PHILADELPHIA -- What was left of the announced 45,356 fans at Citizens Bank Park shuffled out of the stadium Sunday after watching the Phillies struggle their way through a 5-1 loss to the Marlins in which they managed just six hits.
Even in the ninth inning, when the Phillies had runners on first and second with just one out, a comeback was going to be tough to muster. Especially when the Phils are winless in the 21 games they've trailed after seven innings. Especially when they don't have the one-two punch of All-Star power hitters like they've had in recent years, multiple players in a row who can spark a comeback with one huge swing of the bat.
"When we get down four, five, six runs, yeah it's hard for us to come back," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We used to come back much easier, cause we could hit the ball out of the yard more consistent, and we had more guys that could hit the ball out of the yard."
But after the game, Chase Utley gave fans their best baseball news of the day. The injured second baseman was packing his bags for Clearwater, Fla., where he would start playing in extended spring games. Utley still doesn't know when he will return to play for the Phillies, but heading down south is a step in the right direction.
"I felt good for probably the last 10 days or so," a smiling Utley said. "Knock on wood, hopefully that continues."
The Phillies could've used Utley's offense on Sunday. With the loss, they squandered their opportunity to win their third consecutive series for the first time this season. They fell to 28-27 and remained in last place in the tight National League East.
Marlins starter Carlos Zambrano retired 13 straight from the second inning through the beginning of the sixth, and the Phillies managed just four hits off Zambrano, who said he pitched through the flu, with a headache and a sore throat.
"My arm felt good, and that's the most important thing," Zambrano said.
"I played with him [with the Cubs], when he was [throwing closer to 94 or 95 mph], and he had that in his back hip," said Juan Pierre, who had half of the Phillies' hits and their lone RBI on Sunday. "Today, he relied on a lot of movement, changing speeds and he chopped us up pretty good today. We never could get any pressure on him."
On the mound for Philadelphia, Joe Blanton allowed five runs over six-plus innings and was handed his third loss in his last four starts. Despite the defeat, Blanton said he was encouraged by his performance. He said his command was better than it was in his previous few starts.
"You never want to give up five runs, but I felt like it was a huge improvement over the way I threw the last two or three times," Blanton said. "Even though the results don't look much better, I felt like it was a lot better."
In the third inning, Blanton threw a first-pitch fastball high to Zambrano, known as one of the game's best hitting pitchers. It would have been a ball, but Zambrano geared up and crushed it for his 24th career home run to put the Marlins up, 1-0. It was the second straight game Blanton surrendered a long ball to the opposing club's starting pitcher. Blanton's the first to do that in back-to-back-starts since Glendon Rusch in 2006, according to ESPN.
Hanley Ramirez, who hit two homers off Cole Hamels on Saturday, launched an 0-2 changeup that was low and out of the strike zone into the flowerbed in left field to lead off the fourth.
Through six innings, the two home runs were the only real blunders to Blanton's line. However, he walked John Buck to lead off the seventh and a Chris Coghlan broken-bat grounder made its way through the hole at shortstop. Zambrano then bunted for a single to load the bases, inciting a mound visit from pitching coach Rich Dubee. The very next pitch Blanton threw was a changeup, and Jose Reyes hit it into the right-center field gap for a two-run double.
"I made a mistake," Blanton said. "I threw a changeup over the middle. It wasn't quite good enough and kind of end of story. It kind of happened quick. So it is what it is. The walk kind of started it all. Then it was just a combination of [things]."
Blanton's day was done. After starting 2012 with a 4-2 record and a 2.81 ERA in his first seven starts, the right-hander has struggled. In his last four starts, he owns a 10.98 ERA and has allowed 10 home runs.
"Today, I can't attribute it to anything," Blanton said of the increase in the home runs he's allowed. "I threw the ball exactly where I wanted it to; both were balls. ... Previous to today, it's just been missing over the plate, in the upper part of strike zone."
Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.