Phils show positive signs in walkoff win

Posted: August 07, 2012

FOR THE FIRST time in a long while, it is possible to look into the crystal ball and see something positive rising from the ashes of 2012. Over the course of 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday, the Phillies saw Roy Halladay look stronger than he has since April, Domonic Brown look like a professional hitter who is just starting to find his way, and Chase Utley look like the player who was the best offensive second baseman in baseball for half a decade.

By the time Ryan Howard's walkoff single against Josh Collmenter with one out in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Phillies to a 5-4 win over the Diamondbacks on Sunday afternoon, the future suddenly looked like something other than a smoldering pile of rubble.

"We can't changed what happened the last 4 months," said Utley, who went 2-for-4 and hit his seventh home run. "All we can do is build on what we have here."

What they have here, at least at the moment, is a second baseman who looks stronger than he did at any point last season, and perhaps even further back. Utley's homer off Trevor Cahill in the fifth inning was his 11th extra-base hit in 106 at-bats since returning from the disabled list. Last year, it took him 118 at-bats to reach 11 extra-base hits. It took him 195 at-bats to reach seven homers.

"Overall, I feel a little bit stronger," said Utley, who is hitting .264 with a .368 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage.

The last time Utley finished a season with a slugging percentage greater than .509 was 2008.

"I've built some more strength in my legs, and I think I can still build more," he said.

The Phillies also have to be happy with what they have seen out of rookie leftfielder Brown thus far. In the six games since he was called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley in the wake of the Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence trades, the 24-year-old southpaw has played capably in the field, a question that has surrounded him for the last couple of seasons. Capable is a good word to describe the way he has looked at the plate. Despite starting the season 3-for-14, Brown has provided the Phillies with several good at-bats. Heading into Sunday, he had swung and missed at just three of the 62 pitches he had seen. In the win over the Diamondbacks, which gave the Phillies the series victory and a 49-59 record, Brown doubled and scored a run in the second inning, then legged out an infield single in the eighth that resulted in the game-tying run on a throwing error by Arizona reliever David Hernandez .

While the Phillies moved in front of the Marlins and out of last place, they are still 16 games out of the division lead and 12 1/2 games out of the last NL wild-card spot. That's not to say they cannot put a dent in that deficit. In fact, they have won 12 of their last 20 games and have looked very capable in winning their last two series.

A lot depends on Howard, who lined a single into rightfield after the Diamondbacks intentionally walked Utley to load the bases in the ninth. Howard entered that plate appearance having struck out in 25 of his previous 47 at-bats. He insists that the struggles have nothing to do with the surgically repaired Achilles' tendon that kept him sidelined for the first three-plus months of the season.

"It's just a timing issue right now," said the first baseman, who struck out in three of his first four at-bats on Sunday before hitting the game-winner.

Cliff Lee allowed all four of his runs on a trio of Diamondbacks home runs, but lasted eight innings to set Jonathan Papelbon up to claim the victory in the ninth.

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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