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Phillies swinging dead wood Lack of run production is the focus back home

Back home in the city of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Phillies are desperate to find some love for their bats. The Phils are fortunate to even be in the World Series after a historic meltdown in the clutch during the first two games at Tampa Bay.

The Phillies have scored just five runs so far. They're 1 for 28 with runners in scoring position -- including a Series-record 0 for 13 in Game One. Their team batting average is .239. Only Shane Victorino (4 for 8) and Jayson Werth (3 for 9) have produced in both games. Take their numbers out and the Phillies are batting a combined .185.

Pretty amazing the Series is tied at a win apiece.

"I think it's a matter of the guys relaxing, and definitely we've got to cut down on our swing some," manager Charlie Manuel said Friday as the series shifted to Citizens Bank Park. "We're swinging hard. That's a sign of trying too hard and trying to do too much."

The Phillies hope to reverse their trends in Game Three, weather permitting (most forecasts have a 90 percent chance of rain). They have a tough test tonight against Rays pitcher Matt Garza, the Most Valuable Player in the American League Championship Series. Jamie Moyer, the 45-year-old curveball specialist, goes for the Phillies.

How are the Phils going to deal with Garza's heat and all the heat on their offense? Don't know really. Virtually all of the hitters were absent when the clubhouse was open to reporters after Friday's workout.

"I did all my talking last night," Victorino said as reporters began to close in on his locker. "Enjoy writing your stories, fellas."

It's been an ugly story so far. Jimmy Rollins is 0 for 10, Pat Burrell is 0 for 6 and Ryan Howard is 2 for 9. Designated hitters Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs are 1 for 7.

Howard has no home runs and three RBIs in the postseason -- after clubbing 48 longballs and driving in 146 runs in the regular season. He's come to the plate with seven men in scoring position in two games and left them all on base.

How can he change his luck? After Game Two, Howard had only sarcasm to offer and no real answers.

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe make contact? It's not like I say, 'Hey, there's a runner in scoring position. I think I'll strike out.' "

"During the season there's games when you don't hit and that's baseball," Manuel said. "And that's kind of human nature. There's a guy on the mound throwing the ball. I've been coaching a long time and managing. I used to go out there in [Minnesota's] instructional league, and I used to throw the curve to Kirby Puckett, and [Gary] Gaetti and [Kent] Hrbek, and I'd stand on the mound throwing straight fastballs.

"I'd go seven or eight innings in a simulated game and not give up a hit. So you explain that to me. Sometimes it's hard to explain. And that's why you play a game. We might walk out [tonight] and score 7, 8, 10 runs in the first inning. Who knows?"

One tweak Manuel might make would be to split up Chase Utley and Howard in the batting order. That could neutralize the use of lefty-lefty matchups for Tampa phenom David Price, who pitched the final 2 1/3 innings of Game Two.

"The length that he went definitely got my attention," Manuel said. "He went down through our lineup and back around again. . . . When I split [Howard and Utley] up sometimes it works. I'm not saying that I want to do that, but also it's up to our right-hand hitters to step up and hit those left-hand pitchers. They get paid, too."

The Rays are hardly exempt from offensive troubles in this Series. Tampa Bay actually has a lower batting average in the first two games (.207), with only 12 hits so far. After hitting 22 home runs in the first two rounds, Tampa has hit just one.

The teams have combined for just 11 runs in the first two games, the fewest since the Giants and A's combined for 11 in 1989.

Perhaps, it was suggested to Manuel, the background and lighting at Tropicana Field were an issue. The Phils' skipper scoffed at that.

"If that's not making an excuse or trying to find an excuse, I kind of look at it that way," Manuel said. "Especially when I see [Eric] Bruntlett come off the bench and hit a first-pitch fastball out of the yard [for a pinch homer in the eighth inning of Game Two]. We've had more chances to score than Tampa has so far. We could have scored a lot more runs, but we didn't."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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