THE JIMMY ROLLINS home-run deluge continued.
Ryan Howard's power bat made a momentary appearance between strikeouts.
But Jon Lieber's solid start and All-Star second baseman Chase Utley's career-high five hits made possible the Phillies' fifth straight win, 9-3, over the Nationals last night at Citizens Bank Park, pulling them closer to the amended April goal: the .500 mark.
They stand at 9-11 with five games to go. Maybe not the "team to beat," but now, having won three series, no longer the team everybody beats.
"We play .500 in April, turn it up in May, even more in June . . . " said Rollins.
"We're rolling a little bit," Utley said.
It began, he noted, with a fifth straight solid start.
Lieber (1-0) lasted six innings and allowed two runs, five hits, no walks with five strikeouts in his second start since leaving the bullpen. Both runs came in the fourth. He retired the first nine Nats he faced.
After 86 pitches (he was on a 90-pitch count as he returns to the rotation), he was done, no more than a decoy in the batter's box in the bottom of the sixth as the Utley show continued.
Last night's three singles and two doubles made Utley 11-for-20 with two homers, 10 RBI and nine runs scored since Saturday's pregame meeting in which manager Charlie Manuel entreated his troops to relax.
No Phillie is more intense than Utley, who has concentrated on hitting to leftfield during his and the Phillies' hot streak. Remarkably, eight of Utley's recent hits have been for extra bases. He has six doubles, helping him lead the league with 13.
"I've got to thank a few outfielders for that, too," he quipped, then recomposed: "Doubles are usually balls you hit hard. The goal of every at-bat is to hit the ball hard."
Since riding Cole Hamels' 15-strikeout effort in Cincinnati on Saturday to a 4-1 win, they have scored 39 runs in four games, mainly fueled by Utley.
"Without him in these past couple of games," said Rollins, whose eight homers leads the National League, "we probably don't win them."
Last night, Utley singled up the middle with two outs in the first inning, moved to second on a wild pitch and was stranded there when Howard struck out.
With two outs in the third, Utley doubled to leftfield - remember his new focus - and scored on Howard's homer, a right-centerfield shot off starter John Patterson (0-4) that put the Phils ahead 3-0. After the Nationals scored two in the fourth, Utley made it 4-2 when his two-out double to right in the fifth scored Rollins.
Utley's two-run single in the sixth off lefthander Micah Bowie capped a three-run inning that ended 7-2, made possible by an error on Nationals second baseman Ronnie Belliard.
Manuel used that hit especially to illustrate Utley's altered approach: "He's warming up. He's getting there. He's using all fields."
Utley's single in the eighth meant little besides a perfect night, since Rollins' two-run homer had iced the game. Rollins now has eight homers, the best month of his career.
Rollins has been hot all month. Utley has been hot for less than a week. He was at .213 with two homers and six RBI entering Saturday.
Five games and five wins later, Utley is at .296 with four homers and 16 RBI. He did what his boss told him to do: He relaxed.
"As a hitter, it's difficult sometimes to not do too much," Utley said. "When you try to hit a home run, it doesn't usually work out that way."
Howard's was his third, but he remains a .213 hitter who hasn't seen the other side of .250 since Game 2. Rollins scored three times last night but is 6-for-21 during the winning streak.
Utley has been the horse; hitting to all fields, swinging at more hittable pitches, relaxing.
"It's good to see him getting back to being Chase Utley," Rollins said.
"It's all about finding holes," Utley said.
And, on the other side, filling them. *