NEW YORK - The difference between 33 wins and 34, and a one-game lead and a three-game lead, and a heartbreaking win and a heartbreaking loss, was so narrow last night that pinpointing the exact moment in which the Phillies' fortunes turned is better left to the mathematicians.
The inning-ending doubleplay turned by Pedro Feliz and Chase Utley with the bases loaded in the fourth; the inning-ending strikeout by Scott Eyre with the bases loaded in the seventh; the inning-ending diving catch by Jayson Werth with the game-winning run racing around second in the 10th - on a night the Mets managed 16 hits and had 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position - all played equally decisive roles in determining the outcome.
But the freshest memories are the most recent, and thus we come to Utley, leading off the 11th inning, and the 1-0 fastball that the second baseman sent sailing into the seats in rightfield, where a handful of Mets fans could only watch as the final dagger in a 5-4 Phillies victory landed in their midst.
When all was said and done, Utley had his 14th and 15th home runs of the season, Ryan Madson had his first save since taking over for injured closer Brad Lidge, and the Phillies had a win to make up for the one that got away the previous night against New York ace Johan Santana.
"We got some big hits, some good defensive plays," said Utley, who went 3-for-5 and has three home runs in the first two games of this three-game series. "So overall, it was a pretty good game."
Good not only because the Phillies won, but because they did so on a night when the Mets had success against their ace. Like the night before, when the Phillies scored five runs off Santana only to lose, 6-5, the Mets were unable to parlay four early runs against Cole Hamels into a victory. They stranded 16 runners and went 6-for-19 with runners in scoring position, thanks in large part to a stout defense that helped Hamels and the relievers who followed him wiggle out of precarious jams.
In the fourth inning, the Mets had already scored three runs when Carlos Beltran stepped up with one out and the bases loaded.
At that point, Hamels said, "It's damage control."
And thanks to a grounder fielded by Feliz, thrown to Utley, and relayed to Ryan Howard, control the damage he did. Although replays suggested that Beltran might have reached first base a split-second before Utley's throw, umpire Dan Iassogna called him out to end the inning.
Hamels also escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, getting a groundout from opposing pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who already had two key hits off him. He allowed 11 hits, which tied a career high, in five innings, which was his second-shortest healthy outing of the season, but held the Mets to four runs before turning the game over to the bullpen.
That's where the game got interesting.
In the seventh, the first five Phillies reached base - the first four on hits and the last on an error - to drive home two runs, knock Pelfrey from the game, and keep the bases loaded with no outs and a 4-3 deficit. With Mets lefty Pedro Feliciano warming in the bullpen and the pitcher's spot up, Manuel decided to send newly acquired catcher Paul Bako to the plate instead of lefty slugger Matt Stairs. Figuring that the Mets would call on the lefty to face Stairs, and not wanting to burn Stairs by replacing him with righthanded hitting Chris Coste, Manuel sent up the lefty-hitting Bako. He struck out.
Rollins tied the game with an RBI groundout, but the Phils the failed to take the lead.
"The moment I put up Stairs, they are going to go get the lefty," Manuel said. "I'd bet my house."
Thanks to a combination of Eyre, Werth, Chan Ho Park, and, ultimately, Utley, the move proved inconsequential. After Chad Durbin loaded the bases with two out in the seventh, Eyre struck out pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy to end the frame. Park then pitched two scoreless innings, the last ending on Werth's spectacular diving catch on David Wright's potential game-winning drive to the gap in right-center. At the time, Fernando Martinez was on first and running on contact. Werth said he does not think the run would have scored had he not made the catch. Utley and Manuel disagreed.
"That was obviously an outstanding play," Utley said. "I think definitely if that ball gets by him, the game is over."
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who was 5-for-8 in two games batting sixth, returned to the leadoff spot. When Charlie Manuel was asked if Rollins would remain at the top of the order, he answered, "Probably" . . . The Phillies have been keeping tabs on several righthanded hitters who could be available for trade, including Rockies outfielder Ryan Spil-borghs, who has a .321 career average against righthanded pitching and a .313 average as a pinch-hitter in 83 career at-bats. *