It’s not quite Whitey Herzog surrendering in June of ’86, but it’s gloat-worthy stuff for Mets fans, even if the Philadelphia Daily News’ Rich Hoffman isn’t part of the Phillies.

The last time the Phillies came from as many as 8 ½ games back to win the National League East, the year was 1977; children, ask your grandparents. And, sports editors, call the Associated Press in the morning and get them to fire up those wild-card standings a little earlier than usual.

The Phillies, who seem to be redefining “wretched” every night now – the score of last night’s three-error debacle was Mets 9, Phils 3 – should know that the cavalry is not coming. (If it were, the horses probably would all throw a shoe, and the throws would be wild, but that is another matter entirely.)

General manager Pat Gillick, in his understated way, made it pretty obvious last night that his team will have ride out this mess for a while. The Phils are 8 ½ games behind the Mets now and imploding. Manager Charlie Manuel (above) acknowledged that his starting pitching was “unsettled,” and that the realistic goal here is just to “tread water” in the coming days – and, no, they will not change the ad campaign for the next homestand to include any of that.

The wild-card now figures to be the realistic focus, and that this is getting really hard to look at. Oh, you’ve noticed? If your intention is to point fingers here, just recognize that you will need fingers and toes to manage a true accounting. They had three errors Tuesday night and it could have been four, if not for the charity of the official scorer. They had three more errors last night, and it could have been four again, etc.

The truth is that the Phillies are not this bad, and that Cory Lidle – who keeps them in most games – pitches today as they try to salvage some of their dignity against the Mets.

Repeat: They are not as bad as they’ve been the last two nights. The reality, though, is that the Phillies have put themselves in a position in which they must prove it as they chase the wild card.

As expected, Lastings Milledge’s failure to score from first on a Julio Franco double in the 8th inning was the source of some consternation, as described by the New York Daily News’ Adam Rubin.

Willie Randolph gave Lastings Milledge a lecture in the dugout after the rookie was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first base on Julio Franco’s two-out double to right-center in the seventh. The manager believed Milledge should have scored.
“I thought he was ‘spectating’ a little bit,” the manager said.

Milledge said he peeked twice on Franco’s shot – once to see if the ball was caught by Aaron Rowand, and again when it reached cutoff man Chase Utley. Milledge said he was also stalled approaching the plate because no one cleared Franco’s bat.

“Peeking into right tends to slow me down a little bit,” Milledge said.

With Xavier Nady likely returning early next week, the Mets need to decide whether to demote Milledge or a reliever. Randolph doesn’t have the ultimate call, but he said yesterday that he preferred to rotate his DH during nine games in AL parks beginning later this month. That wouldn’t favor Milledge remaining since the rookie playing in the outfield mostly requires Cliff Floyd DHing in those games.

The bottom line about whether he should have scored, according to Milledge: “Could’ve. Should’ve. Didn’t. We won the game. So it doesn’t matter.”