ST. LOUIS -- Throughout the red-pinstriped horror show that was month of May, struggling pitchers with plump ERAs lined up to get well against the Phillies.
On Friday night, an entire team got well against baseball's worst team.
The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Phillies, 3-2, in the first game of a weekend series at Busch Stadium (see Instant Replay). Earlier in the day, the Cardinals axed two members of their coaching staff and veteran infielder Jhonny Peralta after an 0-7 road trip.
Cardinals starting pitchers had zero quality starts and an ERA over 7.00 in racking up those seven losses in Chicago and Cincinnati. The Cardinals' offense was also pretty bad on the trip, averaging just 2.9 runs per game and hitting .212.
But against the Phils, the Cardinals got a quality start from right-hander Michael Wacha and 11 hits from the bat rack.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have slowly put together another little losing streak. It stands at three straight with rookie Nick Pivetta heading to the mound Saturday afternoon to face electric-armed Carlos Martinez.
"First off, we've scored seven runs in the last four ball games," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games when you do that."
You're also not going to win a lot of ball games when your most veteran starter can't hold a lead for more than 11 pitches.
The Phillies rallied for a pair of two-out runs in the top of the third inning on hits by Howie Kendrick (double), Tommy Joseph (RBI single) and Aaron Altherr (RBI triple).
Hellickson came out for the bottom of the third and allowed four straight hard-hit balls, three hits and a sacrifice fly as the Cardinals quickly tied the game.
Two innings later, Hellickson hung a changeup and Aledmys Diaz hit it over the wall in left-center to give the Cardinals the lead for good.
"He was up in the zone, made some bad pitches with his changeup, gave up a lot of hits, but bared down when he had to and held them to three runs," Mackanin said of Hellickson.
Not being able to get a shutdown inning in the bottom of the third really hurt.
"Yeah," Mackanin said. "We're trying to win games. Third inning, it's early but you always want a shutdown inning. I guess you could say he pitched well enough to win, but he also pitched well enough to lose. We just couldn't score."
Hellickson wasn't happy with his work in that third inning.
"I think shutdown innings are huge, especially the way Wacha was throwing the ball and the bullpen they have," he said. "The first four batters, I don't think I executed a pitch I wanted. I just didn't execute that inning. Other than that, I felt like everything was pretty good. Fastball was down. Off-speed was good. They just took advantage of my mistakes."
Hellickson is 5-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 13 starts. The Phillies had hoped to cash him in for a high draft pick last fall, but he accepted their qualifying offer of $17.2 million for this season. He had a terrific month of April, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts, but has struggled since. He has given up 12 homers in his last eight starts and 19 runs in his last four.
"I just have to keep the ball in the yard," Hellickson said. "I have to keep it a tie ballgame the way Wacha is throwing and the bullpen they have. Fifth inning, tie ballgame, I have to keep it there. I felt like I threw the ball well, just not good enough."
The big question going forward for Hellickson will be what happens as the trade deadline approaches. It seems almost certain that the Phillies will trade him and they are prepared to eat a significant portion of his remaining salary to do that. But if he doesn't start pitching better, the Phils aren't going to get much in return.
The Phillies did have chances to add runs in this game. They wasted a leadoff double and could not get a man in from third with less than two outs in the second inning.
In the ninth, they got something cooking against St. Louis closer Seung-hwan Oh when Altherr reached base on a bloop double, his third extra-base hit of the game. He moved up on a groundout but died on third when Andrew Knapp struck out and Freddy Galvis lined out - with leftfielder Tommy Pham laying out to make a terrific catch - to end the game.
"Freddy did a good job not trying to do too much with two strikes and going the other way," Mackanin said. "We just couldn't capitalize."
That's been a familiar refrain this season.
The loss dropped the Phillies to 9-24 on the road.