Maybe this flat-as-a-pizzelle Mets visit to South Philadelphia wasn't the best way to test Placido Polanco's soundness.

Phillies routs in Games 1 and 2, after all, were followed by Wednesday afternoon's Mike Pelfrey-Kyle Kendrick 3-hour, 41-minute nibblefest, in which the two maddeningly tentative starters combined to sedate more Philadelphians than the Rothman Institute.

Polanco, coming back from a painful sports hernia, didn't have to strain all that hard in a series that, Wednesday's 7-4 Phils loss notwithstanding, was so noncompetitive you kept waiting for Geno Auriemma to pop out of the dugout.

Nonetheless, his encouraging performance in his first three games off his second disabled-list visit provided an unexpectedly rosy physical development for this increasingly black-and-blue Phillies team.

The Phils third baseman slapped two hits in each of the three games. He would have been on base at least once more had it not been for the play second baseman Justin Turner made and first base umpire Jim Reynolds missed.

Regardless, his mere presence in the crucial No. 2 spot provides the sometimes one-dimensional Phillies lineup with another valuable component.

"That guy does all the things you'd want from your 2-hole hitter," said the Mets' David Wright. "And he's been doing it for a while."

But it was more than the six singles, walk, and RBI Polanco accumulated against New York that gladdened his Phillies teammates and manager Charlie Manuel.

Defensively and on the bases, he showed no evidence of the back and groin ailments that have leveled the great start he had this season.

Fortunately, Polanco's performance Wednesday spoke for itself. It had to. After telling a reporter he would return to his locker soon to answer some postgame questions, he, according to a Phillies spokesman, instead left the stadium.

In the second inning, with Shane Victorino on first and the Phils already down by four runs, Polanco slapped a hit-and-run single to the vacated second-base hole, something Manuel's team rarely attempts and the key blow in its only offensive uprising.

In a lineup packed with swing-and-missers, the heady veteran is one of the few who can hit behind a runner, slap it the other way, make contact when it's absolutely necessary.

"Any time you get somebody back in the lineup who gets hits and does the little things, it's important," Victorino said. "Getting Polly back and eligible is very important for us."

Polanco also singled in the second, grounded out, and lined out hard to right after being buzzed by Pelfrey. That pitch triggered a mini-incident that may have been this lifeless series' one sign of life.

When Polanco appeared to ask home-plate ump Andy Fletcher whether the ball hit him, Pelfrey, as rabbit-eared as he is erratic, barked at the Phillie, who in turn took a few steps toward the Mets pitcher.

But the most encouraging sign for Polanco on Wednesday likely occurred in the eighth inning. With two men on base, one out, and a late-inning rally seemingly abrew, the Phils' No. 2 hitter slapped a Manny Acosta pitch up the middle.

Turner, however, lunged, gloved it, and flipped to shortstop Ruben Tejada for a force at second. Polanco appeared - and replays confirmed it - to beat the return throw, but Reynolds called him out, and the rally died long after the painful game's heart had stopped.

On the play, Polanco's hernia didn't appear to be a hindrance as he went all out to first base. It was an indication that perhaps he will hold up physically for the rest of this season, something that's particularly important now that shortstop Jimmy Rollins is on the DL himself.

Because no matter how well they have played as substitutes, you can be sure no one in this organization wants to see a starting lineup and infield in October that includes both Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez.

"Those other guys have done a great job, too," Victorino said. "But you could see by him getting those two hits a game that Polly is big for our lineup."

Bigger now that Rollins is missing?

"You can't worry about that kind of stuff," Victorino said. "You've got to stay focused and have guys stepping in when they get a chance. Polly is just one guy, but he's a big guy to get back."