CINCINNATI - There's no getting around it. With each game that passes, the Phillies' season more and more resembles a game of Whack-A-Mole. As soon as they think they have two areas addressed, another situation pops up that demands their attention.
Not everybody thought moving Opening Day starter Brett Myers to the bullpen and replacing him in the rotation with Jon Lieber was such a swell idea. So what happened?
Lieber pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in his first start of the season, allowing a lonely hit and a walk while striking out five.
Myers pitched a scoreless eighth in his new role as setup man.
And just when the Phillies were starting to feel as if they had it all covered . . .
With two outs and nobody on base in the ninth and the Phillies clinging desperately to a 1-0 lead, closer Tom Gordon fell behind Scott Hatteberg and then threw a breaking ball that was supposed to be away but got a little too much of the plate. This time it was Hatteberg who did the whacking.
His home run to right-center tied the score and sent the game into extra innings. Manager Charlie Manuel had already used five relievers to get the game to that point and Ryan Madson wasn't available after throwing 45 pitches on Thursday, leaving only Francisco Rosario as an option.
So the 39-year-old Gordon, who warmed up three times Wednesday and pitched Thursday, went back out for yet another inning. Two walks and a single loaded the bases and Brandon Phillips singled past the drawn-up infield to give the Reds a dramatic, 2-1 walkoff win in the 10th.
The Phillies are 4-11 and have yet to win back-to-back games this season. The last time they got this deep into a schedule without at least a modest two-game winning streak was 1982, when it took them 22 games to accomplish that.
But the crisis du jour now centers on Gordon. He is just 3-for-5 in save opportunities, is still looking for his first 1-2-3 inning of the season and has a 5.68 earned run average.
Manuel moved quickly to cut off speculation that he might consider moving Gordon into the setup role and using Myers in save situations.
"Flash is our closer," he said. "We don't want to jump to anything. We haven't even discussed that. In some ways, there's no need to discuss it. We need to get him sharp. And, at the same time, we have to break Brett in. He was definitely fired up and moving a little fast [last night]."
Gordon remained upbeat. "Just by the fact that I've been able to get much better strengthwise," he said. "I'll get there eventually. I just hope it's real soon."
Well, yeah. Because, if it's not real soon it just might be too late.
What made this loss especially disheartening was that, until the bitter end, it looked as if the Phillies were on the way to winning the kind of game that contending teams win.
They had only one hit with a runner in scoring position. And that didn't even score a run. Their only score was unearned, the result of two Reds errors in the fifth.
And they almost won anyway because Lieber pitched so well and because they were able to wiggle out of trouble in the sixth.
With one out, Ryan Freel reached second on a throwing error by third baseman Abraham Nunez. Lieber compounded the problem by making an awkward pickoff attempt that rolled in the general direction of shortstop and into the outfield.
He struck out the dangerous Adam Dunn, then handed the ball to Manuel after throwing 76 pitches. The only problem was that Geoff Geary came in and walked Phillips. Manuel then brought in Matt Smith, playing the lefty-lefty percentages with hot-hitting Josh Hamilton at the plate. And Smith walked Hamilton to load the bases.
Manuel went to his bullpen again, bringing in Antonio Alfonseca, who finally ended the inning by getting Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a force play at second.
When Hatteberg stepped up to the plate to face Gordon in the ninth, the Reds had only one hit in the whole game.
"I caught Flash [in Boston]," Hatteberg said. "I kind of have an idea of what he's going to do. He got behind, threw a cutter and left it over the plate. I happened to get good wood on it."
Under different circumstances, Lieber could have talked about how pleased he was to be back in the rotation. Not the way the game ended, though.
"It's not about me. It's a tough loss," he said. "We're a little snakebit right now. I thought Flash threw the ball great. One pitch and [Hatteberg] ran into it. And, in my opinion, he got a little squeezed in the 10th."
Before the game, Manuel parried skepticism of switching Myers and Lieber with a question of his own.
"What made Columbus famous?" he asked with a sly grin.
Shrugs all around.
"He took a chance," the manager answered, clearly pleased with his ability to stump the press box. "What the hell? If it turns out bad, it turns out bad and the consequences will be bad. I look at it as a chance to make our pitching stronger."
Last night, for at least one game, it made the pitching stronger.
And it still didn't matter.