THE ETERNAL optimism that wells inside of Charlie Manuel and Jimmy Rollins is either a spiritual gift or a coping mechanism. Either way, the Phillies have no choice but to buy into the belief that, at some point, a victory like the one they posted against the Padres Sunday will jump-start the winning streak that will take them over .500 for the first time since Opening Day.
"This is a team that can go on a run and put things together," Rollins said after the Phillies recorded a 3-2 matinee victory at Citizens Bank Park to take two of three games from San Diego. "It just hasn't happened yet."
It will materialize quicker if Rollins can produce more at-bats like the one that led off Sunday's game. After working a 3-1 count from ancient righty Jeff Suppan, the Phillies shortstop turned on a slow-moving fastball and sent it flying into the seats in rightfield for his first home run. The hit came after 135 at-bats, the second-longest Rollins has gone into a season without a homer. The Phillies are hoping the blast signals the start of a run similar to the one Rollins produced in 2004 after it took him 155 at-bats to go long. Before that home run, he was hitting .240 with a .298 on-base percentage and .312 slugging percentage. After, he hit .304/.362/.494 with 13 home runs in 500 at-bats.
In the first inning, Rollins stepped to the plate with a .230/.276/.267 batting line, one of the big reasons the Phillies had lost five straight one-run games. His blast provided an early, 1-0 lead that Cole Hamels would not relinquish. In seven innings, Hamels held the Padres to one run on five hits and three walks, striking out five while improving to 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA.
"Jimmy's going to get going," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of when. Hopefully this will help him today. Of course, the sooner, the better."
Juan Pierre's RBI double in the fifth inning proved to be a significant play as Jose Contreras continued his shaky relief work, allowing two hits and a run before Manuel called on Antonio Bastardo to record the final out of the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth to record his 10th save in as many chances.
That it was Papelbon's first save opportunity since May 1 is a testament to the struggles of both the offense and the relievers charged with protecting leads in the seventh and eighth innings. Neither unit made a resounding statement Sunday: the offense failed to score four runs for the 18th time, while Contreras allowed the tying run to reach base in his bid to shut down the eighth.
That the Phillies followed their sweep at the hands of the Mets by winning a series against the Padres is better than the alternative. But even in victory they found a way to remind fans of the disappointment that has defined the majority of the season. The 37-year-old Suppan needed just 76 pitches to complete six innings, and one of the three runs he allowed was unearned, thanks to a throwing error on what should have been a routine grounder to third by Ty Wigginton in the second inning. The last time the Phillies faced the light-throwing Suppan in a start - in September 2009 - he threw 105 pitches and allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings.
The Phillies have yet to win three straight games, the latest into a season they have gone without doing so since 1992. Over the next 4 days, the Phillies will play a pair of two-game series against the Astros and Cubs, both of whom finished the weekend with one of the five worst records in the National League.
Now would seem to be the ideal time to put it all together.