The Devil Rays have always done to the fading Phillies what the rest of baseball has done against them lately -- win and knock them further down in the NL East standings.
Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Jorge Cantu homered, Scott Kazmir pitched five solid innings and Tampa Bay extended Philadelphia's misery with a 7-2 win Saturday night, the Phillies' season-high sixth straight loss.
The Phillies (33-35) have lost eight of nine and fell two games under .500 for the first time since they were 12-14 on May 2.
The Devil Rays have a 10-4 career mark against Philadelphia, their second-best record against any opponent (Arizona, 3-0).
"It's one of those things," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "They're a very good ballclub."
Not lately. And not against an ace like Kazmir.
Kazmir (8-4) outpitched fellow 2002 draft pick Scott Mathieson, making his major league debut for the Phillies. Kazmir allowed two runs and struck out nine, making him the 23rd lefty since 1900 to reach 300 career strikeouts before his 23rd birthday.
He effectively pitched out of all his jams, especially when Phillies slugger Ryan Howard was at the plate. Three times Howard failed to deliver with two runners on base against Kazmir, retired on a strikeout, groundout and double play.
"It was a good confidence boost," Kazmir said. "I wish I could have went a little bit deeper."
Even though Kazmir was cruising and had thrown only 96 pitches, Maddon made the decision to pull his ace after only five innings because the pitcher was set to hit in the sixth. He pitched five shutout innings in his last start against Detroit and was yanked after 98 pitches.
Chad Harville and Ruddy Lugo combined for four hitless innings of shutout relief to help the Devil Rays win for the fifth time in eight games.
"We've been waiting for this for a while," Maddon said. "We've always believed we had this in us. We thought it would get better."
The Phillies are falling so far back behind the New York Mets in the division, they have little choice but to start thinking about the wild card. With the Yankees coming to town Monday, the Phillies might just turn their thoughts to staying out of last place.
Their frustrations are spilling over.
For the second time this week, manager Charlie Manuel was ejected. He rushed out in the eighth inning to defend pitcher Cory Lidle, who was tossed from the bench after he started yelling at Julio Lugo for trying to bunt late in the game. Manuel got bill-to-bill with first base umpire Bill Miller and was thrown out for the fourth time this season.
"Some of it was probably from frustration," Manuel said. "I'm not against the umpires. They didn't beat us."
With their rotation hampered by injuries, the Phillies have turned to rookie prospects like Mathieson (0-1) and Cole Hamels to keep them afloat in the standings.
Mathieson, who played for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, allowed four earned runs, eight hits and struck out five in six innings. Mathieson, who bypassed Triple-A, did what all the other Phillies starters have done lately -- put them in a first-inning hole.
Baldelli poked an RBI single off third baseman David Bell's glove and Aubrey Huff had an RBI double in the first for a 2-0 lead, making it the fifth straight game the opposition has scored in the first inning against the Phillies.
The Phillies tied it in the second on back-to-back homers by Abraham Nunez and Sal Fasano, but managed only one more hit on Bobby Abreu's infield single in the fifth inning.
"We just have to stay positive," Manuel said. "If you don't have the right attitude, it's pretty hard to play this game."
Baldelli hit his first homer of the year to center in the third, pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes added an RBI double in the sixth and Crawford hit a two-run drive to right in the seventh for a 6-2 lead. Cantu added a solo homer in the ninth.
"We're starting to click well, I don't know what it is," Crawford said. "Maybe it's summertime. It just seems like we're starting to swing the bats well. You start doing that, you don't want to ask too many questions. You want to keep it going."
Nunez's homer was his first since July 24, 2005. It also doubled his season RBI total. ... The Phillies hit back-to-back homers for the second time this season. ... Nunez started for slumping 2B Chase Utley (5-for-43). ... To make room for Mathieson, the Phillies optioned RHP Brian Sanches to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre before the game.