HOUSTON - Pat Burrell had helped carry the Phillies with a torrid April, but he found May much, much crueler.
He had hit just .143 with a home run and two RBIs in his last 15 games. He had started chasing breaking balls outside the strike zone again, and had watched his average plummet from .330 on May 4 to .271 entering tonight's 7-5 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
So manager Charlie Manuel started Burrell on the bench for just the second time this season. He wanted Burrell to, as Vince Vaughn's character Jeremy Grey said in Wedding Crashers, recharge his batteries, shut down the engines, and get himself back to neutral. Burrell responded with a pinch-hit, go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth inning.
"Sometimes it's good just to get a day to give your mind a break," Burrell said. "When you're struggling, you're probably trying to do a lot more than you should, just to try to get some hits. Sometimes you can overdo it. . . . But it kind of snuck up on me, really. I was prepared, but for some reason I just didn't think they were going to use me at that time."
Burrell worked Astros reliever Wesley Wright to a full count, when Wright threw the next pitch - a fastball - over the heart of the plate.
Burrell didn't miss.
"Fortunately, I was able to get enough of it to get it over the fence," he said.
It could be an encouraging sign for Burrell, the way the last two days have been encouraging for Ryan Howard. Howard went 3 for 5 with a double, home run and two RBIs tonight to move over .200 for the first time since April 21 in Colorado. He is 6 for 10 with two doubles, three home runs, and six RBIs in his last two games.
He is hitting .207. He hadn't finished a game with a higher average than that since April 17, when he was hitting .211.
And since Howard reached a season-low .163 on May 7, he is hitting .304 (17 for 56) with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 7 home runs and 15 RBIs in 14 games. He also has had his first back-to-back multihit games since Aug. 25-28, when he had more than one hit in four consecutive games.
"I'm trying to go for a full week," Howard said. "Just have a good week."
Closer Brad Lidge finished things off by getting former teammate Lance Berkman, who is hitting .388, to fly out to left with a runner on first in the ninth. It was Lidge's 12th save.
"It was a lot of fun for me," Lidge said. "A lot of adrenaline. It doesn't get much better than that."