On an afternoon when runs were hard to come by, Abreu provided the Phillies with a 2-1 victory over the first-place Giants yesterday with an inside-the-park home run in the 10th inning, his second solo homer of the day.
The win allowed the Phillies to take two of three games from the first-place Giants, who remained 21/2 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West. The Phillies, meanwhile, moved a percentage point ahead of the Montreal Expos in the East, the first time since the second week of the season that they have been somewhere other than last.
"I wish it was first instead of fourth," manager Terry Francona said. "I'm not saying it doesn't mean anything, because that's why you play. But I guess right now, I just want us to play good."
From Bruce Chen's brilliant performance on the mound to Abreu's game-winning homer, the Phillies played exceptionally well yesterday.
Abreu's first homer, off righthander Mark Gardner, tied the score at 1-1 in the sixth inning. The ball landed in the Phillies' bullpen after bouncing off the right-field scoreboard, and Abreu did a traditional trot around the bases.
His second homer was as entertaining a moment as you will see at a baseball game.
After taking the first pitch from Aaron Fultz (3-2), a rookie reliever, Abreu lined a shot to deep center field. As Calvin Murray broke for the ball, Abreu sprinted out of the batter's box with the thought of a triple running through his head.
Murray could see the ball in front of him and planned to glove it as he hit the center-field wall.
"I tried to time the jump so I'd hit the wall and catch it at the same time," the outfielder said.
Instead, the ball hit the heel of his glove and kicked toward right field, rolling away from both Murray and rightfielder Marvin Benard.
Abreu went from fourth to fifth gear as he rounded second base but still didn't anticipate Vukovich's waving his arm in a windmill motion.
"When I crossed second base, I saw him telling me to keep going and going," Abreu said. "I almost stopped at third. I thought to myself, 'Uh-oh, there's going to be a play at home.' Doug Glanville was standing there and telling me the location to slide."
Second baseman Jeff Kent handled the relay from Murray and double-clutched before making a one-hop throw to the plate. Abreu, using Glanville's directions as a guide, made a picture-perfect slide around catcher Bobby Estalella before laying his left hand on home plate.
Vukovich realized he was taking a gamble by sending Abreu home.
"I'd have heard plenty [of boos] if he was out," Vukovich said. "It's a big gamble because the heart of the order was coming up. But the thing you try to do is judge the timing of the ball with the runner."
And what was the manager thinking as the play unfolded?
"I was one of a handful of people yelling, 'No, no, no. . . . Way to go, Vuke,' " Francona said. "Bobby probably scored that run out of the box because he left the box going full blast. I wanted to run out of the dugout. That was a tremendously exciting game. If you can't get excited by that, you're comatose."
After being swarmed by his teammates at home plate, Abreu disappeared into the dugout and reappeared a few seconds later to acknowledge a curtain call from the crowd of 18,717.
The Phillies also received an excellent performance from Chen, who allowed just one run and two hits while working 82/3 innings, a career high. Chris Brock got the final out of the ninth inning after hitting Kent with a pitch to load the bases. Ed Vosberg (1-0) gained his first victory since Sept. 2, 1997, by pitching a scoreless 10th inning that included an inning-ending strikeout of Benard.
Although he still has not entirely embraced the idea, Abreu has done nothing to make his manager want to remove him from the leadoff spot. In eight games there, he is 13 for 32, an average of .406, with six RBIs and seven runs scored. He also has a .525 on-base percentage, and the Phillies are 5-3 with Abreu hitting from the top spot.
It's too late, of course, for the Phillies to turn this season around entirely. There's not nearly enough time to erase all the miserable moments.
But the final play yesterday was a lot like that one good golf shot the average weekend hacker hits over the course of 18 holes: It was good enough to make you want to come back for more.
Bob Brookover's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org