The Phillies were done. Finished.

Kaput

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They started the season with such high hopes, then they blew it. All that was left was to fire the manager, trade the entire roster and wait for Eagles training camp to open.

That was, oh, about 10 days ago.

Since then, they haven't done too badly. By beating the Florida Marlins 6-1 yesterday at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils won their third straight series. Throw in a make-up victory over the Astros and they've won seven of their last nine.

So now they can heave a sigh of relief, sit back, put up their feet and feel pretty good about themselves . . . .until 7 o'clock tonight when they open a daunting 10-game road trip in Atlanta that will continue with stops in San Francisco and Arizona.

That's the thing about a baseball season. As wrong as it was to jump to conclusions about the Phillies' slow start, it would be just as misleading to assume that everything is now under control.

And while it's a little too early to throw around phrases like "important road trip" when it's not even Mother's Day yet, the upcoming junket should at least be an interesting test for the schizophrenic local ballclub.

Two years ago they were 24-27 through May 29, in last place and 5 games out of first.

Then they won 12 of 13. That pushed them into second, just a game-and-a-half off the pace. They were on their way.

At least they were until they turned right around and lost 12 of 16 to fall 8 1/2 games behind.

Exactly a year ago yesterday they lost to the Pirates. That left them 9-14, already a full 7 games behind the Mets.

With emergency rooms filling up with people injured while jumping off the bandwagon, they went on a tear, winning 13 of 14. Again, though, just when it seemed safe to start wearing your Phillies cap in public, they took another nosedive by losing 9 of their next 11.

Maybe this is an important early season trip after all. Maybe they need to demonstrate that they can break out of their roller-coaster pattern and build on their momentum instead of backsliding one more time.

"Right now we've got the mindset that we're going to play a day at a time and try to win each game as best we can," said Charlie Manuel.

That won't be easy.

Atlanta, which swept the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park to open the season, sends righthander Tim Hudson, the National League's most dominant starter so far this season, to the mound tonight. He has a 1.22 earned run average.

In the next two games at Turner Field, the Braves have lefthanders Mark Redman and Chuck James going. And while Redman has been terrible so far, the fact is that the Phillies have been less effective against lefties (.250 team batting average) than righthanders (.283) so far.

They are also 2-6 when a lefthander starts compared to 9-7 against righties.

Next stop: San Francisco. The Phillies will fly cross country, changing time zones three times, after the Wednesday night game to play a Giants team that is in the middle of a homestand.

Since a 2-7 start, San Francisco has gone 10-4 despite being swept by the Diamondbacks over the weekend. And the Giants have been getting terrific pitching with a 3.44 staff ERA. Oh, yeah, and that Bonds guy has been hitting some homers.

The final leg of the journey is Arizona, where the Diamondbacks have won five straight.

"The way we're going right now, this could be good for us," said reliever Brett Myers. "It's always tougher to play away from home, but we've got to keep doing what we've been doing. If we keep doing that, things will fall into place."

That's also easier to say than do. If the Phillies have learned one thing in the last two years it should be, for better or worse, how quickly things can change. *