It wasn't really a turnaround. After all, the Phillies were in first place last weekend, and they're in first place this weekend.

The last few days were more like a revitalization - of the team, their manager, and their ever-anxious fans. Chase Utley returned to the lineup, and, coincidentally or not, the Phillies started to look and feel like the Phillies again.

That 19-inning epic, which began Wednesday evening and ended less than 12 hours before Thursday's first pitch, was exactly the kind of off-kilter, can-you-believe-that game the Phillies seemed to play regularly in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Having Wilson Valdez earn a win on the mound and Cliff Lee drive in three runs, all on May 26, was the kind of stuff that made you fall in love with this team in the first place.

Before the championship, before the parade, before all the millions spent to create the Uber Rotation, the Phillies were fun.

They were the team that wrestled a tarp during a sudden monsoon in Denver, the team that staged crazily impossible comebacks, the team that surged while the New York Mets crumbled, the team that played a World Series game over three days and a frigid playoff game after a snow-out (again in Denver).

There wasn't any sign of that team for the first two months of this season. The Phillies got off to a good start, held on to first place during a slump, and generally played as if waiting to board the bus to October. A week ago, they were scraping by on four or five hits per game. They were about as much fun as watching someone cram for the CPA exam.

"We weren't hitting," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When you're not hitting, nothing's going on. If you're not scoring runs, how can something be going on in a game? We were having a hard time getting guys on. We were having a hard time knocking them in. When you're not hitting the ball, there's not going to be any energy."

It isn't easy to maintain a high energy level over a long baseball season. That's what makes days like Thursday, from the surreal wee hours through the last humid minutes of late afternoon, so important. When this season is over, you'll remember very little of the day-to-day stuff. But you will remember Valdez shaking off catcher Dane Sardinha in the top of the 19th, and you just might remember Lee stroking a two-run, ground-rule double to the deepest part of the ballpark.

"This game, it's crazy," an admittedly exhausted Ryan Howard said. "You never know what you're going to see. For Wilson to do what he did last night and for Cliff to come out and do what he did today, it's full of surprises. It's interesting. You're going to have hard and crazy games, then you're going to see something you've never encountered and would never expect."

A week ago, Manuel was trying to find a productive lineup without Utley, Domonic Brown, Shane Victorino, or the departed Jayson Werth. It wasn't easy, he said, "because I don't see any new faces." You couldn't help thinking the whole team was equally worn down from trying to compete while Valdez, Sardinha, Pete Orr, and Michael Martinez were getting serious playing time.

So the return of Brown and especially Utley had a more profound impact than their mere presence on the field. Utley wasn't even in the lineup for the 19-inning game; he had one pinch at-bat. But there was no denying the feeling that, finally, the real team was getting back together. That feeling just got stronger when Utley, working to get his timing back, cranked his first home run of 2011 in the eighth inning Thursday afternoon.

"It's always good to get Chase back in the lineup," Howard said. "It does provide some energy. Just his presence, he's kind of like a spark plug. He gets out there, and he goes hard. To have that put back in this lineup, it gives us a little extra spark of life."

The Phillies scored 28 runs in their four-game series against the Reds - more than they had scored in their previous 12 games combined. They scored 10 runs twice after not hitting double digits in 21 games, dating from April 29.

In spite of that downturn, the Phillies are 31-19. That's their best record after 50 games since 2001. That's not a bad platform from which to launch the real Phillies, the whatever-it-takes Phillies, the 19th-inning Phillies.

"I think what makes our team a very good team is the intangible stuff," Raul Ibanez said. "The stuff you can't measure. That's the stuff that makes this a really good team."

So maybe the Phillies didn't turn it around this week. Maybe they're just turning it on.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his past columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan