"You get to this point in the year, it's like everything just blends together," said Ryan Howard, who hit his 28th home run of the season and finished 3-for-5 with six RBI. "Sometimes I don't even know what day of the week it is. You get to this point in the season, you're out there, you're playing and everything else kind of goes into blur and whatnot."
You could argue that it ended with more suspense than it should have, provided a six-run rally against a defense full of reserves is the type of thing that keeps you up at nights. And you could dwell on the two negatives that came out of the evening: Jimmy Rollins leaving with hamstring soreness in the third inning (he's listed as day-to-day), and an already overworked Ryan Madson being forced into the game with one out in the ninth inning and a runner on first.
But right up through the seventh inning, when Cole Hamels and his resurgent lineup said their good-nights with a 10-0 lead, this Phillies team looked every bit the National League front-runner they were billed to be so many months ago.
They made contact, tying a season-high with 18 hits, every regular finishing with at least one, five of them with at least two. They drove the ball, Howard hitting a backbreaking three-run home run in the fourth that put them up 7-0. They enjoyed production from the leadoff spot, with Shane Victorino finishing 3-for-6 with three runs and an RBI, and the heart of the order, with Howard and Chase Utley combining to go 5-for-8 with three runs and eight RBI.
And, yet again, they received a standout performance from the slender lefty on the mound, as Hamels held the Marlins to four hits and one walk in seven scoreless innings to improve his scoreless innings streak to a career-best 25.
"It doesn't mean anything, just for the fact that I need to go out there and get one guy out my next game, and then it eventually goes to another guy, and another guy," said Hamels, whose streak is the longest for a Phillies starter since Randy Wolf went 27 straight scoreless innings in 2002. "It's just being able to keep the team in the game. Ultimately, it's the wins that really matter right now. If you can keep the game within reason and get the wins, that is ultimately going to get you to the playoffs."
For the last three games, the Phillies have looked exactly like the team many predicted would cruise through the NL to its third straight title. Since a 7-1 loss to the Marlins in the first game of a doubleheader Monday, they've scored 25 runs in three games, improving their win total to a league-leading 81. They entered last night with a .571 winning percentage, .001 behind the Reds for the best in the NL. Now, with 21 games to play, that mark stands at a league-best .574, as the Reds lost to the Rockies last night and slipped to 79-60 (.568).
The Phillies will spend their second straight day in first place, a half-game ahead of the Braves, who beat the Pirates last night and start a four-game series against the once-mighty Cardinals today.
Their hope now is that they carry the offensive momentum they have built over the last 3 days into this weekend's series against the Mets at Citi Field, where they have mustered just seven runs in six games this season.
"I definitely feel like we've got a good run in us," said Manuel, whose team went 15-9 in its 24-game-in-23-day stretch. "I feel like we can play better than we have at any time this year because we have all of our players back. We are more equipped to do that."
Righthander Brad Lidge, unavailable the last two games with elbow soreness, said he felt fine after playing catch yesterday. He remains on target to return tomorrow . . . Outfielder Domonic Brown (sore quad) was unavailable to play last night, although he took batting practice prior to the game. He remains day-to-day . . . Shane Victorino is 7-for-16 with six runs and four stolen bases in three games in the leadoff spot . . . Cole Hamels improved to 10-10 and lowered his ERA to 3.06, the lowest it has been since he was 12-8 with a 3.01 ERA on Sept. 2, 2008.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at