There were two thunderous cracks of the bat in the seventh inning last night at Citizens Bank Park.

First, Chase Utley hit a mammoth, you-wish-you-were-there-to-see-it home run over the batter's eye in dead-center field and onto Ashburn Alley.

Moments later, Ryan Howard struck out for a third consecutive time and turned his huge maple bat into kindling by ferociously smashing it into the hard clay around home plate.

Howard's histrionics were telling - he's hitting just .218 - but his frustration turned out to be just a theatrical footnote to a night Phillies fans had waited too long for.

Finally, everyone had a good time at the ballpark. Warm weather made it feel like baseball season. And the Phillies knocked the yarn out of the ball with a 20-hit outburst en route to an 11-4 victory over the Houston Astros on Jackie Robinson tribute night.

Players on both teams wore No. 42 in Robinson's honor.

"It was great being out there and having a chance to wear that number," said Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies' hitting star with two singles, a triple, a homer and four runs scored. "The atmosphere was great. It was very special."

The slow-starting Phils seem to be experiencing an April thaw as they've improved to 7-11. They have won three in a row for the first time this season. They'd be looking at a five-game winning streak had Tom Gordon been able to close out Friday night's game in Cincinnati.

Tonight, they look to keep it going as the Washington Nationals come to town for three games.

Every member of the Phils' starting lineup - including pitcher Adam Eaton - had at least a hit in the rout of Houston. Ironically, Utley carried an 0-fer to the plate and was the only starter without a hit when he came up with Shane Victorino on second base with two outs in the seventh.

Facing righthander Dave Borkowski, Utley unloaded on a 2-2 pitch. Everyone in the crowd of 32,517 knew it was gone. The only question was which concession stand it would be visiting on Ashburn Alley.

After the blast, Phillies officials pulled out their charts, graphs and protractors and calculated the distance of Utley's homer at 460 feet. That might have been conservative. This ball appeared to go at least 462 feet. Either way you slice it, that's a lot of real estate.

Utley's homer was one of two the Phillies hit in support of Eaton, who coughed up two early leads but ultimately locked it down after the Phils rallied for three runs in the fourth to break a 4-4 tie.

Rollins led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo homer, matching Craig Biggio's feat from the top of the inning.

Before the game, Harold Gould, a former member of the Philadelphia Stars Negro league team, asked Rollins to hit a home run for him.

Rollins, the NL leader with seven, delivered.

"They came out banging," Rollins said of the Astros. "We needed to score some runs and we stayed after it. We know we have a good offensive team. Hopefully as the weather gets warmer, we'll see it."

Victorino, Rollins' partner at the top of the lineup, had two singles and an important two-run double in the seventh.

Rollins and Victorino combined for seven hits, six runs and five RBIs. They are fun to watch when they get going like this.

"When Jimmy and I are on the bases, things seem to fall into place," Victorino said. "It seems like everyone swung the bats well.

"Jimmy really gave us a lift. After Biggio's [leadoff] homer, people might have been thinking, 'Here we go again.' Jimmy came right back and the offense took off from there."

Pat Burrell and Wes Helms both added three hits apiece to the Phillies' attack. Burrell was lifted for pinch-runner Michael Bourn in the bottom of the sixth. Manager Charlie Manuel said he will sacrifice Burrell's bat for defense when his team has a late lead.

Over the last two games, the Phils have 32 hits and 20 runs.

Eaton (2-1) worked into the seventh and allowed four runs in helping Manuel pick up his 400th win as a big-league manager. Geoff Geary, Ryan Madson and Francisco Rosario teamed on three scoreless innings to seal the win.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or