The Phillies infielders converged at the mound in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss Tuesday night, and Cody Asche was the loneliest man in Citizens Bank Park.
Mike Trout, the superstar an entire South Jersey town came to ogle, had just chopped a grounder at Asche. The 23-year-old third baseman backpedaled and lunged for the ball, which trickled past him.
Now, Asche stood on the slope of the mound, a few steps from his teammates. Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure motivated Cliff Lee, who was pushed to the brink because of Asche's sloppy fielding.
"I messed up," Asche said after the game. "We're in that situation because of myself. It happens."
It was a cringe-worthy moment for Asche, who committed three errors in the span of eight Angels batters. His mistakes led to four Angels runs in the sixth.
Lee pitched around further trouble in the seventh. The lefthander departed with no earned runs but an abundance of emptiness.
"The kid had a tough night at third base," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Those kind of games can happen."
The Phillies are three games under .500, tying their low point of this young season. They are 7-10 since April 23, the night Cole Hamels returned to the rotation and made the $189 million roster whole. Their starting pitchers have allowed one earned run over 14 innings in the last two games, both Phillies losses.
Asche participates in more pregame fielding drills than any other player. Bench coach Larry Bowa focused on Asche soon after spring training started, and Asche embraced the extra work. He committed few egregious errors during a 50-game tryout last season.
But he has failed many times this season to convert routine grounders into outs. It forced Sandberg to bench Asche for a period in April. On Tuesday, Asche became the first Phillies third baseman with three errors in a game since David Bell in 2005.
A cruel nightmare unfolded in the sixth.
Albert Pujols bounced one to Asche's left. He met the ball, but it skipped past him. That put runners at the corners. Howie Kendrick worked a six-pitch walk. Lee jumped ahead of Chris Iannetta with two strikes, then threw a high curveball that Iannetta tapped to third.
A leaping Asche snared it. But his throw home bounced and pulled Carlos Ruiz's left foot off the plate. Sandberg challenged the call, which was upheld by a 1-minute, 35-second replay review.
The misery worsened. Luis Jimenez, playing in his third game this season, took three balls from Lee. Angels manager Mike Scioscia gave his third baseman, who was hitting about .200, the green light, and he ripped a two-run double past a diving Asche and into the left-field corner. Iannetta, the catcher, scored standing up from first base.
Sandberg, for now, is committed to Asche.
"I don't think nights off are the answer," Sandberg said. "With our type of pitching staff - ground balls, and lefthanders that pitch inside - it's an important position for our pitching staff. We need pitching and defense to set the tone."
Lee completed seven innings; Sandberg said he had "shutout stuff." He was the first Phillies starter to allow four or more runs but none earned since Bruce Chen in 2001.
The largest home crowd since the opener came to watch Trout, who went 1 for 5. The Phillies were most excited to see Matt Shoemaker, a 27-year-old righthander who was promoted to the majors despite a 6.31 ERA at triple-A Salt Lake. He retired the first nine batters he faced on a mere 22 pitches.
The Phillies exercised patience in the fourth. Chase Utley tripled to right to score Ben Revere. He leads the National League in triples (3) and doubles (15). Utley is slugging .559 in 2014; his slugging percentage was .446 from 2010 to '13. Ryan Howard scored him with a single.
A 2-0 lead with Lee throwing felt insurmountable once. The Phillies, though, have held leads in 26 of their 37 games this season. They have 17 wins.
Asche assumed the blame for this particular failure.