NEW YORK - It was the situation Charlie Manuel was supposed to dread, the fire the Phillies manager supposedly played with whenever he sat with his lineup card and penciled in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in succession.
Tenth inning, tie game, man on first, Utley up, and a lefthanded reliever trotting in from the bullpen to face the Phillies' three southpaw sluggers. But conventional baseball wisdom was dealt a big blow last night, and it came in the form of a three-run home run by Ibanez off Ken Takahashi that scored Shane Victorino and Utley and lifted the Phillies to a 6-3 victory over the Mets.
They remain in first place in the NL East, four games ahead of the rival Mets.
"Why should I be concerned?" Manuel asked rhetorically after Ibanez' blow gave the Phillies the series win at Citi Field. "Utley and Ibanez, they are the ones that hit the lefties a lot. And usually when Howard hits one, it's a home run. Hey, I feel just as good. It doesn't matter. That's how I look at it. Sometimes when I fill out my lineup, that's why I do it."
It is proving increasingly tough to argue with the logic. Left or right or ambidextrous, Manuel's lineup continues to hit, and hit in critical moments.
One night after rebounding from a three-run deficit to top Mike Pelfrey, the Phillies overcame a solid performance from familiar nemesis Tim Redding, getting an RBI double from Utley in the sixth inning and a one-out double from Chris Coste in the seventh, which moved Pedro Feliz to third. Feliz then tied the game at 3-3 on a groundout by Matt Stairs.
After lefthander Jamie Moyer held the Mets to three runs on eight hits in six innings, the Phillies bullpen tossed four scoreless innings - two of them by Clay Condrey, another one by Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre, and the final one by righthander Ryan Madson, who recorded his second save since regular closer Brad Lidge went on the disabled list with a knee injury.
Moyer has pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer runs in four of his last five starts, during which he has allowed 13 runs in 31 innings. The bullpen, meanwhile, has pitched 10 straight scoreless innings since allowing two in their 6-5 loss Tuesday.
"I'm not keeping track, but I feel like I am doing what I'm supposed to do," said Moyer, whose ERA has fallen from 8.15 to 6.11 in his last five starts.
But as good as the Phillies pitching has been during this 10-game road trip, which they finished 7-3, the foundation on which their 35-23 overall record and 23-9 road record rests is the remarkable production of the middle of the order. Two nights ago, Utley hit two home runs, including a game-winner in the 11th. Last night, Ibanez again seized the spotlight he has held since joining the Phillies in the offseason.
His three-run home run was his 21st of the season, lifting his RBI total to an eye-popping 58 in 58 games. And it came on a night where he was hitless in his first four plate appearances, when he struck out twice and hit only one ball out of the infield.
"Resilience," said Ibanez, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games. "It's a tough ballclub. A bunch of mentally strong guys in here, all 25. I've been on teams before where a lot of the guys are mentally tough. On this team, everybody is mentally tough."
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, or in this case, the win-loss record. The Phillies improved to 6-2 in extra-innings games, and dropped the Mets to 2-5 in the same situation. Last year, mental toughness very likely proved to be the difference between the two, as the Phillies overcame the Mets in the final weeks of the season and went on to win the World Series.
"My team always comes back," Manuel said. "That's what's good about them. It's them. I give them all the credit in the world. That's what I say about them all the time. We don't quit. We keep going. That's how we are supposed to play. That's something we want to keep."
Lefthander Scott Eyre, who retired the only batter he faced in the ninth inning to preserve a 4-4 tie, injured his calf during the at-bat, according to Charlie Manuel. Eyre will be re-evaluated today.
"I think it could be serious," Manuel said. "He may be out for a while." *
Daily News sports writer Paul Hagen contributed to this report.