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08/01/08 12:37 AM ET
Phils back on track with sweep of Nats
Five-game winning streak gets team back in first place
By Kevin Horan / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Charlie Manuel will be the first to tell you that he's "not a big meeting guy." The Phillies' manager only likes to gather a team-wide conference when it's needed. But it's hard to argue with the results of the closed-door team meeting Manuel held July 25. Since that day, the Phils are 5-1. On Thursday night at Nationals Park, they put the finishing touches on a five-game winning streak and a sweep of Nationals with an 8-4 victory. "I don't know if [the meeting] has anything to do with it or not," Manuel said. "It's a conversation piece, I guess. The fact that you start winning is better." Regardless, the Phillies needed this sweep of Washington. Before the meeting, they had fallen out of first place in the National League East, victims of sluggish hitting from mid-June through late July. Their win Thursday gives them a one-game advantage over the Mets, who were enjoying an off-day. The last time the Phils put together a five-game winning streak was May 25-30. That streak was driven by a squad that routinely pounded opposing pitchers, and the Phillies of late have used a similar method, hitting .331 (57-for-172) in their last five contests, scoring 40 runs on 11 home runs. "When you hit the ball, of course you look better and you got more energy and the game looks much better," Manuel said. Thursday's offensive onslaught began in the second inning, when Jayson Werth led off with his 15th home run of the season. Eric Bruntlett scored from third on a ground ball by Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz came home on a throwing error by Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, giving the Phils a 3-0 advantage. Philadelphia's lead was only threatened in the third inning. With two outs, Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick hit Zimmerman in the right hand with a 90-mph fastball. X-rays were negative, and the third baseman was diagnosed with a contusion. Zimmerman leaped out of the batter's box, wringing his hands in pain. It was a scene eerily reminiscent of last season's July 26 contest between these two teams, when Nationals pitcher John Lannan hit Chase Utley in the right hand with an 0-2 fastball, causing the Phillies' star second baseman to miss five weeks. Fittingly, it was Lannan who started Thursday's game for Washington. Zimmerman ultimately took first base after consulting with team personnel. He advanced to second on an Austin Kearns single and scored when the next batter, Jesus Flores, lined a base hit to left field, loosening the Phils' grip to 3-2. Kendrick ended the threat by getting the next batter, Kory Casto, to ground out. "They scored one run with two outs -- there was nobody on," Kendrick said. "That was frustrating. But you got the lead out there, and you gotta keep the team in the game." That's exactly what Kendrick did for his next 3 2/3 innings on the hill, at one point retiring nine in a string of 11 batters. The Phils eased some of the pressure on Kendrick with a two-run homer by Rollins in the fourth and a three-run sixth. The Phils notched a total of 60 runs during their last five-game winning streak in May. It started with an offensive outburst that would continue through June 13, when the Phillies pounded the Cardinals, 20-2, in St. Louis. But that's when things started to go sour. The Phils embarked on a 13-21 stretch, hitting .236 along the way. On Friday, the Phils will return to St. Louis' Busch Stadium for the first time since that offensive slide started. "I thought about that, honestly," Rollins said. "I really have. That's where it started to go bad." The Phillies are hoping that, this time, their trip to St. Louis is a continuation -- not an end point -- of their offensive surge. Otherwise, it might be time for the skipper to call another conference. "If we go 10-1," Manuel said, "and we lose a couple, believe me, I'll have another meeting."
Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.