One night after the veteran general manager blamed the Phillies' poor start primarily on the middle of the batting order, one of the culprits responded.
With a rare display of power.
Leftfielder Pat Burrell, the poster child for the club's struggles, slammed a pair of homers and knocked in five runs last night, steering the Phils to a 7-2 win over the Chicago Clubs at Citizens Bank Park.
Cole Hamels (5-1) pitched seven strong innings to notch the win. Lefthander Rich Hill (4-2), who took a third-in-the-league 1.73 ERA into the game, absorbed the loss.
Hill served three-run and two-run homers to Burrell, who equaled a career high for homers and RBIs in a game.
Burrell, one of the subjects of general manager Pat Gillick's critical remarks in yesterday's Inquirer, entered the night with just one home run in 97 at-bats.
Gillick had nothing to do with his power resurgence, Burrell explained, claiming he wasn't aware of what the general manager had said.
"I didn't know. I try not to read the papers around here," Burrell said. "If that's the case, [the criticism] is true. You have to look at the production of the middle of the lineup and guys have to pick it up. I have no problem with that."
Perhaps manager Charlie Manuel was right when he said before the game that Burrell had shown positive signs despite going 2 for 28 on the Phils' recent 10-game road trip.
"He's hitting .308 with runners in scoring position; he's walking and getting on base," Manuel said before the 15th two-homer game of Burrell's career. "And in the San Francisco series and the Arizona series - other than when [the Diamondbacks'] Randy Johnson pitched - he hit the ball hard but didn't get many hits. I think he's going to get going any day. It's just a matter of time."
Burrell boosted his average from .237 to .257.
"He had been smoking balls, and they caught them," Manuel said. "Tonight, he got it up in the air. That's the joy of baseball."
Hill had a 2-0 lead, thanks to homers by Alfonso Soriano (career-best 19-game hitting streak) and Aramis Ramirez, before Burrell's three-run shot in the fourth. Aaron Rowand (walk) and Chase Utley (hit by pitch) had reached base before Burrell's homer to left-center.
Two innings later, after a walk to Utley, Burrell drilled a two-run homer to left, giving the Phils a 5-2 lead and igniting a curtain call from fans who have made him their target over the years.
Burrell had been hitting .152 against lefthanders.
"Is that right?" he said. " . . . All I know is, I saw the ball good tonight and got some good pitches to hit and hit them."
Burrell thought both homers were on pitches that were either outside or on the outside corner. "I'm not trying to hit the ball the other way," he said. "I need to try to hit the ball up the middle of the field and not pull off the ball, like I have."
Before the game, for the umpteenth time in Manuel's tenure, the Phillies manager talked about the importance of the current 10-game homestand, the importance of getting back to .500 and starting with a clean slate.
You've heard this before:
"We need to have a good homestand; we need to get over .500 as soon as possible," Manuel said before the Phils improved to 16-19. They need to go 7-3 to finish the homestand at .500.
"We have to start getting consistent," he said. "We have to step up."
Burrell did. So did Hamels, who allowed two runs and struck out seven in seven innings. In his last nine starts at Citizens Bank Park, he is 6-1 with a 2.79 ERA.
Burrell had a single and two homers in his three at-bats against Hill. In his fourth at-bat, he flied out to deep center against lefty Neal Cotts.
No matter. He still received a loud ovation from the crowd of 42,473 as he trotted to left field.
"I was very pleased with the crowd reaction," Hamels said.
Utley also had a productive night, reaching base three times and delivering a two-run single in the seventh. Utley has 23 RBIs in his last 20 games.
Utley is Mr. Consistent. Burrell is not. The Phils can only hope that last night's outburst is the start of a resurgence - and that Wes Helms (zero homers in 111 at-bats) is next.