Phillies top Cubs for fifth straight win

Posted: May 18, 2012

CHICAGO - Forty-two days before the Phillies gathered Thursday at Wrigley Field, they won a game. It was opening day, they had a winning record, and everything was according to plan.

"I think we've proven we can play in close games," manager Charlie Manuel said that day, April 5, in Pittsburgh. The Phillies promptly spent the next month-plus losing many close games.

Finally, after a five-game winning streak punctuated by an 8-7 victory over the Cubs, they are above .500 again for the first time since being 1-0.

At 20-19, they have successfully treaded water in the schedule's weak beginning. They are playing their best baseball of 2012 and it has come at the expense of middling clubs like San Diego, Houston, and Chicago. The competition will improve.

Friday, the underachieving but dangerous Boston Red Sox arrive at Citizens Bank Park for three. Then, the Phillies play their next 20 games against teams with winning records. Without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the Phillies wanted to remain in striking distance. The next three weeks could prove crucial to maintain that goal.

"It's hard," Manuel said before Thursday's win. "Life is hard."

So long as Carlos Ruiz hits like he did Thursday, life is easier. Ruiz, making a feverish bid for his first All-Star Game selection, increased his batting average to .363 with four more hits. He drove in three runs. Hunter Pence had two more. The Phillies had lost five straight games started by Roy Halladay before Thursday's eight-inning gem. That inconceivable streak was halted.

Drama was added only when rookie Jake Diekman was charged with four ninth-inning runs. That forced Jonathan Papelbon into the game for one out and his 11th save of the season.

Life is easier, too, when Chris Volstad is the opposing pitcher. His teams have lost his last 10 starts and he has cemented his status as the Phillies' personal punching bag. He's also likely headed to the Cubs bullpen after another clunker that lasted all of two innings.

Superlatives for Ruiz's performance are running thin. He was integral in just about every Phillies rally. The middle of the lineup was responsible for an early lead off Volstad. A Ruiz first-inning single scored Jimmy Rollins, who began the game with a single. In the second, with the bases loaded, Shane Victorino grounded out to first for a run. Then Pence delivered a two-run single.

Ruiz, remarkably, ranks in the National League's top 10 for batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He's the only catcher to rank that high. He added weight in the winter, but much of it was muscle, and it shows. Starting in spring training, the ball flew off his bat with more life than ever. He's now firmly entrenched as Manuel's No. 5 hitter.

When he smacked his fourth hit, a run-scoring double in the eighth, a fan stood behind the Cubs dugout and started bowing to the catcher. It marked the first four-hit game by a Phillies player this season.

Volstad lasted 58 pitches, plenty for Cubs manager Dale Sveum to decide he had seen enough. He was removed before he had a chance to bat.

Halladay returned to Wrigley, the site of a forgettable moment a season ago when the robotic pitcher was overcome with heat exhaustion. He responded with a stellar effort Thursday.

Chicago scored in the first inning but did not have a runner reach second in the next five frames. He allowed two solo home runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but the score was such that Halladay could be as aggressive as he wanted.

Most important: He won, which was something he had not done in more than a month. And just as it was on opening day, Halladay's right arm delivered the victory that propelled the Phillies to a winning record.

After 42 days spent in mediocrity, this one was slightly more gratifying.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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