ST. LOUIS - The first clue that something big was about to go down came in the first inning. That's when the Phillies hit three consecutive home runs, measuring a combined 1,089 feet.

Those wallops - by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell - were just the beginning as the Phillies broke out the lumber and laid a 20-2 beating on the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night at Busch Stadium.

"The three home runs definitely got us going," manager Charlie Manuel said. "If that doesn't get you going, I guess nothing will."

Howard was one of several hitting stars, with a pair of homers and five RBIs.

"This is one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball when guys are clicking," he said.

The National League East-leading Phils have won 17 of their last 23 games and have reached double digits in runs in five of those wins.

Friday night's outburst marked the second time this season that the Phillies have scored 20 runs in a game - they also dropped 20 on the Colorado Rockies on May 26. You have to go back to 1900 to find the last time the Phils scored 20 twice in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The rout was highlighted by their biggest inning of the season - a nine-run explosion in a seemingly endless fourth.

The Phils' 21 hits were a season high. They had seven in the fourth inning, when they sent 15 men to the plate. They also drew five walks in the fourth.

Winning pitcher Kyle Kendrick had a double and single in the inning.

A pair of beleaguered Cardinals pitchers, Todd Wellemeyer and Ron Villone, needed 68 pitches to get through the frame.

Howard, who had an RBI single in his first at-bat of the inning, struck out to end the inning. He rebounded nicely in his next at-bat and belted his second home run of the game - and 17th of the season - a three-run shot to right in the sixth.

By the eighth inning, the Cardinals had had enough of Howard. Reliever Russ Springer hit the Phillies slugger with a pitch and was ejected by home plate umpire Larry Vanover.

Manuel hinted that he believed that Springer threw at Howard intentionally.

"Ryan stands way off the plate," he said. "That's all I've got to say."

Howard was raised in the St. Louis suburbs and he likes hitting against his hometown team. He has eight home runs in 17 career games against the Cardinals and five homers in 10 games at the new Busch Stadium.

Utley also likes hitting against the Cardinals. He had two hits, including his league-leading 22d homer, and three RBIs.

Utley has hit in 21 consecutive games against the Cards at a .402 clip (39 for 97).

Kendrick allowed just two runs over seven innings and got the win to improve to 6-2.

The righthander's job was made a little easier by the absence of Albert Pujols from the Cardinals' lineup. Pujols, hitting .347 with 16 homers, is on the disabled list with a strained left calf.

"It's a little easier to manage when Pujols isn't in there," Manuel said.

It's also a little easier to manage when your team scores runs the way the Phillies did.