Phils in playoff mode as Giants come to town

Placido Polanco (left) and Mike Sweeney celebrate Sunday's win over the Mets. The Giants are in town for a big series.
Placido Polanco (left) and Mike Sweeney celebrate Sunday's win over the Mets. The Giants are in town for a big series.
Posted: August 17, 2010

In the next 23 days, the Phillies are scheduled to play 24 games, a stretch that will take them well into September and the heat of a pennant race.

"Every game from now on is going to be big," Kyle Kendrick said, talking over loud music playing in the visitors' clubhouse at New York's Citi Field.

These Phillies have more poise than ever as the season's crucial moment begins. And why not?

The Phils are 21/2 games behind first-place Atlanta in the National League East. They are a percentage point ahead of San Francisco for the wild-card lead. The Giants come to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday to open a three-game series, and it will begin to feel like the postseason in South Philly.

On Sunday, the excited group of Phillies dressed and boarded a bus that left Queens late that night. Ryan Howard sat in a corner, gingerly putting on his left sneaker over a taped sprained ankle. He will not return Tuesday, the first day he can leave the disabled list, but the first baseman isn't far off. That gives the Phillies confidence.

This does, too: On Tuesday, Chase Utley will likely replace Wilson Valdez as the team's starting second baseman. Without Utley, who had thumb surgery, the Phillies were 26-17. When Utley left the lineup June 29, the Phillies were in third place and 31/2 out of first.

They survived.

This team, 15 games over .500 for the first time in 2010, has always asserted that it never lost confidence, not when 15 players spent time on the disabled list, nor when the offense stumbled for a month.

Charlie Manuel has used 40 players and 75 different batting orders, each already more than last season.

"Starting pitching is a lot of it," Manuel said Sunday. "They've pitched really good when we've had a lead and they've done a good job at holding the opposition. We've been very fortunate that we've scored some runs when we had to and things have worked for us and we've stayed at it.

"That's the attitude and the chemistry and things like that. That's coming to the ballpark ready to play. Wanting to play goes a long way, too."

Manuel was asked if he thinks his team can take off now, buoyed by the possible returns of Utley and Howard. He tempered expectations.

"He hasn't played in a major-league game," Manuel said of Utley. "How he's going to do is kind of like [Carlos] Beltran," the Mets outfielder who came back after knee surgery. "He hadn't played and didn't go through spring training and didn't have many at-bats, but right now he's starting to hit better. Sometimes it takes you a while. We'll see. Sometimes Utley comes out strong."

Some of the Phillies spoke of the importance of the series against the Giants, who could end up being the team's toughest competition for the wild card. That, Manuel said, isn't of any concern to him right now.

"I never look at the wild card because I think if we concentrate on our division and our record is good enough, that's where we'll land," Manuel said. "If we win enough games, we should land somewhere in there. Win the division. That's what I key on."

Polanco is fine

The good news was that the astray pitch by the Mets' Mike Pelfrey did not hit Placido Polanco on his sore left elbow, which has bothered him all season and will likely require off-season surgery.

It doesn't mean his hand still didn't hurt.

Polanco was hit on the left hand in the third inning Sunday. He reacted in a great deal of pain but shook off the injury and played the rest of the game. Polanco was examined by head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

"He was OK, though," Manuel said. "He had some grip on [the bat]. He had strength. He said he was OK."

Polanco is third in the league with a .319 batting average, just three points behind Cincinnati's Joey Votto.

Picks signed

On the last day to sign draft picks, the Phillies went over the recommended slot bonus to lure a few high school players away from college commitments. They signed righthander Kevin Walter (20th round), righthander Jonathan Musser (21st), and outfielder Brian Pointer (28th).

In each case, the Phillies paid more than the recommended bonus of $150,000 for picks after the fifth round.

They were unable to sign fifth-round pick Scott Frazier, a high school pitcher from Southern California who is expected to attend Pepperdine.

Extra bases

The roster move for Utley could be optioning rookie Domonic Brown to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Brown has just two at-bats in the last four games. . . . If Ross Gload is healthy, the Phillies could choose to add a 13th pitcher, as they did early last week. Gload has a strained right groin but the team is optimistic he'll be ready to play Tuesday. That might leave Greg Dobbs as the odd man out.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928 or

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