RAUL IBANEZ is hitting the whey out of the ball and Ryan Howard isn't far behind in the home run derby standings. Nobody even bothers to debate whether Chase Utley is the best second baseman in the league anymore.

Pedro Feliz has been jalapeno hot lately. Carlos Ruiz is backing up his superlative defense with some pop at the plate while Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino are having productive seasons. Because of all of the above, the Phillies enjoy a comfortable lead in the division.

Still, it's understood that they need Jimmy Rollins to be, well, Jimmy Rollins. He's the leadoff hitter, the spark plug, the X factor, the guy who makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Even though the Phillies have been winning, his .217 batting average going into play yesterday mattered.

And that's why the home run he launched off Red Sox ace Josh Beckett leading off the seventh yesterday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park did more than break an 0-for-14 streak, more than break a tie and give the Phillies a lead they wouldn't relinquish in what turned out to be an 11-6 win over the team with the best record in the American League.

It gave the Phillies reason to hope that Rollins - who has shown signs of coming out of his doldrums by hitting the ball hard, although without much luck, in recent games - has turned the corner for good.

"The last few days I've felt pretty close to that start of [the MVP] 2007. Like the stance, where my hands are going to the ball, the way I'm seeing the ball," he said. "So hopefully it does lead to something. Only time will tell.

"My [approach] is to continue to take the same good swing and hopefully find an angle that it hits some outfield grass. Or something that an infielder has a tough time making a play on. Those also count. All you can do is continue to put good swings on the ball. If they find some leather, that's bad. If they find some grass, that's good."

It was almost as if the Phillies saluted his fifth home run of the season by going on to score six runs and putting the game away in that inning, salvaging a win out of the weekend series.

Rollins, who wound up with a season-high three RBI, pointed out that he homered off then-Braves righthander John Smoltz on Opening Day in 2007 and went on to have his best season ever. And that Smoltz, now with the Red Sox, came over to speak to him yesterday. "So maybe that's a good omen," he suggested.

It's silly to try to divine too much importance out of a single game, but once again the Phillies get points for tenacity. They've now played 10 straight games against the Dodgers, Mets and Red Sox. Four of those games were decided in extra innings.

And then the Phillies found themselves down, 4-1. Against Beckett, who had allowed just 15 hits in 35 2/3 innings over his last five starts.

The Phillies had 11 hits against him in six-plus innings yesterday.

And they did it without Triple Crown candidate Ibanez, who sat with a sore Achilles'.

"It's been kind of a rough week. It's been kind of long," Howard said. "Los Angeles, New York, this series. They've all been pretty exciting games."

Howard came through in a key moment of his own. The Phillies had drawn back within a run in the fifth and had runners on second and third with two outs. First base was open and there was a righthanded hitter, Werth, on deck. And Beckett still gave Howard a pitch he could drive into rightfield for a double.

"I just went up there wanting to hit," he said. "And if I got something good to hit, I'm swinging."

Beckett said afterward that the pitch was supposed to be a sinker down and away.

That helped set the stage for Rollins in the seventh.

Lately he'd been hitting the ball hard, but at people.

This time he hit a ball hard at somebody who paid for a seat in the right-centerfield stands.


Pedro Feliz is 26-for-72 (.361) with 12 RBI in his last 19 games . . . Closer Ryan Madson pitched the ninth and extended his streak of scoreless innings to 14 2/3 over 16 games . . . Josh Beckett homered in the sixth inning. It was the first time a Red Sox pitcher had gone deep since May 20, 2006. Beckett also hit that one and it was also against the Phillies, off Brett Myers . . . Before that, the last Boston pitcher to homer was Marty Pattin in 1972 . . . The Phillies are off today. Probables for the Blue Jays series at the Bank: Lefthander Ricky Romero (3-3, 3.71) vs. lefthander Cole Hamels (4-2, 4.62) tomorrow night; righthander Scott Richmond (4-3, 3.90) vs. lefthander Jamie Moyer (4-5, 6.11) Wednesday night and righthander Casey Janssen (2-3, 6.23) vs. righthander Joe Blanton (4-3, 5.17) Thursday afternoon. *