If the surging Phillies are going to finish atop the National League East again, they need enigmatic Brett Myers to resemble the pitcher who, after a rocky first inning last night, helped the hot-hitting club win its fifth straight and climb into first place.
Myers allowed three first-inning runs - a long fly that leftfielder Pat Burrell played into a two-run single didn't help - but recovered and pitched superbly over the next seven innings as the Phillies trounced the Florida Marlins, 12-3, and moved past the Fish and into first place before a Citizens Bank Park sellout.
Winning for the first time in his last eight starts, Myers struck out 11 and allowed six hits - just three after the first inning - in eight innings.
"It can't do nothing but help him," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Trailing by 3-0, the Phils used Chris Coste's three-run homer, Shane Victorino's two-run double, and Chase Utley's two-run homer to produce a seven-run second inning against shell-shocked lefthander Mark Hendrickson. Utley has four homers and 15 RBIs in his last five games.
"The second inning set the tone, offensively," Coste said. "We were able to give Brett some breathing room, and he responded."
Ryan Howard added a three-run homer off the left-field foul pole to give the Phils an 11-3 lead in the fourth. It gave the Phillies a club-record 41 homers in May.
In their five-game winning streak, the Phillies have batted .337, swatted 10 homers, and averaged 12 runs per game.
"It's ridiculous," Myers (3-6) said about the Phils' scorching bats. "I feel bad for anyone who has to pitch against us."
Hitting doesn't figure to be the Phils' problem this summer. Starting pitching? Well, that's another story. And it's why Manuel was so pleased to see Myers rebound from a seven-game funk in which he had a 6.92 ERA.
"He definitely has to pitch good for us to be a winner," Manuel said. "He's definitely one of the guys we depend on."
"The biggest difference between tonight and the other nights was that when he got two strikes on them tonight, he was able to finish them off," Coste said.
In recent games, hitters had been laying off close pitches they normally chase against Myers.
"They've learned to make adjustments, so it has to be vice-versa - he has to make adjustments on hitters," Manuel said before the game, before Myers appeared to do just that.
Myers, who said he pitched better last night after his right hip loosened up when he ran the bases in the second, worked the inside part of the plate more often than in recent games.
"He threw more fastballs inside and he was using both sides of the plate - and that made a big difference," Manuel said. "Myers had gotten away from throwing inside. . . . If you throw away 98 percent of the time, eventually they're going to start looking out there."
Even when he had the big lead, Myers said, he bore down.
"I'm struggling, so I was pitching like we were only up by one," he said. "I got my mechanics back in line."
As for Utley, he has 18 homers and 48 RBIs; he is on pace to hit 52 homers and knock in 139 runs.
That might make him the third Phillie to win the MVP award.
The National League hasn't had three different players from the same team win consecutive MVP awards since 1942-44, when St. Louis' Mort Cooper, Stan Musial and Marty Marion earned the honors.