"We still have to fight to .500," said Byrd, who had three hits. "We've got a long ways to go. Especially with four in St. Louis. They've been on a tear. They've won eight of their last 10. We have to make sure we go there and win that series."
The Phillies came to Atlanta with little to lose and departed with a three-game sweep of this despondent Braves team. The final act here, a season-high 18 hits in a 3-hour, 32-minute demolition, generated more optimism. Everybody hit; a lineup that featured Cesar Hernandez and Wil Nieves at the top scored seven runs in the game's first two innings.
"In the first game, putting a five spot up in the 13th inning, that might have gone a long way," Sandberg said. "Guys were swinging the bats. Once again, it was up and down the lineup."
When this series started, Atlanta was a first-place team while the Phillies licked their wounds after a series loss to Chicago, the worst team in the National League. The Braves do not resemble a legitimate contender, at least not at this moment.
On Wednesday they started Aaron Harang, whose April magic evaporated long ago. He was so good in the season's first month that paranoid Atlanta players accused the Marlins of stealing signs when Miami battered him April 30 for nine runs. There was no such talk Wednesday.
The first inning lasted 36 minutes and 64 pitches under 90-degree heat. Harang fired 30 pitches in each of the first two innings. He was cooked. His manager's strategy did no favors. Fredi Gonzalez ordered Harang to intentionally walk Ryan Howard - who owns the Braves - with first base open. Byrd followed with a run-scoring single. John Mayberry Jr. drew a bases-loaded walk. It was not wise, after all, to hand Howard a free base in the first inning.
The Phillies batted around in the second with six consecutive hits. Harang permitted 13 in all. The last starter to allow more hits to the Phillies in a game was Houston's Chris Sampson in 2007. He was tagged for 14.
"I don't think we've ever really been out of it," Howard said. "We've played hot and cold, but we've been six, seven, eight, nine games out of it. You want to definitely handle these types of games against the division rivals. This is the step in the right direction."
Roberto Hernandez survived six innings on a sweltering afternoon that was unkind to pitching. His 2-0 lead disappeared in the first when Atlanta batted around. Hernandez slogged through the next five innings; it was meritorious.
For the Phillies, the only disappointment came in the ninth when Nieves, the backup catcher, lashed his third hit of the afternoon. Nieves injured his right quadriceps as he ran. He required assistance to leave the field.
The 36-year-old catcher thinks he could avoid the disabled list. Cameron Rupp, a .154 hitter at triple-A Lehigh Valley, may replace Nieves in St. Louis.
"I have never done anything like that, so I was a little afraid of walking on it," Nieves said. "They said it was mild, and usually I'm a quick healer, so hopefully that's the case."
The rest of the afternoon was mellifluous to Sandberg, who could at last declare: "We played some good baseball."
THE SWEEP BY THE NUMBERS
Hits per game by the Phillies in their three wins over Atlanta.
Runs per game in the three wins.
RBIs in the series by Ryan Howard, who now has 47.