PHILADELPHIA -- Somewhere, Armando Benitez is laughing. The Giants' bullpen proved in Sunday's 9-8 loss to the Phillies that it's entirely capable of squandering a lead without Benitez involved. Ryan Howard's three-run homer off Jack Taschner concluded Philadelphia's five-run seventh inning, which erased a 7-3 Giants edge. Hawaii native Shane Victorino, whose grass-skirt-clad likeness appeared on figurines distributed to Citizens Bank Park patrons, homered off Kevin Correia to snap an 8-8 tie in the ninth.
While this might have been a perfect conclusion for the Phillies' daylong celebration of Hawaiian culture, the Giants (26-29) are performing as if they've ingested too many mai tais. They've lost seven of their last nine, including four of six on this 10-game trip, and own a 14-21 record since their ephemeral eight-game winning streak ended in late April. Their 6 1/2-game deficit in the National League West is their largest of the season. On Saturday, the relievers talked bravely about receiving heightened chances to shine following the departure of the unpopular Benitez, who was traded to the Marlins last Thursday night. On Sunday, they couldn't capitalize on the opportunity to assert themselves. Ultimately, Benitez's presence -- or absence -- made no difference to a collection of mostly younger relievers who are still trying to establish themselves in the Major Leagues. "We've had that need the whole year," Correia said. "Just because Armando was here doesn't mean we had any leeway to give up runs or pitch poorly. We weren't expected to do well at the beginning of the year. That was the talk, that we were the weak spot. That was enough motivation for us to try to pitch well from Day 1, not because Armando was here or not." "Obviously, everyone can say what they want about Armando, but it's a collective unit down there," Taschner said. "It's never one person. You're coming into the eighth or ninth inning, it's a lot more glaring than in the fifth or sixth inning." The middle innings were kind to the Giants. A series of Phillies misplays helped them score five runs in the fifth and sixth innings to grab a 7-3 lead. Giants starter Tim Lincecum was pitching less than his best, but still seemed poised to improve to 3-0. But Lincecum lapsed in the seventh inning, as the Phillies trimmed the difference to 7-5 in the span of his first five pitches. Aaron Rowand singled and Carlos Ruiz doubled before Wes Helms doubled to score them both. "It seemed like they were on my fastball today," Lincecum said. "Even when I threw my curveball, they were hitting those, too. That's when I started burying my curveball a little bit more." Lincecum recovered to strike out Jimmy Rollins and retire Victorino on a fly to center. With left-handed-batting Chase Utley and Howard due up, Giants manager Bruce Bochy opted for the left-handed Taschner, who had a rocky eighth-inning outing on Saturday when he walked and allowed a double to the only batters he faced. Taschner slipped two called strikes past Utley but still walked him, bringing Howard to the plate. Again Taschner forged ahead on the count, 1-2, before flinging a fastball virtually down the middle. As Howard completed the swing that propelled the ball over the center-field barrier, catcher Bengie Molina sprang from his crouch and flung his right fist toward the ground in disgust, demonstrating his frustration. The fateful pitch was supposed to be high and outside, like the one Howard chased one pitch earlier. "I didn't even execute the final pitch," Taschner said. "I just put it on a tee for him. No matter how hard it is, you throw it belt-high down the middle and [a home run] is what you're going to get. The guy is the reigning [NL] MVP. Whether he's hot or not right now doesn't matter. Guys like that don't miss that pitch." The Giants actually rebounded from this disappointment by tying the score in the ninth. After Fred Lewis and Ryan Klesko drew walks on 3-2 pitches from Ryan Madson, Kevin Frandsen lined an RBI single to left field off Antonio Alfonseca. That gave the Giants only a temporary reprieve, as Victorino lofted his opposite-field drive to left on Correia's 1-0 pitch with one out in the ninth. The ball wasn't scorched, creating the impression that it was a product of the hitter-friendly ballpark. Asked if Victorino's homer might not have cleared the wall in some other parks, Correia responded, "You name me one other one." But, he added, "He put a good swing on it and hit it good." Correia was right. In the end, the Giants had no excuses.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.