PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies are almost at the point now where they have to laugh.

The Atlanta Braves beat the Phillies 6-4 before 35,087 fans at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. The Phillies have lost 11 of their last 12 games. Philadelphia (50-59) trails the first-place Braves (65-45) by 14.5 games in the National League East. The Phillies trailed the Braves by 6.5 games just 11 days ago.

On Friday, the Braves took the lead for good when Brian McCann and Chris Johnson hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the fifth inning off Phillies rookie starter Ethan Martin to give Atlanta a 5-2 lead. Philadelphia hitters struck out 15 times during the game.

The Phillies frustration showed itself in the bottom of the ninth inning when umpires ejected manager Charlie Manuel and shortstop Jimmy Rollins for arguing a foul tip call. For Rollins, it was just the second ejection of his 13-year career.

“It might (have) been time for him to get thrown out,” Manuel said with a laugh about Rollins. “Thirteen or 14 years in the big leagues. It’s time for him to go a few times.”

The Phillies almost have no choice but to  keep a sense of humor but that is getting tougher to do.

“I don’t mean to laugh because losing is definitely not to laugh about,” Manuel said. “We’re having a hard time with things going our way. But at the same time we’re not doing a whole lot to make them go our way. We’ll come out (Saturday) and see if we can get them.”

With the NFL preseason about to start, it will be difficult for the Phillies to hold fans’ interest if they continue to play like they did Friday.

The night began with optimism.

The Phillies inducted retired pitcher Curt Schilling into the team’s Wall of Fame in a ceremony before the game. Fans roared as Schilling and other former Philadelphia greats such as Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt were introduced.

The Phillies kept the positive vibe going early in the game. They took a 2-0 lead on back-to-back home runs from Darin Ruf and Delmon Young in the bottom of the second inning.

The 24-year-old Martin was making his Major League debut. He grew up a Braves fan in Georgia. Martin earned the promotion to the Major Leagues. He is tied for second in the triple-AAA International League in wins with 11 and fourth in strikeouts with 107.

He admitted to plenty of jitters.

“Coming out of he dugout to go warm up I was just like ‘wow,’ ” Martin said. “And the fact the (Braves) were the team I grew up watching added on to that.”

Martin started strong. He overpowered the Braves early with a fastball in the mid-90s. Martin struck out four batters in the first two innings. The Braves batted just .125 (1-for-8) against the Martin the first time through the batting order.

But Atlanta quickly became more familiar with the rookie. The Braves batted .375 (3-for-8) the second time through the order and .800 (4-for-5) the third time through the order against Martin.

“As you go through the Braves lineup once or twice,” Manuel said, “that third time if you’re still pumping high fastballs you have a good chance of running into some trouble.”

Martin gave up eight walks, six runs and walked three in 4.1 innings. Still, Manuel said the pitcher showed promise.

“I just have to learn from this,” Martin said, “especially with those pitches in the fifth inning. There were four or five pitches there where I didn’t hit my spot and they made me pay.”

The Phillies trailed 6-2 after five innings. But they didn’t fade. They cut the Braves lead to 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning on Chase Utley’s home run and Codey Asche’s RBI groundout.

But that was the last of the Philadelphia offense.

The Phillies went 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts against the Braves bullpen in the game’s final three innings.

I've worked at newspapers since 1985. Mostly in N.J., but with an eight-year pit stop in N.C. I've been at The Press since 1997.