LITTLE THINGS? You don't have to tell Charlie Manuel about the little things and how they can cost you ballgames.

No, sir. During the long, dark winter, the Phillies manager spent a lot of time dwelling on the little things that caused a layup shot at the playoffs to bounce away last September. He remembered having a lead against Houston going into the seventh inning and how it got away when Rick White and Matt Smith walked the bases full. He remembered Chase Utley's home run that wasn't in Washington when the umpire ruled that the ball had twisted foul instead of glancing off the pole in a game the Phillies ended up losing.

He also remembered that late in the season the Pirates played some guys out of position - like catcher Ryan Doumit at first - against the Padres . . . and twice lost by a single run. He remembered that the Giants used Mike Stanton to try to close a game against the Dodgers and that the move backfired. And that both San Diego and Los Angeles finished ahead of the Phillies, knocking the Phillies out of the wild-card race.

So, yeah, Manuel understands the importance of the little things. That's why the Phillies spent so much time this spring preaching playing the game right.

And why it was so frustrating the way the little things came back to bite them in yesterday's 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

The television highlights will focus on a pair of home runs by Atlanta shortstop Edgar Renteria, the second a two-run game-decider in the 10th off Ryan Madson. And that's as it should be.

But baseball is full of what-ifs. It's part of what makes the game so much fun.

So what if Utley's tracer to rightfield in the fourth hadn't nicked Ryan Howard as he ran from first to second?

The Braves had taken a 2-0 lead off Phillies starter Brett Myers in the top of the inning, but Howard led off with a base hit against John Smoltz and Utley followed with a shot that would have been expected to leave the Phils with runners at first and third, nobody out.

Except that two umpires immediately threw up their hands, signaling that the ball had hit Howard. He was out. Pat Burrell walked and the runners moved up to second and third when Wes Helms grounded out, and the Phillies came up empty when Aaron Rowand made the final out.

But what if Rowand's line drive hadn't been straight at Renteria? A few feet to either side and both runners might have scored.

Those, at least, were little things that were largely out of their control. But what if the Phillies had been able to just make contact after Myers walked and Jimmy Rollins doubled to start the seventh? By then the Phillies had taken a 3-2 lead. If they had been able to expand on that, the game might never have made it to extra innings in the first place.

Instead, Shane Victorino and Howard struck out and Utley grounded out, keeping the Braves within striking distance. It was a disheartening reminder of all the times last season the Phillies had a chance to put games away with late insurance runs and didn't get it done.

"We led the league in runs scored last year and we also led in men left on base," Manuel said after the game. "I look at that as positive. You look at it as negative."

What was really disheartening for the Phillies, though, was that the Braves had just as many little things go against them. And still won.

With two outs and a runner on first in the sixth, Helms doubled over the head of Andruw Jones in center. Two years ago, almost certainly, Jones would have caught that ball.

Rowand, the next batter, popped up. Converted outfielder Kelly Johnson, playing his first regular-season big-league game at second base, dropped the ball as both runners crossed the plate.

And Renteria hit his game-winning homer only after twice failing to get a bunt down.

Little things? You don't have to tell Charlie Manuel how important the little things can be. *