In the punchy, slap-happy Phillies clubhouse early yesterday morning, it was easy enough to believe that an improbable, 19-inning win over the Cincinnati Reds affirmed that they are still the team to beat in the National League.
Now, it's true that sometimes Lady Luck smiles on a team from wire to wire. Everything goes right. Its bloops fall in. The other team's line drives are caught. Borderline calls go their way. This breeds confidence which, in turn, breeds more success.
A variation on the theme involves clubs that win a battle of the wills. An example occurred late last July when the Phillies went into a brutally hot getaway day game in St. Louis just two games over .500. Cole Hamels allowed just one hit in eight shutout innings. And didn't get a decision. The Phillies finally broke open a scoreless tie and won in 11 innings.
From that point to the end of the season, they were the hottest team in baseball. They went 49-19 the rest of the way.
There were elements of both in their unabridged win over Cincinnati. So it's easy to get a little giddy, a little carried away. And maybe the Phillies are now poised to run away from the rest of the league.
The view from this shaded lawn chair, though, is that as wildly entertaining as it was to watch Wilson Valdez shake off signs from catcher Dane Sardinha and to see catcher Carlos Ruiz playing third base and to keep track in wonderment as reliever Danys Baez' pitch count mounted inning after inning, it was nothing more than that.
The Phillies didn't get on a roll last year because they out-toughed the Cardinals that blistering afternoon. They took off because they traded for Roy Oswalt a week later and because hitting coach Milt Thompson was fired. Not that Greg Gross necessarily told the hitters anything that Thompson didn't, but it was a clear signal to the clubhouse that the front office was losing patience. And that if things didn't turn around, more changes were possible.
They didn't flatten the Reds, 10-4, yesterday because of what happened 12 hours earlier.
And if they make it back to the World Series this October for the third time in four seasons, it won't be because the Reds managed to have four straight batters reach base on a hit by pitch and three walks and somehow managed not to score a run in the 11th or because the Phillies were able to finally take advantage of a Cincinnati reliever who ended up throwing 95 pitches.
It will be because Chase Utley is back and Shane Victorino should follow soon. It will be because Ryan Howard has his customary torrid second half and because Jimmy Rollins comes around and because Ryan Madson has finally matured into the closer the Phillies always believed he could be.
It will be because Domonic Brown or John Mayberry Jr. or Ben Francisco takes control in rightfield. Or general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. pulls another bat out of a red Phillies cap.
And mostly, of course, it will be because of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and Hamels and Oswalt.
Look, when a game lasts so long and encompasses so many twists and turns, it's natural to want to build it into something bigger and grander than it actually is. Especially when you win.
Remember, though, that if the Phillies had lost, they would have been quick to point out that it only counts once. Same with a win. It was fun. It was memorable. And that's where it ends.
No matter what happens next.
PHAIR & PHOUL
WHO DAT? Outfielder John Mayberry Jr. wore a microphone during Tuesday night's game against the Reds. In one sequence, he was shown walking down the dugout and offering congratulations to Vanimal. In case anybody was wondering, that was a reference to the nickname of that night's starting pitcher, Vance Worley.
PHILADELPHIA THREEDOM: The Phillies have scored three or fewer runs 28 times in the first 50 games of the season, including a streak of nine straight that ended with Monday's 10-3 win over the Reds. Let's put that into perspective.
In 2007 - just 4 years ago - they scored three or fewer runs 45 times for the entire season.
Of course, in '07 they were 4-41 on those occasions. This year: 11-17. Which is just another reminder of how important pitching really is.
FROM THIS DAY FORWARD: The Phillies like to point out that, for all their injuries and offensive problems, they still have the best record in the National League. Which is true.
However - and you just knew there was a however - that was built largely on the basis of their hot start. They went 9-3 out of the gate while averaging 5.8 runs per game.
Since then, they've gone 22-16 (.579). Not bad under the circumstances, but not the best record in the league. In fact, it's the NL's fourth-best winning percentage in that span behind St. Louis, 24-14 (.632); Florida, 22-14 (.611) and Atlanta, 23-15 (.605) ... and just ahead of Milwaukee 20-15 (.571) and San Francisco, 21-16 (.568).
TIME FLIES: Not only has the Phillies' offense struggled much of the year, their pitching has been pretty good. The net result has been a lot of fast games. But few have moved along as swiftly as last weekend's series against the Rangers.
Press-box pal Clem Comly looked at every three-game series in Citizens Bank Park history that didn't include any rain-shortened games and discovered that the Texas games lasted a combined 7 hours and 14 minutes while a total of nine runs were scored. That was eclipsed only by the Giants series last September that spanned 7:04 with eight runners crossing the plate.
AS OTHERS SEE IT: The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article last week that demonstrated statistically how difficult it is for teams or individuals getting off to slow starts to turn their seasons around. It included the following observation: "Ryan Howard continues his slide from superstardom to normalcy." Hmmm.
THE BOOP CORNER: Our own Bob Vetrone Jr. notes that the Phillies are 12-6-3 all-time in games that last 17 innings or more.
AROUND THE BASES
GRUMBLE BY THE BAY: Athletics manager Bob Geren finds himself under scrutiny these days after he was blasted by reliever Brian Fuentes for his lack of communication skills. That might have blown over, especially since Fuentes had been pitching poorly, but then former A's closer Huston Street told the San Francisco Chronicle that Geren is the "least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports." The manager called a team meeting before Wednesday's game to try to clear the air.
A DEAL'S A DEAL (PART 1): Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told his players last spring that if any of them were voted the NLCS Most Valuable Player they could have his red Ferrari. So when Cody Ross won it, he fired off a text to Loria. He couldn't talk to him in person, of course, because he won it with the Giants after being traded to San Francisco in midseason.
"[It] said, 'I did it. Are you going to hold up your end of the bargain and give me that red Ferrari?' He kind of chuckled, laughed back and said, 'You have to be a Marlin to do it.' I'm still hoping one of these days he'll give it to me. 'Thanks for all your hard work when you were a Marlin,' " Ross told the Miami Herald.
A DEAL'S A DEAL (PART 2): Oakland pitcher Josh Outman agreed to give his No. 55 to newcomer Hideki Matsui this season. He got a gift card from Guitar Center in return.
THE GAMBLER: The word out of Yankee Stadium is that dominant lefthander CC Sabathia will exercise his opt-out clause at the end of this season even though he has 4 years and $92 million remaining. The calculation, of course, is that another team will guarantee him even more or that the Yankees will be forced to sweeten the deal.
FAST FOOD: The Astros are the first major league team with express concession stands. Fans at Minute Maid Park can order ahead on their iPhones and then pick up their food at specially designated stands, according to the Houston Business Journal.
THE FUN BUNCH: The Tampa Bay Rays have installed a disco ball in the home clubhouse at Tropicana Field to help celebrate wins. And members of the traveling party will be encouraged to wear pajamas and loungewear for their overnight flight from Southern California to Baltimore next month, according to the St. Petersburg Times.