IT IS HARD to imagine that three of the most crucial home runs of late belong to Brian Schneider, Greg Dobbs and Cody Ransom. But, then, this season has been hard to imagine, from the injuries to the ineptitude to the stalking-horse status this Phillies team holds. And so, last night, you couldn't do much except watch the most improbable inning of the year with mouth agape and repeat to yourself, "They won't, they won't, they won't," until, alas, they did.
The biggest blast of them all came from Ryan Howard, whose two-run home run off Arthur Rhodes in the 10th inning gave the Phillies a stunning 9-7 victory. But it was made possible only by a ferocious six-run rally in the ninth inning started by Dobbs' three-run home run off Mike Leake and finished by Ransom's two-run blast off Francisco Cordero.
"I don't know how to explain it," said Howard, whose walkoff hit kept the Phillies 5 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East. "Just try to build on it, I guess."
If there are two more improbable heroes than Dobbs and Ransom, they do not exist in the Phillies clubhouse. For a brief period 2 weeks ago, they were teammates at Triple A Lehigh Valley, both former big-leaguers whose time in the Show had seemed to come to unceremonious ends. Dobbs, the Phillies' top bench player in 2007 and 2008, had been designated for assignment after a disastrous start to the season. Ransom, the Yankees' Opening Day third baseman in 2009, had spent the first half of the season at Lehigh Valley and was scheduled to participate in the Triple A All-Star Game until the Phillies called up him last weekend.
Last night, however, they were in uniform at sold-out Citizens Bank Park and playing leading roles in a game the Phillies hope finally will give them the type of momentum they need heading into the All-Star break.
Heading into the ninth inning, the Phillies had managed only one run and five hits off Leake, a rookie righthander who had retired 14 of the last 15 hitters he'd faced. The Phillies had scored more than five runs only once in their previous nine games, making the Reds' 7-1 lead appear more than comfortable.
Then it happened.
First came a leadoff double from Shane Victorino. Then, a pair of one-out singles by Howard and Jayson Werth cut the deficit to 7-2. A nice way to end the night, sure. But the makings of a comeback? That's the way at least one of them saw it. When Phillies manager Charlie Manuel removed Joe Blanton from the game with one out and a man on third base in the sixth inning, Howard had spoken up, saying that if the bullpen could keep the deficit from growing, the lineup could rally.
"I just said, 'If we can hold them, we don't have to get it all back at once,' " Howard said. "I guess we scored them all at once."
Three of them came on a home run by Dobbs, which cut the deficit to 7-5 and chased Leake. Schneider, whose walkoff home run in the 12th Thursday night gave the Phillies a 4-3 victory over the Reds, flied out to centerfield against Reds closer Cordero. But after Ben Francisco drew a pinch-hit walk, Ransom delivered the biggest hit of his season, launching a home run into the right-centerfield seats to tie the game.
"You just want to keep it going, so the next guy can get to the plate," said Ransom, who had hit 16 home runs at Lehigh Valley before his callup. "We can't tie the game, down six, with the first guy. Get on and keep the line moving. That's all you're trying to do."
Ryan Madson, who allowed a game-tying run in the eighth inning Thursday, shut down the Reds in the 10th, and Raul Ibanez doubled to lead off the bottom of the frame.
That set the stage for Howard.
"All the momentum was on our side," Howard said. "I was just trying to put something out there to leftfield and let [Raul] run."
He got just enough of Rhodes' slider. The ball disappeared over the lip of the wall, and the Phillies streamed out of the dugout with new life.
"The last 2 nights, that's really good," Manuel said. "I mean, outstanding. That puts you in a new frame of mind."
The Phillies still have plenty to worry about. Starter Joe Blanton, who ended June with three straight quality starts, has now allowed 10 runs in his last two outings. Three of those runs came on a home run by Jonny Gomes in the first inning last night, and two more came in the fifth on a double by former Phillie Miguel Cairo.
But 45-40 is better than 44-41, and the Phillies have an opportunity to finish the first half of the season with a serious push. It might not be how anybody would have imagined.
Then again, nothing has been. *