LOS ANGELES -- General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke Thursday afternoon at Dodger Stadium about performance, and how the slightest improvements here and there could have the Phillies in a better position in the National League standings.
Their 6-4 loss to the Dodgers a few hours later illustrated his point.
If Ryan Howard has a better at-bat in the fifth, if Howard does not slip trying to field a bunt in the seventh, if Justin De Fratus buries an 0-2 slider to Yasiel Puig in the seventh, maybe the Phillies beat the Dodgers. But they did not and they lost, which has been the story of the Phillies' season.
"I cost my team the game," Howard said. "Obviously, it wasn't the greatest day. It wasn't the greatest night or game for me today. I take full responsibility for it. You've got to have a better swing. You've got to have a better AB in that situation. That could change the flow of the game. I've got to come up with that play. I picked a hell of a time to slip. I take full responsibility for it."
"It wasn't where I wanted it," De Fratus said of the pitch to Puig that decided the game. "I was trying to bounce it there. But I just didn't quite get it down. Man, I couldn't believe he hit it, to be honest. I don't know. It found a hole."
The Dodgers took a 3-0 lead in the first inning against Phillies right-hander Jonathan Pettibone, but he retired the final 15 batters he faced and 17 of 18 to give the Phillies a chance to win the game.
They almost did. Domonic Brown hit a home run to center field in the second to make it 3-1. The Phillies tied the game in the fifth with a two-run rally started by Pettibone's one-out single to left field. Ben Revere, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins each followed with singles to make it 3-3. The Phillies had a chance for more, but Howard swung at a 3-0 pitch from Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke and bounced the ball back to the pitcher for an inning-ending double play.
"I have a green light," said Howard, who stepped to the plate hitless in his previous 14 at-bats. "I just had a bad swing. I had a bad swing. I saw the pitch. I just flew off of it. I've been flying off the ball my last few ABs. It's tough, man."
But Utley hit a home run over the right-field wall in the seventh inning to take a 4-3 lead.
"I guess I didn't face them much in their prime, but going over the game plan on them they still are really tough," said Greinke, who allowed four runs in seven innings.
The Phillies' lead was short-lived. The Phillies bullpen threw seven scoreless innings in Wednesday's 7-5 victory in 13 innings over the Padres at Petco Park, but the bullpen handed the lead right back to Los Angeles in the bottom of the seventh.
De Fratus walked A.J. Ellis to start the inning. Juan Uribe then bunted up the first-base line. Howard charged, but slipped and fell as Uribe reached safely to put runners on first and second with no outs.
"Of all the plays, the plays you make nine times out of 10, you slip," Howard said.
Nick Punto's sacrifice bunt put runners at second and third and then De Fratus intentionally walked pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez. Skip Schumaker struck out for the second out, setting up a critical matchup between De Fratus and Puig.
Puig swung and missed at back-to-back sliders, but De Fratus tried a third slider away and Puig laced the pitch into left field to score Ellis and Uribe to hand the Dodgers a one-run lead.
"I didn't think I threw a bad pitch," De Fratus said. "But it wasn't where I was trying to get it and it burned me."
Said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel: "They could have expanded the zone even more. He made it a little bit too good for him. It might have been a ball, but at the same time he was able to get his bat on it. You have to make him really chase. He's 0-2, he can do that with two pitches at least. He's really got room to play with him. But that comes from experience, feeling good, confidence, knowing what you're doing."
Howard looked about as angry as he had been following any loss this season. He took this one hard.
"I make that play, I have a better swing 3-0, those were two things I could control," he said. "That's baseball. It's a crazy, weird game, but I've just got to be better in those situations next time."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.