Charlie Manuel believes that Jimmy Rollins bold words last Spring are still helping the Phillies and have begun to haunt the New York Mets. Now, with Rollins backing up his words, there's talk that he could follow in Ryan Howard's footsteps.
Pressed for an explanation for the Phillies' eight-game winning streak against the NL East-leading New York Mets
, manager Charlie Manuel
harkened back to January and three little words spoken by shortstop Jimmy Rollins
"Team to beat."
During an off-season publicity tour, Rollins proclaimed the Phillies, not the defending division-champion Mets, would be the "team to beat" in the NL East this season, ruffling feathers in New York and instilling confidence in Philadelphia.
"When he said that, I think that definitely helped our team," Manuel said Sunday after the Phillies finished a three-game sweep of the Mets with an error-filled 10-6 win at Shea Stadium. "It put more focus, more zip, into us playing the Mets. When (fans) are chanting at him and booing him, that gets our guys going."
Rollins has backed up his talk, batting .346 (28-for-81) with six homers and 15 RBIs in 18 games against the Mets this season. And, although the Mets lead the NL East by 3 1/2 games with 13 to play and likely will win the division, the Phillies went 12-6 against them, including eight straight victories and back-to-back series sweeps in the last two weeks.
The Phillies have their longest winning streak against the Mets since a 10-game stretch from June 29, 1980 through May 25, 1981. And, if the Phillies can clinch the wild card (they're 1 1/2 games behind San Diego), they could face the Mets again in the NL Championship Series.
"We've put pressure on them," third baseman Greg Dobbs said. "We've definitely proven we can play with them. I don't know if they can feel that or not. But, in our dugout, it's definitely a lot of fun."
Meanwhile, Rollins bolstered his NL MVP candidacy with another solid series against the New York Mets. In 18 games against the first-place Mets this season, Rollins was 28-for-81 (.346) with six homers and 15 RBIs. "It's definitely fun to be mentioned in that breath," Rollins said of being an MVP candidate. "It usually means your team is doing well, and you've done some good things. But if I had to choose between (MVP) and a ring, I'd choose both of them."
RHP Tom Gordon reported a "twinge" in the left side of his back during the eighth inning Sunday and will see the Cardinals' team doctor Monday once the Phillies' arrive in St. Louis. Gordon, who wouldn't discuss the injury after Sunday's game, has allowed three hits and struck out seven in five straight scoreless innings since he gave up four runs in the eighth inning Sept. 5 in Atlanta. But pitching coach Rich Dubee didn't think the injury was serious. "It's one of those cranky things a guy who's 39 years old gets," Dubee said. "I get that in my legs and knees every day."
Adam Eaton blew a 5-2 lead and didn't survive the fifth inning Sunday. But manager Charlie Manuel said Eaton will stay in the rotation. Rookie RHP J.D. Durbin will be moved to the bullpen with LHP Cole Hamels set to return Tuesday night from an elbow injury. Eaton is 2-4 with a 7.55 ERA in his last 11 starts and hasn't recorded a quality start since July 3 in Houston. But Durbin is 0-2 with a 20.25 ERA in his last three starts. And with no game next Monday, the Phillies may need Eaton for only one more start.
Greg Dobbs' sixth-inning grand slam gave him 18 pinch-hit RBIs. The single-season mark is 25, shared by Joe Cronin (1943), Jerry Lynch (1961) and Rusty Staub (1983). Dobbs credits the greater frequency of pinch-hit at-bats in the National League as the reason for his success in the role. "The more time between at-bats, the harder it is to stay focused," Dobbs said. "I know that here I have a chance to get an at-bat in every game, and I've never experienced that. That's the beauty of the National League."
Ryan Howard broke a dubious team record Sunday -- most strikeouts in a single season. Howard fanned twice against the New York Mets, giving him 184 strikeouts. The previous mark was held by Jim Thome, who struck out 182 times in 2003.