Bob Ford | Phils win a game they would have lost recently

Posted: April 25, 2007

The game began in summer and ended in early spring as the sun disappeared quickly and a sharp breeze from the northeast snapped the flags beyond the center-field wall to attention.

For the Phillies, who endured a dreadful cold streak to start the season before warming with four straight wins, including last night's 6-3 victory over Washington, there was nothing in the change of weather or the change of opponents that should have bothered them.

Coming off a 20-hit game the previous evening, with steady Jamie Moyer on the mound, going up against the Nationals - the worst team in the league by dint of the Phils' recent surge - little about the game of baseball should have bothered the Phillies.

That isn't how it works, though. Cold follows hot, follows cold, with poor play chasing the tail of good play as long as the season lasts. If the Phillies had begun the year with just a so-so start, all the games being played now wouldn't be freighted with such importance.

But there is still another week remaining in April and the Phils are nearly playing for their lives. So when they opened the game with just one hit in the first five innings and fell behind on a night in which Moyer teetered on the edge of implosion, the fans huddled together in concern - while the Phillies merely pulled together and climbed another rung from the early hole they dug.

"It's all about coming together," said centerfielder Aaron Rowand, who drove in two runs, including one on a leadoff home run that tied the score at 3-3 in the seventh inning. Rowand, consistent from the start, is hitting .371 now and finally has some teammates picking up the pace as well.

"The hitting is coming around," said Rowand, who has a 12-game hitting streak. "We've been swinging the bats well for the last week."

This is exactly the sort of game the Phillies were losing two weeks ago. They made a couple of mistakes, left some runners in scoring position, and went into the late innings with the game in doubt. It could be that the Phils are finding their stride. It could be that the law of averages is not punishing them so badly. It could be that they are playing the Washington Nationals.

Whatever it is, they have won four straight, and 8-11 doesn't seem quite so bad. Not considering where they have been.

If this game had gone the other way, as those previous ones did earlier in the month, Rowand might have been the goat instead of one of the heroes. He charged a sinking line drive off the bat of Austin Kearns leading off the second inning and found himself in no-man's land as the wind knocked down the ball quicker than he expected.

Rowand dived but the ball skipped past him, rolling to the wall, and Kearns had a triple. He scored the first run of the game on a double by Ryan Church, the next hitter. On another night, that run would have haunted the Phillies. This time, as the rhythms of baseball swing their way, it didn't matter in the end.

"I would have been real disappointed if that cost us the ball game," Rowand said. "The ball kind of died and I got caught in between. It's part of the game."

Even so, he made quick amends by doubling to right-center in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. The hit came after Wes Helms had reached on a grounder deep down the third-base line that was scored an error on first baseman Dmitri Young when Ryan Zimmerman's desperation throw pulled him ever-so-slightly off the base.

In the seventh, Rowand's home run cut through the wind as he drove a 1-0 pitch into the left-field stands. How well is Rowand hitting at the moment? He was looking fastball all the way on the pitch from Saul Rivera, but was able to keep his hands back and wait when the pitch turned out to be a curveball.

Little things seem different about the Phillies right now. Rowand attributes the better play to simply settling into the season, as the team becomes familiar again with the soothing routines of a long year.

"I don't think panic is the word I would use," Rowand said of the jittery start to the season, "but everybody was trying to get it done, probably trying too hard at the plate. That's when you start swinging at bad pitches, trying to do too much. Early on, we had a little bit of that. Everybody had made a big deal about us getting off to a good start and we were trying to."

All the problems are not solved. The bullpen is still a question mark. Closer Tom Gordon hasn't been reliable yet. Brett Myers, a guy with the potential to win 20 games as a starter, isn't in the rotation any longer. Ryan Howard, last year's most valuable player, is hitting .207.

But four wins in a row have stopped the bleeding, and even on a night when the wind blows cold and the game sets up for a replay of past losses, the Phillies are able to cobble together a different ending.

They aren't out of the woods yet, but there is a flickering light they can make out somewhere beyond the trees now.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

 

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