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PHI@SF: Benches clear after Victorino hit by a pitch

SAN FRANCISCO -- Though the Giants' fracas with the Philadelphia Phillies enlivened Friday night's game at AT&T Park, the view from a neutral corner looked anything but good for the reigning World Series champions.

The benches-emptying scrum in the sixth inning, precipitated by Ramon Ramirez plunking Shane Victorino with a pitch in the lower back, temporarily diverted attention from the Giants' ongoing issues.

"I just called for a fastball inside and it was a little too far inside," Giants catcher Eli Whiteside said.

But after order was restored and the Giants' 9-2 loss was in the books, they had to confront the unpleasant reality that they currently resemble anything but a first-place ballclub.

Though the Giants remained atop the National League West by a half-game over Arizona, they've lost seven of their last eight games and 10 of their last 15. They've scored 63 runs in 21 games since the All-Star break, the Major Leagues' second-lowest total in that span. Going hitless in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position while losing two home games to the Phillies hasn't helped.

Manager Bruce Bochy indicated that he'll convene a meeting on Saturday to refocus his struggling team, not to divide them into weight classes for pro boxing competition.

"This is a tough little rut we're in and we need to come out of it. We know it," Bochy said. "We'll get together and talk about it."

Though the dustup began after Ramirez's fastball struck Victorino, the Giants' blood may have started boiling earlier in the inning, when Jimmy Rollins stole second base with Philadelphia leading, 8-2.

Said right fielder Carlos Beltran when asked if Rollins' larceny offended the Giants, "You should ask Jimmy Rollins about that."

Asked if he would have attempted to steal the base in a similar situation, Beltran said, "I wouldn't have done it."

Said Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, "I'll hold him there. But I didn't put the hold sign on them. No. I think us hitting them upset them. I think [Ramirez] was getting hit, he was mad and he was going to plunk somebody. He was going to send a message."

Before Rollins' two-run single capped Philadelphia's three-run uprising in the sixth, the Phillies amassed sufficient offense against Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez (4-6), who made his first start since recovering from biceps tendinitis. Sanchez, who hadn't pitched since June 24, surrendered five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. The left-hander's unraveling occurred in a four-run fourth, during which his velocity dropped noticeably.

Sanchez looked sharp in his first three innings, blanking Philadelphia on one hit. But his fourth-inning lapse began with one out as he allowed Victorino's homer and singles to Chase Utley and Hunter Pence. Raul Ibanez tapped a grounder to second base that was too slow to enable the Giants to turn an inning-ending double play. That scored a run and made a huge difference, since it prolonged the inning for John Mayberry Jr.'s two-run homer.

Sanchez took solace from his early-inning success and expressed optimism about his mechanics. He said that he focused more on directing his motion toward home plate, besides raising his arm angle and release point.

"I'm throwing more on top, like last year," Sanchez said.

Unable to respond much against Phillies rookie Vance Worley (8-1), who followed up his July 26 complete-game victory over the Giants with a solid seven-inning performance, San Francisco may have grown frustrated.

After Ramirez's pitch hit him, Victorino stepped toward the pitcher's mound instead of first base, a certain sign that hostilities would ensue.

Plate umpire Mike Muchlinski immediately pointed at Ramirez, signaling the right-hander's ejection, and stepped in front of Victorino in an attempt to quell the issue. Giants catcher Eli Whiteside circled behind Muchlinski, jumping up and down as if to say, "Bring it on." Meanwhile, players and coaches began streaming out of the dugouts. Whiteside and Philadelphia's Placido Polanco became locked in a one-on-one tussle, while Victorino and Ramirez were quickly engulfed.

Like most baseball confrontations, this one involved much more pushing and shoving than punching. An entertaining feature on the undercard pitted Giants bench coach Ron Wotus and Phillies third-base coach Juan Samuel, who jawed angrily at each other on the periphery of the gathering.

At one point, Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, playing a peacemaker's role, grabbed Victorino and tried to disentangle him from the knot of players. Manuel also tried to restrain Victorino, who broke free and plunged into a Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens.

Bochy reported that Meulens was unharmed.

"I don't think you can hurt Bam-Bam," Bochy said.

But many other Giants look extremely vulnerable.

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