The Philadelphia Phillies have shown resilience, heart, and very solid pitching in somehow amassing the best record in the National League during a strange season that could have derailed a lesser group.
At Citi Field—a mausoleum of a stadium that has not been kind to the Fightins in 2010—they rode three hits by Carlos Ruiz and solo shots by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to defeat the hapless New York Mets, 8-4.
The box score will reflect that their ace, Roy Halladay, was not at his sharpest, scattering eight hits and four earned runs over seven and two-thirds innings. Doc did however bring his bat, bouncing a seeing-eye, two run single up the middle with two outs in the fourth inning to break a 3-3 tie.
On a day that Halladay did not have his very best stuff, he collected the game-winning RBI(s), and tied Ubaldo Jimenez and Adam Wainwright for the league lead at 18 wins. With the win, the Phils retained their one game lead over the Atlanta Braves—who scored 6 in the 6th to defeat 6'6" Cardinals co-ace Chris Carpenter. Call it a devilish comeback if you will.
So, what of the Phillies' offense that has not been as dynamic as in past seasons? Coming into tonight's contest, they had scored exactly seven runs in six games in Queens this year.
Have they solved their Citi Field jinx? Maybe so, but more importantly they seemed to have found their offense. It did not hurt that Mr. September, Ryan Howard, stayed back on a pitch and casually lifted an opposite field shot to left center to tie the game at three.
Senor Octobre, Carlos Ruiz, also continued his torrid hitting, boosting his average to .296 with a 3-3 night, while also drawing two free passes. And Chase Utley, their Mr. Everything who seems to be finding his stroke again, pulled a ball into the right field seats to provide a seventh-inning insurance run.
Another part of the Phillies' winning formula was the good fortune of coming to the plate versus a horrific looking Mets middle reliever Sean Green. Green, who looked even less polished than his surname would suggest, pitched just one-third of an inning, but packed in an intentional base-on-balls, another walk, and a hit batsman—plunking Wilson Valdez on a 3-0 offering with the bases loaded.
After not finding the area code one pitch to Halladay, and almost hitting him on another, Mets skipper Jerry Manuel pulled Mr. Green. Both Halladay and Green looked relieved when the shaky reliever was sent to the showers. How do you spell relief?
Then again, the above scenario is the Mets problem, who learned before the game that their ace, Johan Santana, would miss the remainder of the season. Despite a fine 2.98 ERA, the Mets had only given Santana 11 wins in his 29 starts this year.
It's almost enough to make one feel sorry for the Metropolitans. Almost...
But this is Philly, and the Fightins did what they had to do in beating back a sub .500 team on the road. And if it takes hit batters and two runs batted in by their starting pitcher to get a win, the Phils won't complain.
With 20 games left to play, the Phillies are not yet a lock for the playoffs. But with a resurgent Howard, the best starting pitching in the National League (arguably), and the experience of taking it to the wire the last few years, would anyone be accused of being a homer if they identified them as the team to beat in the NL?
No, I didn't think so.