FOR ALL THE TALK of the epic potential of this Phillies lineup, the fact remains that there will be nights when the bats don't find the balls or the balls don't find the holes or the holes open up at the worst possible times.

And if the Phillies hope to continue to build a lead in the National League East, they will have to win a handful of those kinds of games.

Before last night, they hadn't fared well in doing so, losing 18 of the 21 contests in which they had scored three or less runs.

But thanks to Adam Eaton, the bullpen, and a little bit of defense, that trend is momentarily on hold.

On a night in which the Phillies went just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base, Eaton carried them through 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on three hits in a 3-2 win over the Reds.

"To go out there and throw some zeroes against that lineup, it was nice to do," said Eaton, who won back-to-back starts for the first time this season and his third time as a Phillie. "At the same time, going out there and throwing some shutout innings, give up one or two, it makes the job of the offense a little bit easier."

It was the type of performance the Phillies envisioned when they brought the righthander to town to fill out their rotation last season.

Eaton was confident, aggressive and in control. He struck out five Reds, including slugger Adam Dunn twice. He walked none. He allowed runners to get to second just twice - one on a solo home run by Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the third inning.

When he needed help, his defense picked him up.

After Eaton allowed a single to Jay Bruce to start the seventh, Pedro Feliz made a nice play on a ground ball by Brandon Phillips, moving to his left and starting off a doubleplay that cleared the bases.

It was a crucial moment, particularly because of the presence of Dunn in the on-deck circle.

"That was big," manager Charlie Manuel said.

The offense managed nine hits off righthander Aaron Harang, but left runners in scoring position in the first, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Nevertheless, Chase Utley's RBI single in the third inning and Pat Burrell's two-run home run in the sixth were all the Phillies would need.

Utley failed to homer for the first time in six games, but drove in a run in his ninth straight game. Burrell's home run, to leftfield on a 2-2 pitch, was his 14th of the season.

Shane Victorino's 14-game hitting streak ended, while Jimmy Rollins broke out of a 2-for-21 slump by going 3-for-4.

The Phils had runners on second and third with no out in the seventh and couldn't drive any home. But the bullpen made sure that didn't matter.

Tom Gordon, pitching in his third straight game for the first time all season, allowed a run in the eighth after Encarnacion led off with a triple, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Javier Valentin. But Gordon bounced back, walking pinch-hitting Ken Griffey Jr., then getting Jerry Hairston to fly out and Paul Janish to strike out.

Brad Lidge didn't pitch the cleanest ninth, walking two and allowing a single to Joey Votto, but another key doubleplay started by Feliz helped the closer, and Encarnacion flew out to Geoff Jenkins to end the game.

Lidge, whose ERA fell to 0.72, recorded his 15th save in 15 opportunities.

The Phillies improved to 35-25 and are up 2 1/2 games in the NL East, their biggest lead since July 5, 2004.

"Any time you can play in this ballpark and win 3-2, that's a confidence builder," Gordon said. "You just have to keep going."

Much of the credit goes to Eaton, who has now put together three straight quality outings, improving to 2-3 and dropping his ERA to 4.63.

"I think he's had some success, and success has gotten his confidence [up]," pitching coach Rich Dubee.

"He's attacking the strike zone, he's throwing four pitches for strikes, his tempo, and you see his body language, is so much better out there. I think he's much more confident in what he's doing." *

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese