ADMIT IT. This is pretty much how you expected the Phillies' season to unfold. Suspect pitching and monster mashing. Nine innings that resembled a beer-league softball game, with every fan in the outfield seats showing up with a glove and the firm belief that this was the night he would catch a home-run ball.

For most of the long, hot summer it hasn't been that way, of course. The Phillies' pitching, both the rotation and the bullpen, have exceeded expectations for the most part. And the lineup that, on paper, seemed poised to threaten the team record for runs scored in a season has been surprisingly meek far too many times.

Well, the good news for Phillies fans is that the offense has really perked up in the last 48 hours, including yesterday's 12-10 dismissal of the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

It awakened the echoes of those thrilling days of yesteryear, of at least last year, when it seemed no deficit was too large for this team to overcome. It allowed them to remain a game behind the Mets in the National League East.

So the Braves led 5-0 after the top of the third? No problem. The Phils stormed back to tie the score the in the bottom of the inning and tack on five more in the fifth.

The flip side, of course, is that it was the second straight game the Phillies found themselves in that sort of pickle. On Saturday, ace Cole Hamels gave up nine runs in the fourth inning. The Phillies came back to win, 10-9.

The Phillies needed a season-high five home runs - the Braves hit two - to come out on top yesterday. But the play that might have most exemplified their spunk came in the sixth when Shane Victorino scored from second on Ryan Howard's single to right, bowling over Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann in the process.

McCann had to leave the game with a mild concussion and is expected to miss at least a couple of games. Victorino called him afterward.

"I told him I hoped he didn't think it was a dirty play," the centerfielder said. "I wasn't searching for him or trying to hurt him. It was just one of those plays where it was the only way I could be safe.

"That's the never-say-die attitude this team is all about. It just goes to show: We've never given up and we never will give up."

Said McCann: "He was trying to score. I would have done the same thing if I was running. For sure, it was a clean play."

Manager Charlie Manuel wasn't about to do cartwheels over scoring 22 runs in two games. He's 64 years old, after all. He also seen his lineup explode, then fizzle, too many times already this year.

"We can play better than we've been playing. We can play better than we played [yesterday]. We scored runs and we hit the ball, but when I talk about inconsistent, that's the part that we see. Our team has been inconsistent ever since [the beginning of June]."

Recently, though, it's been the pitching that has been inconsistent. Righthander Joe Blanton, acquired from Oakland to stabilize the rotation, gave up five runs in six innings of his Phillies debut last Tuesday against the Mets.

Yesterday's outing was harder to assess since he gave up two runs in the first, retired the Braves in order in the second and then didn't come back after a rain delay that lasted an hour and 57 minutes.

"I kind of felt myself getting in the groove a little more with each batter, but we'll never know what would have happened," he said.

Said Manuel: "I thought he had better velocity and a better breaking ball in New York."

Blanton's ERA since the trade is 7.88, but the Phillies have won both his starts. "Good things happen when you keep plugging away," he said.

Adam Eaton took over after the tarp came off the field and got through the third before serving up a pair of homers while allowing three runs in the fourth. He had also pitched Saturday, his first relief appearance since being taken out of the rotation.

"It's my fault," he said. "I tried to treat it like a start. Obviously, I threw [the day before] and I didn't have a full deck and my body said, 'Whoa,' after that first inning and wouldn't let me do it. The circumstances weren't the best. At the same time, I made bad pitches."

The Phillies seemed to have a comfortable lead until the Braves scored five in the top of the eighth. Four were charged to Rudy Seanez, although only one was earned.

A potentially important play came with Ryan Madson on the mound with two outs and the bases loaded. Martin Prado hit a line drive to right. Instead of playing it on a hop and conceding a run or two, Jayson Werth tried to make a diving catch . . . and missed. Prado ended up with a bases-clearing double, which meant that Manuel had to use closer Brad Lidge in the ninth.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't artistic. But it was a win that allowed the Phillies to take the series and stay even with the Mets. Admit it. This is more the kind of game you were expecting all along. *