IT WAS hard not to think of the Phillies' season as Brett Myers motored around third base in the second inning, his face taut, his chest puffed forward, a pair of batting gloves flapping from the ends of his clenched fists.
It wasn't the prettiest site in the world, nor the most ideal. But after an awkward slide and a cloud of dust, he was somehow safe at home, in complete control of his own destiny.
Enter the Phillies, who all of the sudden find themselves exactly where they want to be - uniforms dirtied, palms worn, yet back at the top of the postseason race, tied with a Brewers team that they uncermoniously dismissed yesterday with a day-night doubleheader sweep at Citizens Bank Park.
Like the rejuvenated Myers, who pitched a complete-game two-hitter in the 6-1 victory that clinched a four-game sweep and vaulted the Phillies into a tie with the Brewers atop the wild-card standings, the Phillies' path hasn't always been pretty.
They have endured plenty of moments like a series loss to the Marlins last week and a series loss to the Nationals the week before. They have witnessed their four most important regulars endure mind-boggling slumps. They have sent two-fifths of their original starting rotation to the minors.
Yet with 12 games remaining, this is where they sit: tied for the wild-card lead, and one game behind the Mets in the National League East with nine of their remaining games against a pair of teams who are a combined 59 games under .500.
"This team is a team of necessity sometimes," said rightfielder Jayson Werth, who scored the go-ahead run in the 7-3 Game 1 win, then drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning of the nightcap. "If you look back to last year, when we needed to win, we won. "
There is no telling how the final couple of weeks of this 2008 season will conclude, particularly with a pair of teams in the Nationals and Marlins that have displayed the potential to spoil the Phillies' party.
But if they play as they did last night - and, for that matter, this entire four-game set - they will have a chance.
The star of the night, as he has been for the majority of his starts in the past couple months, was Myers. Pitching on 3 days' rest, he tossed one of the greatest games of his career, allowing just three baserunners and one run while throwing 95 pitches in nine innings.
He also contributed at the plate, hitting a two-out RBI single in the second inning, then scoring from second on Jimmy Rollins' two-run single.
"I knew I wasn't going to have my best velocity or anything like that," Myers said, "but that's when you have to pitch. "
Although manager Charlie Manuel said after the game he paid no attention to the psychology of the opposing club, the Phillies (83-67) had to realize the Brewers were reeling. One year after fading down the stretch in both the wild-card and NL Central races, Milwaukee (83-67) had dropped its first two games of the series and 11 of its last 14 overall.
In what could be considered another sign of panic, manager Ned Yost drastically altered his batting order before yesterday's opening game, putting rightfielder Corey Hart in the leadoff spot for just the sixth time this season, while batting Ray Durham third for the first time since he joined the team in mid-July.
Early on, the moves appeared to pay dividends as Hart tripled and Durham homered to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead in the first. But Game 1 starter Joe Blanton settled down, allowing three runs in seven innings.
With Game 1 tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning and Werth on second with one out, Yost elected to intentionally walk Ryan Howard, leaving lefthander Brian Shouse to face righthanded-hitting Pat Burrell. Howard had already hit a two-run home run, his 44th and his seventh in September. But Burrell, who entered the at-bat mired in a 10-for-69 slump, hit a grounder through the left side of the infield to score Werth from second. Shane Victorino then hit a three-run home run that seemed to deflate Milwaukee for the rest of the night.
Myers (10-11) dominated the Brewers in the nightcap, allowing two hits - one a solo home run to Prince Fielder - and won for the sixth time in eight starts.
"I think that [the players] realize exactly what we have to do and how hard it is to go get it," said Manuel, whose team improved to a season-high 16 games over .500 with the win. "I think the guys that were on the team last year - expecially the core players - I think they know how hard it is for us to win. Winning is never easy." *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.