PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies left Citizens Bank Park late Monday still a little confused and still very much upset.
They wanted a better explanation.
A controversial ruling in the eighth inning helped the Houston Astros come back to beat the Phillies, 3-2, and Philadelphia remained three games behind the Braves in the National League East after Atlanta lost to the Rockies in Denver
"Games like tonight, these are the games we have to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's a game we're supposed to win and have to win."
The Astros had a runner on first with nobody out in the eighth when Astros center fielder Michael Bourn bunted a ball up the first-base line. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard fielded the ball and tagged Bourn, although Howard acknowledged it would have been difficult for first-base umpire Greg Gibson to see the tag. But in an effort to avoid Howard's tag, Bourn appeared to move outside the baseline.
Gibson missed the tag and ruled Bourn safe.
"Bournie knows I tagged him," Howard said. "I know that he knows that I tagged him. We'll just say that. It doesn't matter [where]. I felt it. If I didn't tag him, I wouldn't sit here and say I tagged him. It was so faint. It was really a nick. It was so faint to where I really wouldn't have expected [Gibson] to have seen it, but as far as being out of the baseline, I think that was pretty much no contest."
Bourn left a divot in the infield grass a foot or so outside the baseline, but Gibson explained to Manuel that Bourn established his baseline at that spot.
MLB rule 7.08(a) explains the baseline this way: "a runner is out when he runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged, unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner's baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely."
In other words, Bourn did not establish his baseline until Howard attempted to tag him.
"I said, 'If that's the damn case, he can go all the way to the dugout,'" Manuel said. "[Gibson] said, 'Yeah, if he establishes his baseline over there, he can.' I don't understand that."
But here is what confused Manuel and the Phillies even more. They recalled a play on June 24 against the Cleveland Indians when Shane Victorino slid outside the baseline and into first base to avoid a tag. Gibson, who also umpired first base that afternoon, ruled Victorino out.
Gibson ejected Manuel that afternoon for arguing.
He ejected Manuel on Monday night, too.
"The rule comes up every year in Spring Training," Howard said. "It's always under scrutiny. You've just got to come up with a way to figure it out. To my knowledge, it's the same guy that called Shane out for being out of the basepath last time."
Nobody would get a clearer explanation after the game. A few months after umpire Jim Joyce took responsibility following a blown call that cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galaraga a perfect game on June 3, and a few weeks after umpire Bob Davidson talked about a controversial call in a Phillies victory over Florida on Aug. 5, the umpiring crew on Monday declined to comment on Gibson's ruling.
"Per MLB, we're not allowed to talk," crew chief Sam Holbrook told a pool reporter.
The inning continued from there. Astros shortstop Angel Sanchez sacrificed the runners to second and third with one out. Phillies right-hander Ryan Madson struck out Hunter Pence on a high fastball for the second out, but Carlos Lee hit a broken-bat single to left field to score both runners to give the Astros the lead.
Asked if the Phillies considered walking Lee to face Chris Johnson, Manuel said they chose Lee because of Madson's familiarity with him and because Johnson entered the game third in the NL in hitting (.370) since the All-Star break.
The eighth wasted a good night from Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton.
Blanton allowed six hits, one run and no walks and struck out nine over seven innings in his best start of the season. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his past six starts -- he has a 3.55 ERA in that span -- a sign that he is turning things around.
Blanton retired 11 consecutive batters after Lee's two-out double in the first inning and 19 of 22 to finish.
Carlos Ruiz tied the game, 1-1, in the third with a solo homer to left field. The Phillies took a 2-1 lead when Jimmy Rollins scored on Chase Utley's two-out single up the middle. But the Phillies needed more, so Manuel made it clear he was upset that Jayson Werth got picked off second base in the sixth inning following an intentional walk to Ruiz.
"That speaks for itself," Manuel said. "I don't have to say a word."
Brett Myers, facing his former team for the first time since they let him become a free agent following the 2009 season, allowed nine hits and two runs in seven innings. He has pitched six or more innings in all 26 starts this season, which tied an Astros record and is the longest streak to start a season since Curt Schilling had 35 consecutive starts of six or more innings in 2002 with Arizona.
Myers heard a few boos when he was introduced.
"I think they booed me more when I was here," he said. "It was good. They were very respectful to me in the bullpen and made me feel kind of good. They did show a little respect to me and made me respect them a lot more, even though I respected them a lot before. They definitely showed me a little softer side and made me feel good."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.