PHILADELPHIA - The Phillies lost more than a game Tuesday night.

They frittered away an opportunity.

The Pittsburgh Pirates beat Philadelphia 2-0 before 31,002 fans on a wintery night at Citizens Bank Park. The loss ended the Phillies' modest two-game winning streak.

The Phillies figured to have the advantage Tuesday. They started ace Cole Hamels against the Pirates' No. 5 starter, Jeff Locke.

Hamels gave his best performance of the year - seven hits allowed and six strikeouts in eight innings - but the Phillies are 0-5 in his starts this season.

"I don't have an explanation for that," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We would have won all our games if I had all the answers. I don't have a crystal ball."

Meanwhile, Locke threw six innings, shutting out the Phillies on two hits.

Manuel, in a revealing postgame news conference, looked like a man at his wit's end when it comes to Philadelphia's offense.

"He threw fastballs," Manuel said of Locke. "If a pitcher is going to throw us fastballs like that, I thought we were going to hit him, to tell you the truth. It wasn't like he was doing anything fantastic. If I had gone up there and looked for fastballs, I would have gotten some good balls to hit."

Regular-season baseball games tend to blend together. That's the byproduct of a 162-game season.

But certain contests can be pivotal, and Tuesday was one those even though the season is three weeks old.

The Phillies entered the game having won two straight and three of their last four contests.

They won Sunday night with No. 4 starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick on the mound. They won Monday night with rookie starter Jonathan Pettibone filling in for injured John Lannan.

With Hamels pitching Tuesday and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee scheduled to pitch today and Thursday, respectively, this was the Phillies' chance to put a winning streak together.

Hamels' performance was the night's only positive.

"I felt good every inning," Hamels said. "I had a clean feel of really just making my pitches. I felt like I executed."

Locke made just his 14th career start. He had allowed at least four runs in two of his three starts this season. The 25-year-old began the game with a 2-7 career record and a 5.67 career ERA.

But all that is meaningless. The only thing that mattered is that Locke is left-handed and these days the Phillies make nearly every left-handed pitcher look like Sandy Koufax.

Locke struck out six, including Ryan Howard twice swinging. Howard is 2-for-18 with 10 strikeouts against left-handers this season.

The Phillies are batting .182 (24-for-132) against left handers with just 10 runs scored.

Philadelphia couldn't even score when John Mayberry Jr. led off the fourth inning with a triple and Locke hit the next batter - Domonic Brown - with a pitch. But Ben Revere hit a bouncer to third baseman Brandon Inge, who threw out Mayberry at a home plate.

Some questioned if Mayberry should have been running on contact. Manuel said it was the proper play to avoid the double play.

"Ever since Abner Doubleday invented the game, he's been going (on that play)," the manager said.

With the defeat, the Phillies (9-12) continue to meander their way through the season.

Manuel said he's constantly thinking of things he can change to spark the Phillies. He said past success does not guarantee future prosperity.

"The game can bite you," Manuel said. "The game doesn't care how much money you make."

Manuel said the Phillies are trying - maybe a bit too hard. They have energy and life, he said.

But the Phillies have provided no credible evidence this season that they can be a playoff contender. Now even the manager has a show-me attitude.

"We'll see if they can hit," Manuel said. "We're going to see if they can hit, and believe me, I'm pulling for everyone of them."

Contact Michael McGarry:

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