CINCINNATI - The time had come for the Phillies to close the clubhouse doors and clear the air.
Charlie Manuel called a team meeting before last night's 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, which included 15 strikeouts from Cole Hamels and a triple play. Manuel talked. Coaches and players talked. They talked from about 4:20 p.m. to 5:40 p.m., so long that they eventually cancelled batting practice.
By all accounts, this meeting wasn't a hell raiser. Tables weren't flipped and bats weren't chucked around the clubhouse.
"It was more or less like a family dinner," Wes Helms said. "You just sit there and talk. What do we need to do to make things better? It's not one person. It's not two people. There are 25 of us. We had about 10 different players talk. It was a Thanksgiving dinner conversation. There was no yelling. It was just talking about what we've got to do."
Things they did last night against the Reds:
- Hamels struck out a career-high 15 in his first complete game. It is the most strikeouts for a Phillies pitcher since Curt Schilling struck out 15 on April 5, 1998, in Atlanta, and ties Hamels for the fourth-most strikeouts in franchise history in a nine-inning game.
- With runners on first and second in the fifth, Reds catcher David Ross hit a ball directly to third baseman Abraham Nunez, who stepped on third and threw to second. Chase Utley took the throw and threw to Helms to complete the team's first triple play since May 15, 1999, against the New York Mets.
- Chase Utley entered last night in a 1 for 15 slump and 1 for 17 this season with runners in scoring position. But after Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins executed a double steal to put runners on second and third with one out in the first, Utley ripped a double to left-center field to hand the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Utley later hit a solo homer in the sixth to make it 3-1.
"We'll have another meeting the next time Cole pitches," Manuel joked afterward. "Except it won't be as long. We'll just pretend it's as long. He pitched a hell of a game. He was super, man."
Superman or super, man?
"Super, man," Manuel said. "Either way."
"You could tell with the changeup and the fastball he had that he was going to have an awesome night," catcher Rod Barajas said. "This is one of the best games that I've ever caught. For him to do what he did, you don't see it very often. He made one mistake."
Hamels (2-0) allowed a solo homer to Jeff Conine in the second to make it a 2-1 game, but that's all he would allow.
"Just going out there with the motivation we had just makes you relax a little more because you know everybody is going to be behind you and we're going to play as one unit," Hamels said. "That's what puts that confidence in you. And then I was just able to execute."
It's not easy to execute a triple play, but Nunez said he envisioned it happening before Ross hit the ball.
Somebody called bull on that.
"Honest to God, I did," Nunez said. "I'm like, 'Whoa, there it is.' It's one thing to have it in the back of your mind, and it's another thing when it happens. But I thought if this is going to happen this is the time to do it."
Last night seemed the perfect time for one of the team's leaders -- Utley - to step up. He had been in a tough slump and Manuel said the losing had taken its toll. Maybe last night is the jumpstart Utley needs.
"Things eventually turned around," Utley said.
Maybe this is the meeting that turns around their season.
If it is, the Phillies (5-11) eventually would find themselves in select company. Just six teams in baseball history have started a season 5-11 or worse and made the postseason: the 1908 Detroit Tigers (5-11), 1914 Boston Braves (3-13), 1951 New York Giants (4-12), 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates (5-11), 2000 San Francisco Giants (5-11) and 2001 Oakland Athletics (5-11).
But let's talk baby steps first. If the Phillies beat the Reds today, they will win their first series of the season and win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
"Being able to talk today allowed us to get out all those bad thoughts," Hamels said. "We were able to get it all out and start as one. Be a team. That's what happened last year, and that's what's happening this year."
Extra bases. Ryan Howard, who wasn't in the lineup for the third-straight game, said he has improved and expects to start this afternoon. Howard suffered a left tib-fib sprain Wednesday. ... Manuel shuffled his lineup with lefthander Eric Milton on the mound. Victorino hit first, Aaron Rowand hit second, Rollins hit third and Utley hit fourth. Manuel said Rollins could return to the leadoff spot this afternoon.