On May 24th, after dropping consecutive losses to the Marlins in Florida, the Phillies were five games below .500, mired in last place and seven-and-a-half games behind the division leading Fish. Closer Billy Wagner had just blown a save to spoil a great start by Brett Myers. The mood was understandably bleak. The Marlins looked ready to run away from the Phillies, who were desperate to avoid a sweep.
Since then, the Phillies are 9-1 and back in the thick of the NL East race, surging past .500 to a winning mark of 30-27.
"We're kind of lucky that no one ran off and left us in the dust," said Phillies closer Billy Wagner. "We've played with a lot of heart and passion, and now we're back in it."
With the stunning turnaround, the Phillies begin the week just one game off the pace, tied for third place with the Mets, while the Marlins, incredibly, fell into last place, a half game behind the pack. Washington leads the wacky NL East by a half game over Atlanta.
Since that fateful loss in Florida, all of the breaks seem to be going the Phillies way, from blown calls on short hops in the outfield against the Giants, to a reversed call giving Mike Lieberthal a three-run home run instead of a two-run double against Arizona on Sunday. The game ended as a one-run affair, infuriating D-backs Manager Bob Melvin, who was ejected while arguing the call. After the game, Lieberthal admitted the ball was two inches short on the replays, but don't call this winning streak lucky. The Phillies are earning these wins with lots of hitting and timely defense.
Bobby Abreu continued his torrid pace at the plate. On Thursday Abreu was named Player of Month for May by hitting .393 with 11 HR, 30 RBI and an amazing On Base Percentage (OBP) of .535. As hot as any hitter ever, Abreu smashed home runs in 9 of 10 games in one stretch, coming a few short feet of smashing homers in all 10. He settled for a long double. Always consistent, Abreu followed up a 13-game hitting streak with another 7-gamer. He reached base in every game but one in May and is currently on a streak of reaching base by hit or walk in 27 straight games. So far in June, Abreu is batting .350 with 2 HR and 4 RBI. He has 14 stolen bases, third best mark in the league. With his strong arm, Bobby has 3 outfield assists. Five-tooler Bobby Abreu is a baseball machine.
"Abreu is on fire", said Arizona manager Bob Melvin. "Between he and (Cubs first baseman Derrek) Lee, you're looking at the MVPs right now.''
Arizona Ace Javier Vazquez was also impressed. "Bobby's a great hitter because he is so intelligent at the plate," Vazquez said. "You can't make a mistake against him. You have to think with him. I respect him even if he wasn't on a tear."
Abreu clocked two more dingers in a big win on Saturday, both against Vazquez.
"This year is special," said Abreu. "I feel more comfortable. I have more confidence. I have been working all year to get ready, and it's paying off. I believe in myself."
If Bobby Abreu isn't voted into the All-Star game, we should demand a re-count.
But it wasn't just Abreu who stoked the Fightin's fire. The Phillies bats were hot up and down the order. Chase Utley knocked in two big runs to open the homestand against the Giants on Tuesday and followed up on Wednesday by hitting a dramatic pinch-hit grand slam to break a late 6-6 tie. Jimmy Rollins had four hits in the 10-6 win. On Thursday, both Rollins and David Bell had two hits and two RBI in a 6-5 win.
Following a rainout on Friday night, Kenny Lofton had four hits in the double-header Saturday, raising his season average to a lofty .379. After watching from the bench as his teammates hung up 10 runs on 14 hits to open the twin-bill, Placido Polanco joined the hitting party in game two, launching two taters in a tight 5-3 win. Polanco raised his average above .300 in support of Brett Myers, who hung in there while Ortiz was retiring 15 Phillies in a row.
On Sunday, everybody hit (woo-hoo), as each batter managed a base knock except for winning pitcher Randy Wolf. Wolf showed veteran poise on the mound, holding steady against a scrappy Arizona team with no quit. Against Rheal Cormier in the eighth inning, Diamondbacks left-fielder Luis Gonzalez smacked his 300th home run, more of a mile-marker than a milestone in recent years. In the bottom of the frame, Pat Burrell sent a personal welcome-home greeting to D-back hurler and Philly native Mike Koplove with a deep blast to the seats in leftfield, notching a much needed insurance run. Wagner closed out the game for his 14th save in 16 opportunities.
Manager Charlie Manuel must feel like he's in heaven. When Jim Thome starts to hit like he can, the Phillies are going to be downright scary. They currently lead the league in OBP and are scoring runs in bunches.
Defense also played a role in the winning. The Phillies have turned double-plays in 10 straight games, totaling 14 twin-killings in all. Turned smartly by Phillies all around the diamond, several of the double-plays squashed dangerous rallies. David Bell and Placido Polanco started a couple of around-the-horn double plays in key spots. Chase Utley makes turns at second almost as quick as Polanco, who is one of baseball's best infielders. The outfielders contributed with five assists in the last seven games, including two by Pat Burrell, two by Jason Michaels and a late-inning game-saver by Kenny Lofton to nip the Giants speedy Jason Ellison on Thursday.
It was a great week for Phillies catchers. Mike Lieberthal caught his 1,000th game as Phillie on the last day of May. In the first games of June, Lieberthal is hitting .438 with 1 HR and 8 RBI, raising his season OBP to a solid .350. Legendary backstop Bob Boone was elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame. A World Series hero in 1980, Boone caught 1,095 games with the Phillies, second only to the club's all-time leader, Red Dooin (1,124). A seven-time Gold Glove winner, Boone played in four all-star games. Even bench dog Todd Pratt got into the act, gunning down the trail runner in a double steal for the final out of the double-header sweep on Saturday night.
The starting pitching has been strong and the bullpen has been just good enough to hold on to the wins.
Since that grim second loss against the Marlins on May 24th, Phillies starters have earned wins in 8 of the last 10 games. Randy Wolf, who beat the Marlins to start the Phillies climb, has won three straight starts while improving to 6-4. Phillies Ace Jon Lieber (7-4) has won his last two starts. Cory Lidle (5-3), Brett Myers (5-3) and Vicente Padilla (2-5) chipped in with a win apiece in bouncing back from that bitter loss in Florida.
The Phillies bullpen was used and abused this week, yielding 11 earned runs in the past six games. Despite the rash of runs, they bent but didn't break, holding on to preserve all six home victories. Ryan Madson earned a late-inning win. Elite closer Billy Wagner anchored the pen with 3 saves.
On Monday, Phillies pitcher Cory Lidle takes the mound with a chance to grab a rare four-game sweep of the D-backs. Arizona is sure to come out swinging behind pitcher Brandon Webb (6-2, 3.20 ERA). No team wants to get swept, especially not in a four game series. This game will give the Phillies a chance to show a killer instinct as the Diamondbacks are backed into a corner, their tails rattling dangerously behind them. The D-backs have never given up, coming back against the Phillies in each game. They are definitely one of the better teams out west and should be serious pennant contenders. If the Phillies are able to complete the sweep and stretch the win-streak to seven, they will have earned it against top competition.
After wrapping up with Arizona, the Phillies host the hot hitting Texas Rangers. The Rangers young guns will look to score big in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park. Following the inter-league games against Texas, the Milwaukee Brewers come into town for a three game set.
It was a glorious week for the Phillies. Let's hope they have enough gas in the tank to close out the home-stand strong.