MINNEAPOLIS — Charlie Manuel was on edge before the game, bristling at a question about whether Ryan Howard would be moved out of the cleanup spot and expressing an overall concern about his sputtering team.
Philadelphia’s manager only had more problems to ponder afterward.
Clete Thomas had a career-high four hits for Minnesota and came home on a wild pitch for the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on Wednesday night, giving the Twins a 4-3 victory that stuck the Phillies with their fifth straight loss.
After climbing above the .500 mark for the first time this season with the last of their five consecutive wins last week, the Phillies have slipped backward again, with the bullpen and the batters both to blame. Manuel was asked if it’s possible this bunch simply isn’t as good as it might look on paper.
“I would never say something like that. If we have the right attitude, play the game right and love to play, we can win more games than you’d ever think we could,” Manuel said. “You can go a long way sometimes by just wanting to play, playing right. We got some ‘want to.' We’re just not consistent.”
Thomas went 4 for 4 with two RBI doubles. He drove in Oswaldo Arcia both times, including in the eighth when his drive off the tall wall in right field against Antonio Bastardo (2-2) tied the game.
Delmon Young and Ben Revere hit RBI singles for the Phillies against their former team, but starter Mike Pelfrey kept the game close with a season-high seven innings and Glen Perkins pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save in 17 tries.
Arcia went 3 for 4 and scored three times, all after hits that led off an inning. Eduardo Escobar’s bunt that followed the tying hit by Thomas had just the right amount of backspin to nestle into the grass along the first-base line for a single, putting the Twins in position to take the lead.
Justin De Fratus relieved Bastardo and retired Pedro Florimon on a hard line drive right at second baseman Freddy Galvis, but the right-hander let one get away that reached the backstop and Thomas scored easily.
The Phillies began the game with a 4.48 ERA for the bullpen, the third-worst mark in baseball.
“We had the game set up pretty good, matchups. Lefties-lefties, righties-righties. We couldn’t get them out. Bottom line we couldn’t get the job done. Couldn’t close it out,” Manuel said.
Phillies starter Tyler Cloyd, the prized prospect called up last month when Roy Halladay was sidelined by a shoulder injury, was fortunate to leave after five innings with a 3-1 lead. He gave up six hits and three walks while finding trouble often.
Brian Duensing (2-1) picked up the victory by stranding runners at first and second in the eighth inning by striking out Ryan Howard on a call the slugger disputed with home plate umpire David Rackley and getting Domonic Brown to pop out.
Pelfrey tossed a season-most 112 pitches with his surgically repaired right elbow. His 6.22 ERA entering the game was still the worst in the majors among pitchers with a qualifying amount of innings, but he has slowly begun to round into form, a little more than a year after the Tommy John ligament replacement procedure.
This was his fourth start this season of six innings or more and three runs or less. He struck out seven, gave up five hits and walked one.
Michael Young’s two-out double, the only extra-base hit for the Phillies all night, in the fifth interrupted a string of 12 straight batters retired by Pelfrey. Revere’s single sank fast enough into shallow center field to keep Thomas from catching it for a 3-1 lead.
But the Phillies, who entered the game with the sixth-worst runs-per-game average in the majors, had six three-up, three-down innings.
“Our guys are battling. It’s not like we’re laying down and rolling over and giving teams games,” Cloyd said. “We’re playing hard. Things just aren’t rolling our way right now. We’ll turn it up.”
After five straight postseason appearances from 2007-2011, including the 2008 World Series title and the 2009 National League pennant, the Phillies are just 112-116. Even with several key players on the disabled list, this isn’t what they paid for.
“I think of things all the time. I haven’t been able to come up with anything,” Manuel said.
NOTES: Brown went hitless for the third straight game, his first such stretch since four in a row in mid-April. ... Manuel said 2B Chase Utley (strained oblique) and C Carlos Ruiz (strained hamstring) will likely start rehab assignments in a few days. ... The Phillies will send LHP Cliff Lee (7-2, 2.55 ERA) to the mound for the series finale Thursday, his first start against Minnesota in nearly three years. Kevin Correia (5-4, 4.11 ERA) will pitch for the Twins, his fifth career start against the Phillies.