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Joe Girardi managed a Philadelphia Phillies team with the reigning National League MVP, five 2021 All-Stars, a payroll above the luxury tax and expectations of ending the NL’s longest playoff drought.

But buried deep in the NL East standings and with a sagging bullpen, defensive deficiencies and slumbering starts from some of the team’s high-priced veterans, Girardi paid the price for Philadelphia’s poor start. He was fired Friday, becoming the first major league manager to lose his job this season after failing to turn a team with a record payroll into a playoff contender.

The move was made with the Phillies at 22-29, having lost seven of their past nine games and sitting in third place in the National League East, 12 games behind the New York Mets and 5½ games out of the second NL wild-card spot.

Bench coach Rob Thomson was named interim manager.

“I think we can make the playoffs. I think we’re in a position where we can battle back to do that. I do believe that,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.

Few Philly sports fans are steadfast in that belief.

With good reason. The Phillies have lost 12 of 17 games heading into the opener of Friday’s three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.

“There’s blame on us, as well,” Bryce Harper said. “There’s not just blame on Joe. We haven’t played to the best of our ability. We haven’t done the things to be the team we should be.”

After the Phillies’ announcement, Girardi made his regular appearance on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio, saying, “We underperformed and that falls on me. This is what happens.” Girardi noted struggles in the bullpen and some slow offensive starts among the “number of reasons we didn’t win.”

“I think you can overcome, sometimes, one thing, maybe even two, but sometimes when it’s more than that, I think it’s somewhat difficult,” Girardi said. “… I just pray that they, you know, get better and they get to the playoffs.”

The Phillies counted on Harper — the NL MVP slowed most of the season with right arm issues that forced him to serve as the designated hitter — NL Cy Young Award runner-up Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and free-agent sluggers Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber to return the Phillies to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Schwarber is hitting just .192, Jean Segura is out three months with a broken finger, and third baseman Alec Bohm, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and corner outfielders Castellanos and Schwarber have been defensive liabilities.

The Phillies haven’t won the World Series since Angels slugger and New Jersey product Mike Trout partied in the Citizens Bank Park parking lots in 2008. The Phillies have watched fan interest plummet through a decade-plus of lazy summers and little hope for a playoff push. Prospects haven’t panned out. Free agents have underachieved.

“By no means am I saying that we’ve done everything right,” Hoskins said. “Of course we haven’t. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But at the end of the day, it’s about results. The results have to be better.”

The Phillies are on their fifth manager since they fired 2008 World Series champion Charlie Manuel in 2013. Gabe Kapler was fired after a 161-163 record in two seasons and then led the San Francisco Giants to a 107-55 record and the playoffs last season.

“It’s not something that can’t be fixed and changed,” Dombrowski said. “I think we already started some of those changes this wintertime when we made some changes within our system, our organization, a lot of changes, but those things don’t show up overnight.”

Girardi, 57, had served as Phillies manager for the past three seasons, going 132-141. His first year with Philadelphia was the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Phillies went 82-80 last year, eight games out of a wild-card bid.

In 14 seasons as a major league manager for the Marlins, Yankees and Phillies, Girardi is 1,120-935, winning a World Series with New York in 2009.

Also dismissed Friday was coaching assistant Bobby Meacham, who had joined the team in 2020 along with Girardi. Former quality assurance coach Mike Calitri was promoted to bench coach.

Thomson was Philadelphia’s bench coach and coordinated spring training for the past five seasons. He was hired before the 2018 season. He was a minor league player from 1985- to ’88, became a Yankees minor league coach in 1990, joined Joe Torre’s big league coaching staff for 2004 and remained a coach under Girardi.

His first game is against an Angels team that has lost eight straight games overall and six in a row on the road.

“I’ve been studying championship clubs for a long time, and I truly believe there are pieces here to be a very good club,” Thomson said.

Harper is already on his third manager in his fourth season with the Phillies since he left Washington and signed a $330 million, 13-year contract. Harper has largely lived up to the deal — and now he’s waiting for the Phillies to do the same.

“I think it’s my eighth or ninth manager in the 11 years. It’s crazy,” Harper said. “This is kind of just another day for me coming into a new manager and things like that. I’m looking forward to working with Thomps, and hopefully starting a streak today because we don’t have much time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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