Now, the Phillies not only can see the light, they can see the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of the pack that will spend these final three weeks of the baseball season battling for the fifth carrot that commissioner Bud Selig added to the playoff pools in each league.
Manuel said it was only about a week ago that he realized he had this wild-card thing all wrong. He kept looking at Atlanta, the team leading the wild-card standings, and forgot that the second team in the order was the one the Phillies were really chasing. Even then, though, he wasn't too excited.
Now? "We're in it," Manuel said. "I'd say we're dead in it, yeah."
That's what winning seven in a row and 15 out of 19 will do for a team. The Phillies, at 72-71, are above .500 for the first time since June 3. Now they are just three games behind the Cardinals, the team that turned a miracle September run into a World Series title a year ago.
It's hard to tell who the hottest player is on baseball's hottest team. Kyle Kendrick has arguably been the ace during this impressive run. Lee, after allowing one unearned run and four hits in seven innings Wednesday, is 3-0 with a 0.33 ERA in his last four starts. The Phillies won all four games.
Anybody who has followed this thing from the beginning knows what a struggle this season has been for Lee, but he has been at his best when it has mattered most. Like everybody else in the Phillies' clubhouse, Lee is feeling it.
"I think it's possible, no doubt," he said. "We have a few teams ahead of us, but all we can control is what we can control. If we continue to play the way we have since the all-star break, we definitely have a chance."
John Mayberry Jr., the centerfielder since the Phillies traded Shane Victorino to the Dodgers, has batted .299 with nine doubles, six homers, 17 RBIs, and a .372 on-base percentage in his more defined role.
That included a clutch two-out RBI single off Josh Johnson in the sixth inning that tied this game at 1-1.
And then there's Jimmy Rollins. Since being benched Aug. 30 after he did not run out a pop-up that was dropped in a game against the New York Mets, the shortstop has hit .314 with four home runs and nine RBIs in 12 games.
His latest home run, a two-run shot off Johnson that broke the tie in the seventh, was his biggest of the season. It was also his team-leading 19th.
The Phillies manager is pretty hot, too.
Lee worked a rather easy seventh inning and his pitch count sat at 107 when it was his turn to hit with two outs in the bottom of the inning. By that point, however, Manuel had already informed Lee he was finished and Pete Orr that he was going to pinch-hit.
Bench coach Pete Mackanin informed Orr that he was 6 for 15 in his career against Johnson, one of the best righthanders in baseball.
Now, after his two-out single to right field, Orr is 7 for 16. After Orr stole second base, Rollins launched his home run and the bullpen duo of Phillippe Aumont and Jonathan Papelbon finished it off.
The Phillies are in it. They are sure of it.
Contact Bob Brookover
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