ROY HALLADAY never faced the Cubs before.

They would have liked to have kept it that way.

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Halladay again staked his claim as the No. 1 pitcher among the four aces with seven shutout innings last night in the Phillies' 7-5 win.

Another start, another domination.

"You get used to it," manager Charlie Manuel said of his reigning Cy Young Award winner. "And you totally expect it."

You do not expect Placido Polanco to hit a grand slam off Carlos Zambrano in the seventh inning. It was only Polanco's 11th career start hitting fifth, the Phillies' latest effort to protect Ryan Howard. His slam turned a 3-0 lead into a 7-0 bulge.

"Just wanted to be aggressive," said Polanco, whom Zambrano had already retired twice.

And you never expect your bullpen to almost give away a seven-run lead.

Beleaguered relievers Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero entered after Halladay and combined to allow five runs from seven baserunners while retiring one hitter.

Michael Stutes got the last two outs of the eighth and the first two of the ninth on a nifty strikeout-throwout doubleplay. With a runner on first, Stutes fanned Starlin Castro on a pitch in the dirt that Carlos Ruiz blocked in front of him, forcing it to bounce high to the right side of the plate.

Ruiz sprang to his feet, caught the ball and, in one motion, threw out Darwin Barney, who had walked to start the inning and tried to take second on what would have been a wild pitch.

"That's the best play I've ever had a catcher make for me," Stutes said.

Lefthander Antonio Bastardo struck out Carlos Pena to end the game and collect the save, his second. Bastardo pitched in place of Ryan Madson, who was unavailable after pitching four times in 5 days. Madson blew his first save in 15 chances the night before.

Last night's bullpen immolation was muted by the glow of what came before.

Halladay moved to 9-3, the most wins in the majors. He struck out nine, taking the major league lead with 106 K's. He walked none and scattered six unremarkable hits but left for a pinch hitter in the seventh. He had thrown only 106 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.39.

Why did Halladay leave?

Having thrown more than 100 pitches already, Manuel was not going to leave him in for 35 or 40 more just to log a fifth complete game this season. Anyway, after Polanco's home run, the Phillies didn't think they needed him anymore.

"I thought it would be hard for him to finish the game," Manuel said. "And I thought we could get six outs."

Even as he watched his lead shrink, Halladay said, he did not regret leaving the game.

"There's times you fight [to stay in]. Other times, you understand the circumstances," Halladay said. "It made sense to me."

The win salved a painful loss suffered Thursday in the first game of the four-game series, when the Phillies blew a save, played sloppy baseball and, typically, fizzled offensively.

They were not typical last night. Not all of last night, anyway.

Polanco clipped a 2-0 fastball over the leftfield wall off a fatigued Zambrano on Zambrano's 128th and final pitch, the most he's thrown all season. It, like many that immediately preceded it, was not very good; letter-high, fat and straight.

Zambrano had pitched well enough through the first six innings, scrambling out of trouble each inning, but he walked the bases loaded in the seventh.

At the time, the Phillies led, 3-0, but were hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Domonic Brown's second homer of the season, a two-run shot in the second inning, was the height of their offensive aptitude.

Until they learned patience.

Jimmy Rollins led off the seventh and walked. Shane Victorino moved him to second with a sacrifice. Chase Utley was intentionally walked. Ryan Howard worked a heroic walk as Zambrano, pitching in 80-degree heat, flagged.

That set up Polanco, a .313 lifetime hitter with the bases loaded . . . but he had been as toothless as anyone last night, before the seventh. He grounded out with a runner on first to end the first inning and grounded into a doubleplay with runners on first and second to end the fifth.

"He made up for it," Manuel said.

It was Polanco's 100th career homer, his third grand slam and his first in the No. 5 hole.

All season, as the team battled injury, Manuel had cast about for a No. 5 hitter to replace the righthanded power of Jayson Werth, now among the overpaid and underproductive in Washington. Manuel had tried Ben Francisco, Raul Ibanez, John Mayberry and Ross Gload. On Thursday, light-hitting Victorino had his second shot.

Polanco, meanwhile, split his time mainly hitting second and third in the order. He nearly won a batting title with Detroit in 2007 and he has been the Phillies' best hitter the past two seasons.

Finally, desperately, Manuel sought a solution in Polanco.

"He'll be back in there [today]," Manuel promised.

Howard is fine with that.

"They're still going to pitch me the same way," Howard said. "It worked in our favor tonight."

Significantly, Howard, is now hitting .238. Polanco now trails Howard by 12 RBI and is hitting .311 - 37 points better than the next regular (Victorino), 65 points better than the team average and 73 points better than Howard.

Never in his 14 seasons in the major leagues has Polanco started a game as the cleanup hitter.

Yet. *