By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
With the Phillies barely hanging on to their slim hopes for a postseason bid, how well they play in the final homestand of the regular season against the Atlanta Braves and the playoff-bound Washington Nationals will determine whether they will be packing their bags for that one-game playoff or getting ready for next season.
Behind three other teams chasing down that final wildcard spot, the Phillies (77-74) controlled their end of the scoreboard with a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves at Citizen’s Bank Park in front of a sellout crowd of 44, 052. The win moved the Phillies to within three games of the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost to the Chicago Cubs for the final National League wildcard spot.
It was that time-honored Phillies formula where they bludgeon teams to death with the long ball. The Phils hit a season-high four home runs. Third baseman Kevin Frandsen, first baseman Ryan Howard, catcher Carlos Ruiz and second baseman Chase Utley did the major damage for the Phillies with home run ball.
“Howard’s being swinging good and he swung good (Thursday) night, he hit four or five balls pretty hard and came up with two hits including a grand-slam home run,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He had a good swing on that homer tonight.”
Manuel said he was proud of the energy and heart his team been playing with during the second half of the season.
“I’ve seen times when we could have folded tent and it got close to that, but usually when you’re losing during the season, it does,” Manuel said. “That’s the mark of a bunch of guys who like to play and definitely want to win. I think we love the fact that we play before a full house every night and that we definitely want to play for our fans.”
Howard continued his hot hitting with his third home run in three days when he went yard in the bottom of the fourth inning. That homerun was followed by a solo shot by Ruiz that inning that gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead. The Phils catcher had an RBI single in the seventh and Utley added his solo homer in the eighth.
“I’m really trying not to think about it and just trying to go with it,” Howard said. “Now I’m just kinda finding it a little bit. I’m not trying to question it; I’m not trying to think about it. Each day, I’m going out there and I’m trying to grind and really trying to get back in the swing of things.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick (10-11) bounced back from a horrendous outing in Houston by striking out six in six and two-thirds innings. He allowed just two runs on five hits. He said bouncing back from a tough outing is another sign of his maturity as a pitcher.
“You just gotta bounce back, why dwell on it? Kendrick said. “Guys are going to have bad outings. You just gotta find a way to come back and try to have a good one.”
With the Phillies postseason fortunes riding on this series against the Braves, Manuel said he had a lot of confidence in Kendrick because of his consistency during the second half of the season.
“We like the way that we set our pitching up for this series and we definitely wanted Kyle in one of those games,” Manuel said. “He’s pitched real good for us. He’s in a streak right now where he’s throwing a lot of good pitches. He’s throwing strikes, but right now his command is so good that when he gets ahead, he can sell the hitter at swinging at balls out of the strike zone, especially with his changeup and cutter.”