PHILADELPHIA -- Roy Halladay strives to eliminate every variable around him and concentrate simply on trying to make the best pitch he can, one pitch at a time. He has learned that if he does that, everything else usually takes care of itself. It's his mantra, and a big reason why he has a pair of Cy Young Awards in his trophy case.
That's the goal. Then there's real life. After being tagged for five runs in a 5-2 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies ace right-hander did something he rarely does. He admitted that, in his opinion, he and some of his teammates have sometimes lost that focus, have allowed a lack of earlier success get to them.
"There are a lot of guys, including myself, who are trying to carry the weight of the team. You can't play that way, and I think you've seen that. Everybody's trying to pick up slack for what we may not be doing and guys we're missing and all that. That only seems to compound the problem," he said.
"You put it behind you, but a lot of us need to go out and play the game and have fun playing the game. If you start pressing, you start doing things you don't need to try to do and it makes things worse."
After winning five straight National League East titles, two pennants and a World Series, the Phillies have been in last place since May 5. They've lost four straight to fall two games under .500. They haven't had Ryan Howard or Chase Utley all season. And, Halladay believes, they've begun to let that affect them.
"We've played good at times, and we've played bad at times. The more we press, it's not going to take care of itself. You prepare as well as you can and then go out and let it all hang out," he said. "It's tough to do in places like this, where the fans expect a lot and the media expects a lot and the players expect a lot. But it's important to try to find a way to keep that in mind and try to play that way."
This has been a curious season for Halladay so far. He's 4-4, but the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs in eight of his 10 starts. He's had eight quality starts. He still has fewer hits than innings pitched and he's walked just three hitters in May.
On the other hand, his earned run average is 3.58. That's the highest it's been this late in the season since he finished 2007 with a 3.71 ERA. His velocity has been down slightly all year. He turned 35 on March 14.
He seemed almost amused when asked if he's concerned. "I'm definitely not happy with the results. ... [But] I'm not concerned. I feel like I know how to overcome it. And we do as a team, too. When you start getting concerned, it adds a whole element you really don't need," he said.
"I'd like to put up a lot more zeros. You go back and look and really, it's about limiting mistakes and doing that consistently. I feel like there are times we go through stretches and make some really good pitches. Then all of a sudden you make a mistake here or there and it costs you."
So, is he making more mistakes than he has in the past? Or is he just not getting away with them?
"Definitely both," he said. "When guys see a little bit of vulnerability and you do make mistakes, all of a sudden they're hitting them. When you're rolling through [opponents] as a team, personally you can get away with stuff like that. There's a little less confidence on their side. And when things aren't going good as a team and a pitcher, you don't get away with them very often."
Manager Charlie Manuel thinks the cumulative effect of an offense that has scored three or fewer runs 21 times has to become an issue.
"Our starting pitching, they're going to give up some runs. They're only human, too," he said. "We just don't hit the ball good enough to win the games. What happens is that, when you don't score enough runs for a pitcher, he thinks he has to be too good and too fine. He thinks every batter is very urgent, and he has to get the guy out. I've heard guys say it doesn't bother them and sometimes it might not. But other times it definitely can."
Halladay chose his words carefully.
"I don't know if it's necessarily offense or a matter of just trying to win games. But, yeah, there's a lot more tension to the games. You're doing everything you can every pitch to help your team win. I don't know if it's just because we haven't scored as many runs or because we haven't played as well," he said.
"I think there's a certain weight. And that ultimately falls on our shoulders, the pitchers, to be able to overcome that. There have been a lot of games -- and maybe it's the way you're pitching, too -- where you feel you've got to be a little better. And a lot of times that doesn't work in your favor."
Halladay spoke softly. The fact that he shared those emotion at all spoke volumes.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.