PHILADELPHIA -- A few days ago, things were looking up for the Phillies. They were riding a six-game winning streak and fans seemed at ease. But since then, the worries have started to mount.
The Phillies remain in the National League East basement after losing their season-high fourth straight game on Tuesday, 5-2, to the Nationals. The loss left Philadelphia two games under .500 at 21-23. Its offense continued to struggle hitting with runners in scoring position. And ace Roy Halladay lost to the Nats franchise on Tuesday for the first time in nearly a decade.
Halladay, whose record fell to 4-4, said the losses are frustrating, but the team has to put them in the past.
"The first two months have been tough for all of us," he said. "You do everything you can to fix it, that's it. I think it gets back to going out and trying to play a little bit more loose and focus on your job. I think, including myself, we've got a lot of guys who are going out and trying to carry the weight of the team. You can't play that way. I think we've seen that."
A 1-for-7 performance with runners in scoring position brought Philadelphia's four-game total to 5-for-38. The Phillies left nine runners on base, and their lone runs came off the bats of two recent callups from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies are searching for answers, and the return dates of injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are still unknown.
"We do it about every night," manager Charlie Manuel said of the situational hitting woes. "It gets to the point where you're just trying to get somebody in. You're sitting there pulling as hard as we can, but that's how it is."
The Phillies entered Tuesday ranked last in the Major Leagues at scoring a runner from third base with less than two outs. They score the man on third only 37 percent of the time, which is 13 percent below the league average.
That situation presented itself in the third inning Tuesday, when a Shane Victorino double gave Philadelphia runners on second and third with one out. Hunter Pence struck out on a 2-2 slider from Jordan Zimmermann and Brian Schneider flew out to center to end the inning.
Schneider had entered the game earlier that inning, when starting catcher Carlos Ruiz was thrown out for arguing balls and strikes.
Three of Nationals' four third-inning runs against Halladay were already in when Ruiz was thrown out. Arguably the franchise's most reliable pitcher from 2010-11, Halladay entered Tuesday with an 11-1 record and a 2.28 ERA against the Nationals franchise. The lone blemish happened on June 28, 2002, when he pitched for the Blue Jays and was handed a 2-1 loss by what were then the Montreal Expos.
Bryce Harper, who was 9 years old when Halladay first lost to the Nationals/Expos, struck the key blow on Tuesday in the decisive third. Halladay started Harper with a curveball, a pitch the right-hander later said he wanted back more than any other he threw Tuesday. Harper tripled to right-center field to knock in two runs.
"That was one that really kind of took the wind of our sails," Halladay said.
Harper, who walked out to a smattering of boos prior to his first at-bat, scored on an Adam LaRoche sacrifice fly, and Ian Desmond's solo home run made it a four-run frame. Rick Ankiel led off the fourth with a home run to center to make it 5-1.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Harper's triple was the turning point in the game. Harper said he's spent years preparing for the confrontation.
"I have been watching Halladay for three years, and he throws a first-pitch curveball to so many people and just left it get over the plate," Harper said. "I was just trying to get something up in that situation, get something going."
The Phillies, who put runners on second base in every inning from the second to the fifth, scored their lone runs on a Hector Luna RBI double that bounced over the fence and into the bushes in center field and an Erik Kratz solo homer to dead center, the first of his career.
With the loss, Halladay now has a 3.58 ERA. The last time Halladay's ERA was this high this late in the season was when he finished the 2007 season with a 3.71 ERA.
The Phillies will look to Cole Hamels in series finale on Wednesday. It will be the first time Hamels has faced Harper since Hamels admitted to purposely hitting the Nationals outfielder with a pitch on May 6.
The Phillies are just hungry for a win.
"A lot of us need to just go out, play the game and have fun," Halladay said. "When you start pressing, start trying to do things you don't need to do, it makes things worse."
Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.