THE SECRET to success in October is pitching. The Phillies have that covered. The secret to getting to October lies in beating up on the bad teams, and treading water against the good ones. And after a 10-4 victory over the powerful Reds yesterday afternoon, the Phillies are doing exactly that.
In the narrative of a baseball season, the win marked the close of an important chapter. The Phillies finished a 20-game stretch against the National League's strongest contenders with 10 wins and 10 losses. That might not sound impressive, but a 31-19 record certainly does. That's the mark they will carry into a three-game series against the Mets tonight at Citi Field, where the Phillies kick off a stretch of 12 straight games against teams that are in last or next-to-last place in their divisions.
A team that had spent much of this season struggling to score more than three runs plated 28 while winning three out of four against Cincinnati.
"We had a hard time getting guys on base and knocking them in," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When you're not hitting, you're not going to have any energy. Hopefully, we can keep this going."
It is far too early to celebrate the rebirth of this Phillies offense. The Phillies went 4-5 at Citi Field last season, including a three-game series in late May in which they scored a grand total of zero runs. But the best you can say about the Nationals, who follow the Mets, is that they have the element of surprise in their favor, having lost 17 of their last 24 to the Phils. And after them are the Dodgers, who have a potential Cy Young and a potential MVP, yet few wins to show.
Yesterday, the Phillies looked very much like a team that can win nine out of 12, which they did at the start of the season, hitting .306 and averaging 5.8 runs per game against a succession of lollipops. They got another big hit from Raul Ibanez, whose three-run homer off Homer Bailey in the third inning gave them a 4-0 lead. The Reds tied it at 4 with two runs in the fourth and two runs in the sixth, before Cliff Lee slipped into mercenary mode. The Phillies lefty allowed 11 base-runners, including the four who scored, but reclaimed most of the damage he allowed with a couple of impressive at-bats. First came a two-run, ground-rule double to center in the bottom of the sixth. Then, an RBI single in the seventh. It was the first three-RBI game by a Phillies pitcher since Corey Lidle did it against the Mets in September 2004. Lee struck out eight in eight innings, improved to 4-4, and emerged with an ERA of 3.50.
But it was the rest of the Phillies offense that provided the biggest jolt of optimism. Rookie outfielder Domonic Brown reached base three times, going 2-for-4 with a walk and a double. Chase Utley hit his first home run since making his season debut on Monday. Manuel constructed a makeshift lineup in the wake of his team's 19-inning marathon victory the night before, giving catcher Carlos Ruiz, third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins well-deserved breaks. Fill-in leadoff hitter Michael Martinez went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run. Every other member of the lineup, including backup catcher Dane Sardinha and fill-in third baseman Wilson Valdez, had a hit.
Ibanez, who entered the 20-game stretch hitting .208, went 2-for-5 to increase his average to .250. Since the game in which he snapped an 0-for-35 slump earlier this month, the leftfielder is hitting .353 with 13 extra-base hits, including five home runs, and 15 RBI.
"Sometimes, when both teams are coming out, they'll be kind of dead," Manuel said. "But when you win a game like that, usually there's still some effect to it, I believe. Guys wanna come out and get after it. We got a good start on 'em today, plus we had a good pitcher going."
The Phillies should get centerfielder Shane Victorino back when he is eligible to return from the disabled list on June 3. Victorino, who has been sidelined with a hamstring strain, is scheduled to play rehab games at Class A Lakewood tomorrow and Sunday and at Double A Reading on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday . . . Jose Contreras pitched a scoreless ninth inning after he was activated earlier yesterday. Contreras had missed 5 weeks with an elbow strain. David Herndon was optioned to Lehigh Valley.
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