Rich Hofmann | Phils could make a sweeping statement

Posted: June 07, 2007

NEW YORK - Nothing will be decided tonight, not in any great cosmic sense, when the Phillies and Mets play the final game of their three-game series at Shea Stadium. Somebody will win and somebody will lose, and the Phils will head to the airport for a flight to Kansas City and their 61st game of the season; 101 to go.

Nothing will be demonstrated by the Phillies, not anything for the long term, nothing except maybe a mind-set.

I mean, how serious are they?

Two games against the Mets, two wins so far. Last night, starting pitcher Adam Eaton gave the Phillies six strong innings, the bullpen was pristine, Shane Victorino threw out another runner at the plate from rightfield, and Jimmy Rollins hit the three-run bomb in the seventh inning that won it. Neat, clean, 4-2, W.

The Phillies arrived here for Monday night's game with a chance to be buried when the series was over, strangled as much by the Mets as by their own outrageous mediocrity. Instead, the Phils have earned a small opportunity. There will be no trophies awarded if they seize it tonight with Cole Hamels pitching, nothing of tangible value, nothing more physical than a handshake. All of it will be fleeting, with many more planes to catch and untold miles to go.

Yet there is . . . something.

Isn't there?

"I think it would definitely help our club,'' manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think they look at that. I know our guys, and they'll say, 'See, we can do it.' Their thinking will be good, and our camaraderie, and everything that goes around the team . . . But for them, the big thing that would tell us is, once you leave here, how will you react to the following series?''

This is their chance to begin to show it. This is their chance, with their young ace on the mound. Around the major leagues, a Phillies sweep here will be greeted by a raised eyebrow, maybe by a shrug and a quick turn of the page. But it will be noticed. It will register, on some level. It will alter the existing picture of this ballclub, however slightly.

As things stand today, the Phillies are this great, maddening mass of players and emotions and baserunners stacked up at third base as if it were a foggy morning at O'Hare. They have ability, and they have a handful of guys with real star power, and they have a tendency to play about twice a week with their shoes untied. Maddening; that word again.

And now they have a chance to sweep the Mets at Shea. And now, they have a chance to begin redrawing their portrait.

"A sweep would be great,'' said reliever Ryan Madson, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning, throwing only six pitches in the process. "Sure, it would be. But we've swept teams before and then lost two out of three. We just have to keep winning. It isn't a matter of sweeping this series or not. It's about keeping going.''

They are 30-29, except when they are 29-30. Season upon season, they have awaited the heat of August and the stench of desperation to make their move - always too little, always too late, always smelling terrible in the end. They have never learned that chasing in the baseball business is a sucker's game, that coming from behind is a lot more difficult than it is magnificent.

Yet they are chasing again. How many years in a row is this? It is hard to count sometimes, hard to remember all of the late runs that ended somewhere down the final straightaway when the tape was broken up ahead.

Because of that, the town is beyond teasing at this point. Philadelphians will believe it when they see it from this team and not a nanosecond before. There is no changing that, and there really shouldn't be. The S.S. Benefit of the Doubt sailed a long time ago.

Still, you wonder what this might mean, a sweep at Shea. You can't help but wonder whether it might offer at least a hint about where this team thinks it might belong.

To that question, Victorino answered quickly.

"I know where we belong,'' he said. "We know we've got a good team and that's all that matters. They've got a great team over there, too. You've got three teams with Atlanta, four with the Marlins. You have to prove it every night. That is what this is ultimately about.''

Still, tonight will be just a bit different. Even in the longest of seasons, it isn't every day that you get a chance to take such a public step out of the shadows. *

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