MIAMI - It began innocently enough, with two young lefthanders going pitch for pitch against the two most powerful lineups in the National League.
But the way it ended - with Dan Uggla being mobbed at home plate and a giant teal fish waving an orange flag on the mound at Dolphins Stadium as the 14,000 or so fans who bothered to show up roared - served notice that the Phillies won't be running away with the division anytime soon.
For the second straight night the upstart Marlins gained a game in the NL East standings, and this time they did it in dramatic fashion as Uggla's walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning gave Florida a 6-2 win and trimmed the Phillies' lead to two games.
If there were any doubt about the intestinal fortitude of this Florida team, the way it performed last night may have erased it.
On a night when Cole Hamels was once again on top of his game, striking out 13 and walking one in eight innings and retiring 17 consecutive batters at one point, the Marlins found a way to capitalize on the two mistakes Hamels made. Jorge Cantu hit a pair of solo home runs, one in the first and one in the seventh, both to leftfield, giving him three home runs in Florida's back-to-back wins to start the series.
The Phillies looked like they were on the verge of yet another late-game comeback, but the Marlins took their best shot and then counter-punched with devastating effectiveness.
With the Phils trailing 2-1 in the top of the ninth, Greg Dobbs once again came through with a pivotal pinch-hit, singling through the right side of the infield against closer Kevin Gregg. That put the tying run on first base with no out and the top of the order due up. After Dobbs was replaced by pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, Jimmy Rollins walked.
With Shane Victorino batting, Bruntlett stole third. Though Victorino ultimately struck out, arguing vehemently with home plate umpire Ron Kulpa after he called what looked to be an outside pitch strike three, Chase Utley drove Bruntlett home on a fielder's choice groundout on which Rollins was nabbed at second.
After Utley moved to second on a wild pitch, Gregg intentionally walked Ryan Howard then hit Pat Burrell with a pitch to load the bases with two out and Jayson Werth up. Once he arrived in the batter's box, Werth noticed that third baseman Wes Helms was playing back and decided to try to drop a bunt down the third-base line. Instead, the bunt rolled just to the left of Gregg, allowing him to easily throw out Werth and end the inning.
"I tried to surprise them because that was the last thing that anybody was thinking about," Werth said.
Manager Charlie Manuel said he would have liked for Werth to swing in that situation, but qualified it by saying, "If he gets the ball more towards third base, I'd be telling you it was a hell of a play."
Regardless, the Phillies entered the bottom of the ninth tied, despite managing just four hits through seven innings off Florida starter Andrew Miller.
The tie didn't last long, though, as usually reliable righthander Tom Gordon took over for Hamels and struggled to locate his fastball. He walked Hanley Ramirez, allowed a single to Cantu, then walked Helms to load the bases, bringing up Dan Uggla with one out.
"I was all over the place with my command tonight," Gordon said. "You know, they are a really good righthanded hitting ball club. I tried to keep the ball down and away but when I had to throw a strike, I had to throw a strike."
The troubles lingered into the Uggla at-bat. After falling behind 3-1, Gordon gave him a fastball that the powerful second baseman crushed into the leftfield seats.
"He's a tough hitter - a really tough hitter - and you can't make mistakes," Gordon said.
Entering the series with the possibility of putting real distance between themselves and the Marlins, the Phillies now must avoid being swept for the first time this season. A win by Florida tonight would put the two teams even in the loss column. There is no such thing as a must-win in June. But with series against St. Louis, Boston and the Angels on the horizon, tonight's game is certainly important.
who missed a scheduled minor league start June 2 because of tightness in his biceps, is scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Saturday . . . The Phillies had only five hits . . .
had the Phillies' two RBI to push his total to 58 . . . Catcher
left Florida sometime before the end of the game to fly home to be with his wife, Marcia, who went into labor. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.