fear."
Not everyone played fearlessly.
The Phillies committed three errors in their 8-3 loss that completed a four-game sweep for the visiting Dodgers and put the Phillies' losing streak at six games. That's the longest skid since September, which doesn't count, since they already had clinched the division.
They haven't lost six meaningful games in a row since interleague play in 2009, June 16-21.
The pressure on the pitchers — especially the bullpen — is crushing. The scrutiny on the lineup — especially Hunter Pence, Victorino and young John Mayberry — is unbearable.
"Every team has to have fun. But some of the guys on this team have been built up to be superstars," said manager Charlie Manuel. "What we've got is supplementary players."
With the team three games under .500, the alarm among the locals — especially the casual fan — is jarring.
The Phillies have noticed.
"The mood is created by us," Victorino said. "We need to go out there and have fun."
To have fun, they need a new persona. Its own groove.
Their leaders are sidelined. None is a sure bet to produce when he returns.
Ryan Howard is the most feared Phillie ever; Chase Utley, perhaps the most loved. Neither has played a game. Neither will, probably until July.
Halladay is an ace, but his ailing right shoulder has made him a losing pitcher, and he's out for 2 months. The body of 36-year-old Placido Polanco, a Gold Glove, All-Star third baseman, has betrayed him.
Nevertheless, the Phillies remain relevant. After 59 games. In a season with an extra wild-card playoff berth.
They had fun when they were hungry.
It was fun when Jayson Werth needed to prove himself. Werth, with his funky facial hair and irreverent nature and his poor baserunning instincts, is gone to Washington, a $126 million ball of resentment.
It was fun when fidgety reliever Ryan Madson ran his mouth and gave the party life. The Phillies chose pedigreed Papelbon over him, and Madson walked.
It was fun when Victorino had to justify the trade of Bobby Abreu and the departure of Aaron Rowand. It was fun when Cole Hamels had to justify his first-round status.
It was fun in 2007 and 2008 and 2009, when the team had an edge — and Raul Ibanez, and Werth, and Brad Lidge, and Madson.
"We don't have that edge," Victorino told the Daily News. "But this team needs to find its identity."
Before the firm of Halladay and Lee moved in with their $180 million in guaranteed salary, the team had an edge.
Now, the team has an agenda.
It has won a World Series. It has committed more than $170 million to players each of the past two seasons.
What organically grew into a family has been engineered into a machine.
Jimmy Rollins remains a self-contained, self-promoting entity. He is the same.
Carlos Ruiz, who wasn't supposed to make it out of Double A, never will take a moment in the majors for granted. He will never be anything but hungry. Ruiz is the Phillies' best player.
Ruiz, Rollins and Victorino lack the clubhouse footprint of Howard and Utley.
Howard promotes a level of focused goofiness.
Utley allows it.
"They're leaders," Manuel said.
Even if they're around the team, if they're not in the lineup, they do not impact the daily events.
As much as the Phillies miss the power of Howard and Utley, they might miss their presence even more.
It's one more reason for all of the losing.
And that's no fun for anyone. n