ATLANTA Tuesday night proved to be an interesting night at the ballpark.Where to start?With this, of course: The Phillies opened May and a stretch of nine straight games against the three NL East opponents that they trail in the standings with a 4-2 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field (see Salisbury's Instant Replay).Very quietly, the Phils have won five of seven to get to .500 and pull within 2 games of the top spot in the division.There were many interesting factors that led to Tuesday nights win, such as: Antonio Bastardo finally pitched a full inning and showed some of the prowess that made him a force out of the bullpen in 2011. Bastardo pitched a scoreless seventh and got the win in relief of Cole Hamels, who didnt seem all that enthused about the teams offense. Phils rallied for two runs in the eighth against lefty Jonny Venters, one of the top relievers in baseball. Pinch-hitter John Mayberry Jr. started the rally against Venters with a bloop double to right. He scored the tie-breaking run on a wild pitch. The Venters-Mayberry matchup was fascinating because Venters came into the game with 17 strikeouts in 8 23 innings and Mayberry, hitting just .204 entering the game, had struck out 17 times in 49 at-bats. Extra-base hits have been scarce for this team since the start of the season, but it was a two-out double by Hunter Pence in the fourth that set up the Phils first two runs, both of which scored on a single by Ty Wigginton. Pences double was nothing more than a check swing ground ball between first and second base. He hustled his way to second.Were starting to make some things happen on the bases, Wigginton said. Pences hustle double wasnt the only igniter. After the game, manager Charlie Manuel spoke glowingly about Jimmy Rollins leadership. Rollins had two hits, six total in the four games since he was moved from the No. 3 spot in the batting order to his comfort zone, the leadoff spot.We got some leadership from Jimmy Rollins, Manuel said. Hes got a good mind-set right now. He was having fun out there. He put a lot into helping us win this game.Manuel hasnt spoken that way about Rollins in some time.Why doesnt Rollins have that impact all the time?He might have to count his money now and then, Manuel said.Manuel later said he was joking when he made that remark, but, sometimes theres truth in jest. If Manuel believes Rollins has been more engaged lately, thats a good thing and both men must find a way to make sure it continues.He gives us that energy and life, Manuel said.Ah, one other interesting thing to come out of the game: The Phils have scored 10 runs the last two games, rallying for late wins both times. Are things turning around for the club that struggled to get out of the gate? Hamels said he hoped so, but he didnt sound all that convinced that the team, especially the offense, was ready to start humming smoothly. If youd been burned by a lack of run support as often as Hamels has in recent seasons, you might feel the same way. The Phils scored just two runs during his six-inning stint Tuesday night.We still have a lot to do, Hamels said. Hitting-wise, we were able to get a lot of big hits. But we have to do it early on and keep putting the pressure on. We just can't get a few runs and then score when things get tight again. We still need to run through what we're capable of doing. From a pitching standpoint, we just have to minimize the damage. I know we have great pitchers, but we can't take anything for granted. We have to keep plugging away. I still think we have a lot of work to do.
Despite a gaping hole in the middle of their lineup and lots of poor play over the first month of the season, the Phils are 12-12 and in striking distance of first place as the second month of the season unfolds. They have begun a stretch of 32 games that includes 18 against division rivals and have two more with Atlanta in this series followed by three with first-place Washington starting on Friday night.Because we play each other so much (18 times), it makes it much easier to win the division if you can take care of people in your own division, Manuel said.The Phils have beaten Atlanta eight times dating to last season.I dont want to talk about that, Manuel said. Well come to the ballpark tomorrow and try to win.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at firstname.lastname@example.org.