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PHI@NYM: Pence skies a two-run big fly in the first

NEW YORK -- Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard kept shaking their heads no Saturday at Citi Field.

No, they weren't worried.

No, not even a little bit.

The Phillies had played with their everyday lineup just 15 times this season, and were 11-4 in those games. They were supremely confident once it happened a 16th time they would end their eight-game losing streak -- their longest since 2000 -- and get on track in time for Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.

The 16th time came Sunday in a 9-4 victory over the Mets, earning the Phillies their first victory since clinching the NL East on Sept. 17.

Breathe.

"Tell them to get off the bridge," Howard said, smiling. "We won."

"We had some real good things happen in the game, but the most important is we got us a win," manager Charlie Manuel said.

The Phillies took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, when Jimmy Rollins singled, Hunter Pence hit a two-run home run to right-center field and Howard scored on a sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez. Manuel had instituted a new-look lineup, with Utley moving up to second, Pence moving up to third and Victorino moving down to fifth.

So far, so good.

"You can see the difference," Manuel said. "When we've got all of our guys in there we've got a pretty good lineup. I like our lineup when we've got everybody here, but when you've got two or three of them missing we become a different team. It's very important we keep our guys in there."

The Phillies scored a run in both the second and third innings to take a 5-0 lead. They added four more in the fourth to make it 9-0. It was the most the Phillies had scored since scoring nine runs on Sept. 17, which also was the last time they had their everyday lineup on the field.

Roy Halladay took care of the rest. He allowed four hits and one walk and struck out three in six scoreless innings to improve to 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA.

"It's nice to go in [to the postseason] on a strong finish, even though that doesn't always determine how things are going to work out," Halladay said. "To be able to go in and feel good, I'm happy with that."

But the game didn't go completely smoothly. Antonio Bastardo continued to struggle, even after the Phillies said they learned he had been tipping his pitches recently. Bastardo allowed three hits, three runs, two walks and one home run in just one-third of an inning.

Bastardo has allowed 16 of the last 27 batters he has faced to reach base. In his last seven appearances, he has allowed nine hits, nine runs, seven walks and two home runs in 3 2/3 innings.

It might not be such a cause for concern, except Bastardo could be the only left-hander in the bullpen in the postseason. If he isn't throwing well, the Phillies' only other left-handed relief option would be Joe Savery, who has made just two appearances in the big leagues.

"I still feel something weird," Bastardo said. "I can't command my slider. The slider isn't going to where I want it to go."

Bastardo said he thinks he can find his control, but it depends on how many times he can pitch in the season's final three games.

"In the bullpen I feel good, but I have to make adjustments in the game," he said. "My confidence is good because I still throw my fastball to both sides of the plate. It's something I have to make a little bit of an adjustment with my slider."

Another concern might be keeping Howard healthy. John Mayberry Jr. replaced him as a pinch-runner in the fourth inning because Howard started feeling some soreness in his left heel. Howard has missed time recently because of bursitis in his left ankle. He also has soreness in his right big toe, which he aggravated sliding into the wall making a catch on Saturday. He was not running well during his two times on base on Sunday.

Howard said he has every intention of playing this week in Atlanta because he needs at-bats to get ready for the playoffs. He said he would have remained in the game if it were the postseason.

"I told [Manuel]I wanted to play it cool and let him know if something was bothering me," he said. "I'm not going to try to play the hero right now with three games left."

The Phillies have three more games to solve Bastardo's problems, if that is possible. They can keep an eye on Howard, too. But on Sunday, at least, they got the offense going again. That was good news, and a huge relief.

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