Phillies bounce back

CHARLES FOX/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER John Mayberry Jr. congratulates Marlon Byrd after Byrd's two-run homer in the first inning.
CHARLES FOX/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER John Mayberry Jr. congratulates Marlon Byrd after Byrd's two-run homer in the first inning.
Posted: June 26, 2014

EVEN AFTER a five-game winning streak was followed by a three-game losing streak, Ryne Sandberg managed to remain upbeat.

It was a lot of, "We'll put this one behind us," and "We'll start another good streak," or "The boys will bounce back tomorrow" following the most recent defeat. (Editor's note: Sandberg never said "the boys." He's not a hockey coach.)

But the baseball season isn't even halfway over and it's Sandberg's first full season as a manager, so there's no reason for him to operate any other way. And since they haven't hit the midway point and are closer to the top of the division after 75 games this year than they were last year, the Phillies are not clinically dead yet . . . even if they haven't been able to climb above fourth place in their own division in more than 2 months.

But, don't worry, be happy. Summer began only 4 days ago and the Phillies actually have begun to play decent baseball over the last 9 days.

The latest positive development: Jimmy Rollins fueled the offense that helped stake David Buchanan to an early lead and the righthander outdueled fellow rookie Andrew Heaney as the Phillies rolled to a 7-4 victory last night at Citizens Bank Park.

Since falling to a season-high 11 games under .500 on June 8, the Phillies have won 10 of their last 15 games.

"The guys are together," Sandberg said. "We had a good road trip and we want to continue on that path. That's where we wanted to focus on - to stop this streak."

Rollins, who has hit safely in 17 of his last 18 games, reached base in all four of his plate appearances.

In his first at-bat, Rollins was hit by an 0-2 slider from Heaney, moved to second when Chase Utley walked, was on the front end of a double steal with Utley and scored the game's first run when Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia made an errant throw to third on the stolen-base attempt.

Marlon Byrd launched his 13th home run of the season later in the first inning as the Phillies jumped to a 3-0 lead.

It was the fifth time in their last nine games that the Phillies had scored first (and the third time they scored in the first inning in those games). The Phils have won four of those games.

It's a simple plan, but one that's worked wonders.

"It makes a big difference, getting runs up on the board," Sandberg said. "It sets a tone that we're going to score runs. It makes a big difference with our pitcher - being able to score runs and add on. We had baserunners . . . to make that happen. Took advantage of a lot of different things."

After he was the latest pitcher armed with an early lead, Buchanan nearly watched it disappear. He walked the first batter of the second inning (Saltalamacchia) and then served up back-to-back singles.

One defensive play helped save him a run: Byrd fired a perfect strike back into the infield on the second of those back-to-back singles to keep the bases loaded. Another defensive play added more trouble to the inning: Utley botched the first of two popups he'd end up fouling up before the night was over, bringing in the Marlins' first run.

But Buchanan, in his seventh big-league start, showed some poise in escaping the inning without further damage. He retired two of the next three hitters, stranding the bases loaded and keeping Giancarlo Stanton in the on-deck circle when the inning was over.

"That was huge," Buchanan said. "I had some balls hit in the right spots to get out of there with one run . . . They made plays behind me and with that run support you can't really ask for too much more."

Buchanan allowed two runs on six hits and four talks in five innings.

Cody Asche helped put a dent in Heaney's ERA with a key two-run double in the sixth inning that proved to be important insurance. Asche is 7-for-19 (.368) with five RBI in five games since returning from the DL.

"Just coming up in spots with teammates on base," Asche said. "I think those guys are really doing it. It's easy to hit when you've got guys on base, more times than not."

Asche is hitting .329 (26-for-79) in 22 games since the beginning of May.

"He's better than in May," Sandberg said. "He's been on the ball and aggressive on strikes. He's hitting the ball hard consistently. He's even ahead of where he was before. He's an added bat, and that's good to have."

Before Jonathan Papelbon recorded his 18th save of the season, one of the more touching moments of the season occurred at Citizens Bank Park: Tony Gwynn Jr. received a standing ovation when he entered to pinch-hit in the eighth inning.

It was Gwynn's first appearance since his father, the Hall of Fame and eight-time NL batting champ, passed away 8 days earlier.

"Needless to say, it was pretty awesome," Gwynn said. "It made the at-bat a little more difficult, had to fight the emotion and the tears and stuff like that. But that's why guys who play here like to play here. Regardless of whether things are going bad or good, the fans stay behind you. It was much appreciated by the Gwynn family."

Saltalamacchia had a classy assist to the moment. After Gwynn's name was announced, the Miami catcher trotted out to the mound to talk with his pitcher to ensure Gwynn and the fans had their time.

"I don't know what it must be like to lose a father," Saltalamacchia said. "Especially a guy who brought so much to this game."

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