Three times yesterday, you had to wince while watching.
More than the loss to Atlanta, a 4-1 tally decided over 11 innings, more than the offense drying up, more than any scenario you could have conjured, you didn't want to see three.
Either Antonio Bastardo, (now) Juan Perez or Michael Stutes getting rocked.
When Bastardo relieved Cliff Lee after eight innings, nine strikeouts and one ill-placed pitch—Dan Uggla homered in the fifth—you held your breath. After he blazed two and forced Brian McCann into a groundout, you could sigh in relief.
You tensed up in Juan Perez' telling moment, until blowing the doors off Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth in the first frame of extras made you at ease, and made Perez' sheet read five K in six tries in 24 hours.
Then came Stutes.
And there his momentum went, likely taking some of his confidence and opponents' fear for the ride.
First, Eric Hinske walked. Then Alex Gonzalez singled, scoring Hinske's pinch runner, Wilkin Ramirez, who scampered to second on a sac fly.
How concerned are you about how Michael Stutes will fare in the second half after yesterday's two-hit, three-run 11th innning?
Then it came, McCann's tattooing of a breaking ball that didn't. Score: 4-1 Braves, game over for Saturday.
What you didn't want before the All-Star break.
Granted, none of it happens if Ryan Howard doesn't muff a foul ball earlier. Hate to pin it on one guy, but the complexion and dynamic and flow of the game was rattled off course.
As is Stutes nudged off track, even if only a little. Baseball's a streaky game, and there's always been something tenuous about that position. The ecosystem relievers call home is delicate, more fragile than most.
Sometimes the player has it, but manager can't—and any variations that follow.
Building that trust can take seasons, something Stutes doesn't have much of, only 31 innings deep in a major league career christened in 2011.
Yet even established reputations can wane, even over a few blunderous outings.
You wonder if that will be the case with Stutes, now 3-1 with a 3.26 and 1.15 WHIP. Not bad, but not what it, or he, was.
Don't underscore the value of any of these relievers, maybe Stutes most of all. Stutes had been reliable for his brief entirety. Never once melted down. Never once bellied up.
What will this outing mean for Michael Stutes at season's end?
Never once did he stir comparisons to Brad Lidge.
In this town, that means something.
So did Stutes, in part because the Phillies didn't have anyone else. With Lidge and Ryan Madson on the disabled list, the shuffle—namely Bastardo to closer—left a gaping hole, the dot under a looming question mark.
Did the Phils have an insurance policy for their three-layered, $40 million investment? Remember: You can eat up all the statistical hors d'œuvres on Jayson Stark's tray about Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
They don't mean much if not punctuated. A green squiggly line still pops up under any statement, however bold and bullying and positively boding, left unfinished.
And Bastardo, perfect in save ops in 2011, needs a setup man for the chance.
The Phils needed Stutes last night, but they'll need him more down the stretch, when injuries and unpredictabilities surface. And once they try to assuage Halladay's 113-plus pitches per start average workload, handily the most in the majors.
Simply, 10 complete games between Halladay (six) and Lee (four) is acceptable for nine, one-two-three innings.
When it stems from skittishness over the bullpen, not so much.
It should be noted that outside Stutes' world isn't bliss. You have to worry about Philadelphia's woes against left-handed pitching—or any handed pitching for that matter—just .237 and .247 respectively.
That, and they are now 4-6 record in games determined in extras. Sort of makes certain efforts seem like exceptions, not rules.
Stutes can make this a mulligan pretty easily. Coming out tonight, peering through batters souls and fuming balls by them could prove a plenty effective neutralizer.
But getting jostled again this afternoon makes for a long, thoughtful All-Star break. The kind you dwell during, the kind that consumes you.
The kind that divides a brilliant half of baseball from its decisive finish.