"Do I think we're better?" Charlie Manuel asked rhetorically before the game. "I don't know. I'm trying to find out."
The manager and his boss, Ruben Amaro Jr., both said the Phillies require a robust homestand. "I can't put a number on it," Manuel said. All Amaro said was, "We'll know a lot more about this team after this homestand."
The Phils won on Friday with an early barrage, sparked by the third-string catcher. They won with their ace throwing, even if he wilted in the seventh inning, forcing tenuous moments for the bullpen. They won with hits from every starter but Michael Young and Cliff Lee.
Friday marked their first encounter with first-place Atlanta since the season's initial series. The two teams are separated by 71/2 games, although their records are almost identical since the Braves' sterling 12-1 start. Atlanta is 37-36 and the Phillies are 36-37 since April 17.
"We're going to have plenty of opportunities," Lee said.
The Phillies profited from Atlanta's mistakes while the Braves argued with home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Lee allowed four runs. His ERA is 2.73, 11th in the National League. The bullpen, asked to record eight outs, did not break.
Ryan Howard homered against a lefthanded pitcher. Humberto Quintero whacked a home run and double and accounted for three RBIs, his most in a game since 2011.
The way Lee was throwing early, the insurance runs felt superfluous. Then his night soured quickly. He faced six batters in the seventh and retired just one. Dan Uggla smashed a three-run homer. Lee's velocity dipped; he looked like a victim of the suffocating humidity.
After Brian McCann doubled, Manuel sauntered to the mound but did not remove Lee. Reed Johnson, a pinch-hitter, rapped a single to left. That prompted a second visit from Manuel, who took the ball. J.C. Ramirez, once traded for Lee, allowed one inherited runner to score but preserved the lead.
"I thought he was on course to go deeper in the game," Manuel said about Lee. "But he got real hot and he was spent."
Lee enjoyed the advantage of Hernandez's large strike zone. Atlanta's anger boiled in the third inning. When catcher Gerald Laird took a high pitch for a called third strike, he yelled profanities at Hernandez. He was ejected and screamed more obscenities while inches from the umpire's face. The home crowd cheered for Laird as he retreated; he fulfilled many a baseball fan's dream.
Amaro labeled his team "an enigma" prior to the win. He made no proclamations, but said the composition of his roster could change. "These next 10 days are big," he said. The first nine innings pleased him.
Contact Matt Gelb at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.