TIME AND TIME again over the past few days, various incarnations of the same essential question were batted down by different members of the Phillies organization.
With the hated Rockies returning to town for the first time since sweeping the Phillies out of the playoffs last season, was there any extra fire, any extra motivation, any extra desire to avenge the slights of yesteryear?
Each time, the answer was more or less the same:
"Last year was last year," Chase Utley said last night when the latest version of the question was posed. "Every year is a new year."
Instead, the significance of the Phillies' five-game season sweep of the defending National League champions - capped by a 6-1 win at Citizens Bank Park last night - lay in the possibility that this year's version of the squad might finally be finding its stride after 2 months of injuries and inconsistencies.
With a Who's Who list of players on the disabled list and the bottom of the rotation on the mound, the Rockies were a shell of the team that advanced to the World Series last season. But the Phillies had struggled against some of the NL's worst this season - losing two out of three to the Giants in San Francisco and splitting a series in Cincinnati - and had yet to sweep a team of any caliber.
They were able to do so last night thanks in large part to the bat of Utley, who crushed a monstrous home run to the second deck in the fifth inning, and the arm of Adam Eaton, whose performance manager Charlie Manuel deemed "the story of the night."
Eaton, who has had a question mark hovering around him since the beginning of his tenure in Philadelphia, picked up the most long-awaited victory of his career, improving to 1-3 after enduring 10 straight winless starts to the start the season.
He wasn't as sharp as he was in a loss to Houston last week, but he was effective, and with the way the Phillies' lineup has performed over the past week, effective is enough to get the job done. He allowed four hits in six innings, giving up his only run on a single by Todd Helton in the third inning that drove home Willy Taveras.
According to Manuel, the key to the performance was Eaton's command, and his ability to use it to limit the big innings that have plagued him in the past.
"He's been a little bit more aggressive," Manuel said. "He's thrown more strikes, and he's been able to stay out of the big inning."
Eaton was aided by his defense - twice runners were thrown out at home plate - but by and large avoided trouble before exiting the game after the sixth inning.
"He'd already pitched good," Manuel said. "I wanted to see if we could get him a win."
They were in a position to do so thanks to a five-run fifth inning that featured Utley's epic home run. Colorado rookie Mark Reynolds made the mistake of throwing a fastball down the middle, and Utley didn't let it stay there for long, crushing it into the second deck in rightfield. The three-run shot gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead.
After hitting just one home run during a recent 20-game stretch in May, Utley now has three in his last four games and 17 for the season. He finished the series against the Rockies with five hits and 10 RBI and has 13 RBI in his last four games.
"I hit it pretty well," the second baseman said in his usual understated manner.
Two players not named Utley also had key contributions, as Shane Victorino reached base four times, stole two bases and scored two runs, and Geoff Jenkins hit a two-run home run in the fifth to cap off the Phillies' scoring.
Eaton admitted he was a little nervous pitching the sixth inning while trying to win his first game since Sept. 21 of last season.
"It's probably just a little bit of a psychological thing, to get a win," Eaton said. "I really don't care if I get a win, as long as we win the game I pitch."
The Phillies won this most recent one, giving them a season-best four in a row heading into a huge weekend series against the first-place Marlins. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.