MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - In the first three innings Friday night, Roy Oswalt allowed a triple, two doubles, and three singles and walked a batter. He was exactly a week removed from a mediocre outing against these same Florida Marlins, and the red flags that hinted at back trouble earlier in the season remained.

"It felt like I was trying to throw the ball from second base," Oswalt said. "After the third inning, it felt like I was standing on top of the hitter."

When a team is 42 games over .500 on Sept. 3, territory never before reached in 129 seasons of Phillies baseball, the problems are few. A 5-3 victory over the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium hardly represents a watershed moment. But regaining confidence in a pitcher the Phils will need in October is significant.

All it took, apparently, was one conversation.

Before Oswalt grounded out in the third inning, he talked to home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook. Oswalt thought the fastball he was throwing inside to righthanded hitters was a strike. It wasn't called that way.

"You think those balls are strikes?" Holbrook asked Oswalt.

"I think they are," Oswalt said. "I usually get them."

"They're about four inches off the plate," Holbrook replied.

"Look at the angle of the ball coming in," Oswalt said.

And sure enough, the pitch later was called a strike. Oswalt retired eight in a row before serving up a home run to Jose Lopez. Manager Charlie Manuel saw enough progress that he allowed Oswalt to bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning of a two-run game. Oswalt had thrown 95 pitches. He easily could have been removed.

But even Manuel can think bigger picture these days.

"It's an ideal time for us," Manuel said. "We had a two-run lead."

Oswalt certainly was better than his previous start against the Marlins. Carlos Ruiz called for the fastball in a majority of Oswalt's 116 pitches. In 61/3 innings, he allowed three runs on eight hits.

That's a far cry from the last outing, when Ruiz decided that the fastball - which has defined Oswalt during his fruitful 11-year career - was not effective. That led to more off-speed pitches, and Florida was hardly fooled; the Marlins hammered him for six runs on 12 hits.

His fastball velocity was slightly improved Friday, but more important was better location. That's what prevented another disastrous start.

"You can see the difference," Ruiz said. "It was better."

Still, Oswalt did not finish the seventh, and with Mike Stutes on the mound, a crisis was averted thanks to Placido Polanco. The third baseman, fresh off a day of rest, made a play that tested the ability of his many ailing body parts.

Greg Dobbs' grounder bounced three times before it popped into Polanco's outstretched glove. Knowing he had a slow runner to catch, he set himself on one knee and threw sidearm to Ryan Howard. The inning was over with slugger Mike Stanton in the on-deck circle.

"That's the play of the game," Manuel said.

Oswalt likely has five starts remaining until the postseason, and Manuel is confident the righthander can be the fourth piece of the playoff rotation.

"That's kind of why we brought him over here, isn't it?" Manuel asked rhetorically. "That's kind of why we're spending $16 million. But at the same time, that's down the road, too. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow."

They know this much: No Phillies team has ever sported a record this impressive. And 28 games plus October remain to achieve greater heights.