CHICAGO - Minor victories in May resemble this: A pitcher who had thrown one inning in 11 days stretching to 93 pitches; a 40-year-old reliever whose recent performances portended doom tossing a scoreless inning; and a team with such great expectations excited to recoup a .500 record.
The Phillies have a four-game winning streak; their longest of the season, after a 9-2 win Wednesday over the hapless Chicago Cubs. In the wake of better baseball, there is plenty to generate positivity. The game was iced on a ninth-inning Hector Luna grand slam, of all things.
Kyle Kendrick, reinserted into the rotation a day earlier, was solid for six innings. The opposition was batting .364 off Jose Contreras until he tossed a spotless seventh. And Carlos Ruiz, the hottest Phillies hitter, blasted a home run in the eighth to break the tie. It was his seventh homer of the season; he hit six in all of 2011.
They will take a lot of pride in the streak, although it has come at the expense of San Diego, Houston and Chicago - not exactly the National League's finest. But the Phillies can beat only the teams they play, and that has been difficult enough for much of 2012 no matter the opponent. They are at .500 for the first time since May 3.
The only casualty was third baseman Placido Polanco, who left the game in the seventh inning with a bruised left knee after fouling yet another ball off it. Polanco said he's sore and is unsure whether he can play Thursday.
Given the bullpen's misery, a Kendrick start did not look promising. The Phillies were tight-lipped about how deep Kendrick could pitch. It turned out he was particularly effective on short notice. He threw a season-high 93 pitches, and 65 of them were for strikes. He worked ahead in the count and created quite a few swings and misses by Chicago hitters.
"If you want to know the truth," manager Charlie Manuel said, "I thought he was going to give us 65, 70 [pitches]. That's what I thought."
The relief offered just that. Antonio Bastardo, firmly entrenched as the new setup man, extended his scoreless streak to 8 2/3 innings with a clean eighth following Contreras. Then the Phillies blew it open.
Contreras was the most encouraging. The Phillies began life with four lefties in the bullpen Wednesday, and two of the righties - Contreras and Chad Qualls - were terrible. One has to emerge.
"We definitely need Jose to get going," Manuel said. "His command was better, too. His splitter was better."
Kendrick's deep outing made life easier. It was the eighth time in the last two seasons Kendrick has reentered the rotation from the bullpen. He learned he'd start Wednesday after Tuesday's game.
"I just wanted to go as deep as I can to give us a chance to win the game," Kendrick said. "I wanted to go six or seven."
Kendrick could have exited with a lead if it weren't for Juan Pierre dropping a lazy fly ball in the fourth. Cubs cleanup hitter Bryan LaHair battled Kendrick for 13 pitches before he popped the 14th one to left. Pierre settled under it, but the ball grazed his glove and fell to the grass for a two-base error. Kendrick kicked the pitching rubber in disgust.
Alfonso Soriano followed with his second home run in as many days, a ball that plopped into the basket in left-center.
It did not diminish Kendrick's outing. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said Kendrick focused on his location in multiple side bullpen sessions after a disastrous inning against the Mets on May 9. "That felt like it was a long time ago," Kendrick said.
After a solid start, and with Vance Worley to miss at least two more starts, Kendrick has a spot in the Phillies rotation.
"He did a super job," Manuel said.
"That's one of the reasons that we signed Kyle," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "because he gave us that protection."
When it all went right Wednesday, there was little to complain about. That, too, counts as a minor victory in May.