THE WORDS that Cliff Lee spoke on Wednesday night in Cleveland were borne of frustration, something that Charlie Manuel acknowledged as he sat in the dugout before last night's game against the Miami Marlins.
The manager, who prides himself on his abilities as a human thermometer, insisted that he has yet to sense any friction between the team's pitchers and the hitters, despite the inability of the latter party to provide its counterpart with much in the way of breathing room over the first month of the season. It was right around this time last season that the frustration started to show: Cole Hamels hitting Bryce Harper with a pitch, Lee hitting a rough stretch of starts in which you could practically see him mouthing the words, "Bleep it. I'll try to do it all myself."
Against that backdrop, as well as the one that had them coming off a pair of losses to the Indians in which they were outscored 20-2, the Phillies' 7-2 win over the Marlins Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park represented a much needed morale booster. After Miami pushed home a run in the first inning, the Phils allowed the 1-0 deficit to fester for only an inning. Domonic Brown hit a line drive that screamed out of the ballpark in the bottom of the second, and Ryan Howard followed in the fourth with a home run of his own. They tacked on a pair of runs in the fifth, and for one of the few times this season, a Phillies starter was working with a three-run lead.
Kyle Kendrick made the most of it. He entered the night as the team's most consistent pitcher, and he did nothing to change that status, holding the Marlins to two runs on seven hits in seven innings while pitching out of trouble in a couple of spots. Kendrick was coming off his finest performance of the season, a complete-game shutout of the Mets in which he struck out five and allowed just four baserunners. Since allowing five runs in his 2013 debut, the righthander has been charged with six runs in 35 innings, which has helped the Phillies weather both the struggles of Roy Halladay and a few uncharacteristic outings by Cole Hamels.
"It's always nice to obviously get runs," said Kendrick, who improved to 3-1, with a 2.43 ERA. "The offense was great tonight, swung the bats well. That's what it's about. We've got to score more runs than them. That's how you win games. So it was nice. It looked good. Hopefully we can keep it rolling."
Of course, "weathering" means a record of 13-16 instead of something far worse. They are still just 5-14 against teams not named the Marlins and Mets, and they still do not pass the eyeball test of a playoff contender. But the victory did help to mute the resonance of Lee's remarks in a 6-0 loss to the Indians, when he said pointedly that the Phillies needed to play with more pride. Manuel respectfully disagreed with the characterization, pointing out that teams tend to look more prideful when they are reaching base and scoring runs. To an extent, that happened Thursday night. Brown's blast was the biggest, leaving the park in 3.1 seconds, which, according to ESPN, was the fastest exit time of any homer this season.
The Phillies did not maul a pitcher who entered the day with more walks than strikeouts and a 4.85 ERA. But they won the kind of well-pitched game that they cannot make a habit of losing, especially with a tough road trip through San Francisco and Arizona on the horizon. Whether you call it momentum or margin for error, the Phillies need to bring it with them when they depart for two ballparks where they have struggled even in better times.
Kendrick and Brown are two of the brightest glimmers of hope for a better tomorrow. Kendrick continues to make excellent use of his changeup, generating the strikeouts a pitcher needs to escape the occasional jam (he struck out five Marlins last night and now has 29 in 40 2/3 innings on the season). Brown, meanwhile, added an RBI single in the eighth inning to provide an insurance run, finishing the night 3-for-4 while pushing his average to .266, his on-base percentage to .333 and his slugging percentage to .426. He is on pace for 22 home runs and 72 RBI (his four homers are tied with Howard for second on the team, and his 13 RBI rank third).
"He definitely can fit in our offense," Manuel said. "I've always said he's going to be a good hitter, if you guys remember. I'm not just saying that because he got some hits tonight. He's got talent to be a good hitter. And he's got talent to hit the ball out of the yard. He can be not only a high average hitter but a power hitter for us."
For a team whose improvement must come from the inside, Brown is perhaps the biggest wild card. The key is more nights like Thursday night - from the entire team.