Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Homestretch Triumph

By Claire Smith
In today's Inquirer
Citizens Bank Park - home, sweet home or house of horrors?

The Phillies, running out of time in their quest to close the deal on the National League wild card, entered last night's game against the visiting Chicago Cubs needing to decide which it is.

After struggling initially, the Phillies finally settled on the latter, thanks to the pitching savvy of veteran Jamie Moyer and just enough offense to win, 4-1.

The victory ensured that the Phillies would remain, at worst, 11/2 games behind San Diego in the wild-card chase. The Padres played later against visiting Arizona.

Fortunately for the Phillies, Moyer was obviously as at home as a Phillie could hope to be while making only his second start at Citizens Bank since being acquired Aug. 19 from Seattle.
The 43-year-old lefthander, 3-2 as a Phillie, pitched seven innings of six-hit, one-run ball to improve to 1-0 at the Bank.

The Phillies? They are 37-39 here. But at least the win quieted for a night questions about why the Phillies remain the only big-league club with a winning record on the road and a losing mark at home.

It also allowed the team that entered play three games under .500 at Citizens Bank to reclaim the momentum built on a 7-3 trip.

That trip had made it possible for Phillies fans to care about what happens on this crucial - and final - homestand of the year.

"Three or four more games [won] at home and - who knows? - maybe we'd be leading the wild-card division," reliever Tom Gordon said after pitching a scoreless ninth for his 32d save. "But these games are really, really key games for us, and we've just got to fight.

"And," the veteran of many a pennant-stretch run noted, "the important thing is we've put ourselves in a situation to fight - and a good team will prevail. And the way we've played the last two months, we're that good team."

The Phillies needed to show that very much after the 11-6 debacle of a loss in the series opener Monday, a loss that had brought Charlie Manuel back to his season-long position of having to explain this peculiar home-field "disadvantage."

"I don't even know the answer to that," the manager said before the game. "I have thought about it and thought about it... . We just need to be a little more alert and cool."

Cool? Last night the Phillies needed to act as if they understood that there were only 12 games remaining in their season, and half of those to be played - here - by Monday.
Initially, only Moyer, a St. Joseph's product, seemed a sea of calm as he and the Cubs' Wade Miller, a Reading native, traded scoreless innings through four.

The Phillies' awkwardness at the plate was evident, and the uneasy crowd of 31,892 picked up on that immediately.

Ask Pat Burrell.

Miller, a rebuilt righthander making only his third appearance of the year after off-season shoulder surgery, snaked a slow curve past the hesitant Burrell for a called third strike to end a bases-loaded, first-inning threat. The boos rained on Burrell.

Failure to pounce on Miller (0-2) was a group effort from the start. He struck out eight through the first four innings, and the Phillies stranded seven; shortstop Jimmy Rollins' strikeout in the fourth stranded three alone.

Still, it was Burrell's first-inning strikeout - his sixth in three-plus games - that filled the park with that famed Philly venom.

Increasingly targeted by boo birds waiting to jump on what goes wrong, Burrell could not respond. Fortunately for him, his teammates did.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs, Howard singled, then churned home on a double by David Dellucci - the designated Howard protector of the day.

One Cubs error and a two-run bloop single off the bat of Abraham Nunez gave the Phillies a 3-0 edge after five.

A Rollins' home run in the eighth sealed the deal and restored what the Phillies needed most - their taste for home cooking.
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