THERE WAS a moment earlier this week when Charlie Manuel sat in the home dugout at Citizens Bank Park and expressed a simple desire for his ballclub. Score some runs, he said, and score them early. His team had entered this three-game series against Colorado fourth in the National League in runs, but many of them had come late in games, as the Phillies were clawing their way to one of 16 come-from-behind victories.
For the past couple of nights, the Phillies have heeded their manager's call, scoring runs early and scoring them in droves, allowing their starter to pitch with the confidence that typically accompanies a significant lead.
That's how it happened Monday night, when they exploded for 20 runs, and that's how it happened last night as they beat the Rockies, 7-4, and climbed six games over .500 for the first time this season.
In a sport predicated on individual production and X-vs.-Y matchups, it is easy to overlook the fact that baseball is still a team sport. More often than not, though, the teamwork is difficult to see, much more subtle than a down block by a pulling guard or a bounce pass from a player on the wing.
Last night, it involved an offense scoring all of its runs in the first two innings, then sliding the keys across the table to righthander Kyle Kendrick and watching him pitch a career-high 7 1/3 innings while recording his fourth victory of the season.
It all fit together nicely for the Phillies' third straight victory, one that furthered their hope that they might use this current 10-game homestand to put some distance between themselves and .500.
The fact that they failed to score a run in their final six innings was overshadowed by the fact that, throughout the early stages, they looked as if they hadn't even left the field after their 20-5 win over the Rockies.
Key contributors included the usual suspects - Jimmy Rollins singled twice, stole a base and scored two runs; Chase Utley had an RBI double and scored a run in the second; Ryan Howard reached base twice, drove in a run with a single and scored a run - and also the not-so-usual.
Greg Dobbs made a rare, but not unprecedented, start in leftfield in place of Pat Burrell, who was scratched just before the game with neck stiffness. The usual backup third baseman and pinch-hitter extraordinaire responded by dropping a two-run single into rightfield in the first inning and hitting a single to center in the second.
Pedro Feliz continued his recent blistering play, driving in two runs in the first inning with a double to leftfield, his ninth and 10th RBI in the last eight games.
The 7-0 lead enabled Kendrick to cruise, though the bullpen coughed up a few runs before closing out the victory.
"You can't relax, you have to take it as 0-0," Kendrick said, "but it's nice to have that kind of lead. Guys are swinging well right now. Hopefully we keep it going."
That hasn't always been the case this season.
The Phillies entered the game having been outscored, 62-49, in the first and second innings, while outscoring opponents, 59-30, in the eighth and ninth innings. Not coincidentally, their starters had combined for a 15-17 record, compared with a 14-7 record for the relievers.
But last night, like Jamie Moyer the night before, Kendrick was able to pitch with a big lead at his back. He didn't allow a runner to reach third until the fifth inning, when Rockies shortstop Omar Quintanilla doubled and eventually scored on a groundout by centerfielder Willie Taveras.
As a stormfront moved into the area, casting an ominous darkness over the city skyline in the distance and whipping a warm wind through the ballpark, Kendrick breezed through the sixth and seventh innings, retiring seven straight batters after Quintanilla's run.
Kendrick put the first two batters in the eighth on base, but reserve leftfielder T.J. Bohn threw out Seth Smith at the plate as he tried to score on a single by Todd Helton. The out allowed Kendrick, who was replaced by Tom Gordon, to eclipse his previous career high of seven innings pitched.
Gordon allowed a run on three hits in two-thirds of an inning, but eventually got Quintanilla to ground into a forceout with men on first and third and two out. After a 1-hour, 27-minute rain delay before the bottom of the eighth, Brad Lidge allowed a two-out RBI single to Helton in the ninth.
The Phillies improved to 8-3 in games started by the young righthander, who allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out five while walking one.
At 30-24, the Phillies have their best record through 54 games since 2001, when they were 35-19 on June 2.
"It's a good time for us to have a good homestand," said Rollins, who went 2-for-5.
"That's somewhere where we haven't played well. We've done well on the road, and that's always real big, but last year I said we can win this division by winning games at home and playing .500 on the road. But we've been winning on the road and hopefully we can play a little better than .500 at home."*