Braves sweep Phillies, Charlie Manuel on hot seat?

Charlie Manuel lumbered up to the podium, fully aware of the bullets about to be fired at him. The Phillies skipper begins every postgame press conference by reciting his starting pitcher’s stat line.

Not yesterday. Not after a painful 4-3 loss. Not after being swept away by the Atlanta Braves. Manuel opened it up immediately to questions. He insists he’s tried everything to motivate his underachieving ballclub. Everything just isn’t working.

“I’ll keep trying because I never ever let up,” Manuel said. “I will always try, every day I come to the ballpark, I will always try to win.”

The Phils had the lead twice Sunday, but coughed it up both times. When Manuel turned a tie game over to his bullpen in the seventh inning, it only took 14 pitches for Atlanta to grab the lead. Brian McCann’s solo homer bounced off the ivy in center field and sent Raul Valdes (2-2) to the showers.

The Phillies are 13 games under .500. It marks just the fourth time in the last 15 seasons that the team will enter the All-Star break below .500. Their 37 wins are the fewest at the break since 1997.

“We just don’t play good enough to win,” Manuel said. “Today was a good example of most of our games.”

As the losses pile up, the Phillies’ brass will be making some tough decisions between now and the July 31 trading deadline. Players, possibly Shane Victorino and/or Cole Hamels, will be sent packing. Coaches, maybe even Manuel, could soon find themselves in the unemployment line. Until that call comes, the skipper is going to keep fighting.

“I got a lot of confidence in myself and I am a fighter. And not only that, I think I’m a winner,” Manuel said, before reeling off a list of his accomplishments. “I’m going to do my job as hard as I possibly can and as good as I possibly can and that’s all I can do, and the rest is out of my control.”

Is Victorino on the trading block?

When Shane Victorino was scratched from the lineup yesterday, rumors swirled that he had been traded. That turned out to be false. The Flyin’ Hawaiian was so distraught over his poor play — he’s batting .245 and hasn’t homered since June 8 — that Manuel gave him the day off. Victorino wasn’t available for comment after the game.

“I saw him in the clubhouse, he was down,” Manuel said. “First time I seen him exactly like that. He’s going through a tough time.”

Jason Pridie got the start — his first in a Phillies uniform — and stroked a home run in his first at-bat. The 28-year-old journeyman finished 2-for-3 while knocking in all three Phillies runs. The fans out in center field gave him a nice serenade early in the game.

“You got great fans here, always selling out and, I know from playing against these guys last year, how tough the fans can be and how great the fans can be,” Pridie said. “It was good to come out and do that on my first at-bat, better than striking out or something.”

Three things we saw …

1. Texas can’t hold ’em. The Phils just couldn’t hold a lead. Pridie’s two-run homer staked them a 2-0 advantage, which Vance Worley gave back two innings later. Pridie’s double put them up 3-2, but they saw that vanish. Predictably, the bullpen sealed their fate again.

2. Heel-ing nicely. Ryan Howard couldn’t buy a hit, but his glove work put to rest any questions about his injured Achilles. Howard sprawled out like Bernie Parent to dig out a sharply hit liner. He scooped it and looked pain-free as he raced to the bag to record the out.

3. Closing time. Charlie Manuel has rarely used Jonathan Papelbon in non-save situations, but he called out the heavy artillery with his squad down a run in the ninth. Papelbon trotted out to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and mowed down the side (two strikeouts, pop out) after allowing a lead-off single.

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