MIAMI - There were no bottles of champagne or rolls of streamers or balloons fluttering down from overhead. The Phillies have scored runs before, and they'll score runs again, and if you think anybody in the visitor's clubhouse was doing cartwheels and smoking cigars after a skin-of-the-teeth 3-2 victory over the Marlins last night, you obviously were out of town for the past two Octobers.
But there was a sense of normalcy restored after Raul Ibanez' slump-busting RBI triple in the fourth inning and Ryan Howard's game-tying single in the fifth and Chase Utley's go-ahead groundout gave a beleaguered offense a 24-hour reprieve on listening to yet another round of variations on an all-too-familiar theme:
Namely, what in tarnation is wrong with you guys?
For at least one night, they had a chance to smile and converse with each other in a public setting, where the questions pertained not to an ever-shrinking division lead, but to the snapping of a five-game losing streak and one of the more mind-boggling stretches in recent and not-so-recent club history.
"I forgot what it was like to high-five somebody," said centerfielder Shane Victorino, who set up the go-ahead run in the seventh by stealing third base.
The Phils entered the night fresh off a three-game sweep in which the Mets outscored them 16-0, tying a club record for consecutive shutouts.
Ibanez and Howard took care of the team's dirty little footnote in the fourth inning against righthander Chris Volstad when the first baseman led off with a single and the leftfielder drove him in with a triple to the gap in right-centerfield.
The ensuing run, which cut the Phillies' deficit to 2-1, ended their scoreless-innings streak at 30 and squashed the possiblity of tying a major league record by becoming the ninth team in history to go scoreless for four straight games.
But the victory, however small, gave way again to defeat, as Ibanez found himself standing on third base when the inning ended, despite the fact that he arrived there with no outs.
"With a guy standing on third and nobody out, I was thinking, 'Yeah, we're going to get another one,' " manager Charlie Manuel said. "And we didn't get it."
The Phillies were 0-for-5 against the Mets with a runner on third and less than two outs, and before Utley's go-ahead groundout in the seventh last night had not driven in a run in that situation since May 19 against the Cubs.
That included the first inning last night, when Victorino was hit by a pitch and Wilson Valdez laid down a bunt single to put runners on first and second with no out. But after Utley hit into a fielder's choice that moved Victorino to third, Howard struck out and Ibanez grounded out.
In the fourth, after Ibanez' RBI triple, Ross Gload and Greg Dobbs both struck out, as did Kyle Kendrick to end the frame.
The Phillies may have avoided history, but there is no way to label their three runs last night as anything other than the bounces going their way for the first time in about a week (before their three shutouts against the Mets, they were shut out by Daisuke Matsuzaka, then failed to score in eight innings against Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, finally adding three garbage-time runs in the ninth of an 8-3 loss Sunday).
"If you sit there and watch baseball day in and day out, you'll be surprised how much luck is involved," Manuel said.
That's not to say the Phillies' struggles at the plate stemmed from luck - just that they had a chance to score runs before and didn't get a timely bounce or two.
Things have been much different on the mound, with Kendrick turning in the latest quality outing from a rotation that entered yesterday sixth in the NL with a 3.91 ERA and fourth with 296 1/3 innings pitched.
The young righthander pitched six strong innings, allowing his only two runs when he botched a routine throw to first base on what should have been an inning-ending grounder by Hanley Ramirez.
Manuel said he was frustrated with Kendrick's approach the first four innings, saying his tempo was too slow, which left the impression that he was nervous about each pitch.
"Let me put it to you a nice, easier way: He's kind of timid," said Manuel, who relayed a similar message to his starter in the dugout between innings. "I'm not trying to send him a message because I already told him . . . he will be much better" if he improves his tempo.
As it was, Kendrick finished the night with two unearned runs in six innings, allowing five hits and no walks and lowering his ERA to 5.04.
Jose Contreras recorded his third save of the season, getting the final two outs with the tying run on second base.
The Phillies improved to 27-20, while the Marlins fell to 24-25, four games out of the lead.
"We needed it," Kendrick said. "We needed to win tonight, and we came out and won."
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.