September 22 Philadelphia Daily News:
“YOU CAN LOOK up and down the lineups, and pore through the pitching rotations, and strain your eyes in search of that one magic element that separates contender from pretender.
But the simple truth is this: Over the last 2 days, one team has looked like a team that should finish the season with its fourth straight division title, and the other has looked like anything but. One team has made timely hits. The other has made untimely outs. One team has used its defense as a weapon of destruction. The other has just self-destructed.
If there is any doubt about the identity of the best team in the National League East – and for most of this topsy-turvy season, there has been – it is on the verge of being eliminated.
“You look around the clubhouse at the guys we’ve got, we’ve got a bunch of guys that rise to the occasion, play good in big situations,” said Jayson Werth, whose three-run homer off Mike Minor in the third inning last night helped propel the Phillies to a 5-3 win over the Braves that improved their division lead to five games with 10 remaining. “We’ve got a whole team of guys like that. So it’s no surprise to me that here we are again in middle-to-late September, we’re surging, we’re making a run at it. We’re going for the best record in baseball. Make no mistake about it. Everyone in here feels like we’re the best team in baseball, and we’re going to go out and prove it.”
Two months to the day on which they fell seven games behind Atlanta with a loss in St. Louis, they are now one victory away from a three-game sweep and a six-game lead with nine to play.
Even before it ended, you could hear Charlie Manuel preparing his postgame dampening of enthusiasm.
“I think if we win tomorrow, that puts them deeper in the hole,” the Phillies manager said. “But at the same time, it ain’t over. I think we’ve proven that over the last couple of years.”
A five-game lead might not be reason to start popping bottles of Moet, although Roy Halladay’s 20th victory apparently was. A half-hour after the veteran righthander improved to 20-10 by holding the Braves to three runs in seven innings, a bottle of champagne and several flutes sat in front of his locker, the markings of a postgame toast to the Phillies’ first 20-game winner since Steve Carlton in 1982 (and the first righthander to do it since Robin Roberts in 1955).
He wasn’t as dominant as he had been in two previous starts against the Braves, both of them complete games, but it is hard to quibble. As Manuel said before the game when relaying a scouting report he received over the offseason from AL sluggers Jim Thome and Paul Konerko: “Even when he’s not good, he’s good.”
Centerfielder Shane Victorino made a huge play in the sixth inning, throwing out Brian McCann at third base on a sacrifice fly by Derrek Lee that cut the Phillies‘ lead to 3-2. Had McCann successfully advanced on the play, the Braves would have had the tying run on third base with one out. Instead, Halladay was left to deal with Nate McLouth, who grounded out to end the inning. (Halladay allowed his final run on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman in the seventh.)
“That’s what makes this team so good,” said Halladay, who has allowed at least three earned runs in each of his last six starts but is still 20-10 with a 2.53 ERA. “They are known for their offensive ability but I think the defense is something that a lot of guys take pride in and they are very good at. To have that all around, behind the plate, behind the infield, it makes a big difference.””
PhillySportsCentral.com – Philadelphia sports news, rumors, blogs, & message board discussion forums