MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - With 18 games to play in a heated pennant race, the Phillies arrived in Florida for three critical games in an alternate baseball universe.
When the Marlins' Andrew Miller threw the first pitch of what ended as a 11-4 Phillies victory on Monday, maybe 3,000 people dotted the stands at Sun Life Stadium. The announced attendance was 20,616, and in a series of crimes against good baseball on this night, that may have been the worst.
"It's just a strange atmosphere," Jayson Werth said.
It's September, but still muggy here (of course), and the ball flies. The Phillies hit four home runs. Even Greg Dobbs, 30 days removed from his last major-league hit, smashed a pinch-hit homer to right in the seventh.
The Phils couldn't even scoreboard-watch here. The out-of-town scoreboard that previously adorned the left-field wall was removed before this season because it was too costly for ownership to replace all of the broken lightbulbs. Instead, two massive advertisements for MLB Network now cover the wall.
Maybe it was for the better. The Phillies couldn't pay attention to the Atlanta Braves, who stayed one game back in the NL East and also took advantage of the division's hapless by shutting out last-place Washington, 4-0.
At least Monday provided a momentary break from the drama that is September. By the end, the Phillies had inserted Brian Bocock at shortstop, John Mayberry Jr. in right, Ben Francisco in left, and Danys Baez on the mound - all the makings of a Grapefruit League game.
Some of the best drama came when Shane Victorino struck out in the fourth and his bat went flying into the dugout, precisely where Charlie Manuel was sitting with his bench coach, Pete Mackanin. Manuel was quick enough to escape the wrath of the bat.
"Nah, I had that bat all the way," Manuel said. "I did. I started to try to catch it. But I had it. I saw it. The old man can still move every now and then."
Yeah, that's what kind of night it was.
"We're used to playing with 45,000 people," Werth said, "and here we had what, four?"
Still, whatever could go right did go right for the Phillies. Every starter except Raul Ibanez had a hit. The Marlins walked six batters and leftfielder Logan Morrison made two errors on the same play.
Werth, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Dobbs each homered. Werth's came in the second inning on a 1-2 fastball from Miller high and away in the zone. He drove the pitch to the opposite field, just inside the right-field foul pole.
"That's probably what I've been trying to do a lot, trying to do too much," Werth said. "On that specific pitch, I just swung it easy."
Ruiz continued his finest offensive season with three hits and four RBIs. He reached base four of the five times he stepped to the plate. The 31-year-old catcher, who was a career .246 hitter entering this season, is hitting .300 on the dot with 17 games remaining.
Joe Blanton allowed just one run in six innings for his seventh win of the season. He struck out eight and the lone Marlins' run came when the Phillies already held a 10-0 lead. Blanton has a 3.50 ERA in 12 starts since the all-star break.
But shaky outings from David Herndon and Baez forced Manuel to warm up both Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson, two often-used relievers who had no business picking up a ball in this rout.
That was about the only negative Monday. It felt nothing like a pennant race. But if the rest of this trip is as easy as the first game, there will be no qualms from the visitors.