NEW YORK - The big-picture ramifications will not reveal themselves for weeks, or even months, but over the last couple of days there has been a growing feeling inside the Phillies clubhouse that Yankee Stadium will be known as the site where their 2010 fortunes took a decided turn for the better.
Just 3 days ago, they seemed to find a bottom that even the most pessimistic of observers did not think they could reach, with ace righthander Roy Halladay getting battered by a ferocious Yankees lineup as he and his teammates dropped to just two games above .500. The next two games were scheduled to be started by a pair of pitchers who entered spring training fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation and entered a three-game series against the Yankees having allowed a combined 15 runs in six innings in their most recent starts.
At the beginning of the season, Charlie Manuel might have circled this midweek interleague series on his schedule and labeled it as his team's first chance to prove his belief that they were better than they played in a six-game loss to the Yankees in last year's World Series. Instead, you couldn't have blamed him if he feared it would prove just how far they had fallen.
But then a funny thing occurred, as funny things are wont to do in this fickle sport. First, the Phillies offense exploded against A.J. Burnett, providing plenty of cushion for Jamie Moyer to cruise to a victory on Wednesday night. Then, in a game that finally felt like the championship rematch the schedule-makers might have expected, a host of characters from Kyle Kendrick to Shane Victorino to Placido Polanco to Wilson Valdez slugged and slapped and slid and dived their way to a 7-1 victory that just might be their most impressive of this young but bipolar season.
"A heck of a game," is how Manuel described it afterward, and not just because the Phillies won a second consecutive game for just the second time in 3 weeks, improving to 34-30 and succeeding where they failed in November by taking two out of three from the Yankees in their own ballpark.
It was a heck of a game because it required a heck of a performance in every aspect.
There was Kendrick, sporting a 4.80 ERA after allowing six runs in five innings of a win over the Marlins, shutting down the same offense that slammed Halladay for six runs on Tuesday night. He pitched seven innings, allowed one run on four hits, struck out the first two hitters he faced and then cruised to his fourth victory of the season.
There was Polanco, making one of the best defensive plays you've seen out of a Phillie this season, diving onto a rolled-up tarp and somehow plucking a sinking foul pop to end the sixth inning with runners on first and third and the Phillies leading 3-1.
"The play of the game," Kendrick called it.
"The best play of the season," Valdez labeled it.
The Phillies got their runs in a variety of ways, first in the fourth inning on an RBI single by Ryan Howard, then two more in the fifth on Shane Victorino's 11th home run of the season, tying him for the team lead with Howard and Jayson Werth, both of whom hit their 11th the previous night.
The Yankees cut the Phillies' lead to 3-1 in the sixth on an RBI single by Robinson Cano, and that is where it would remain until the ninth, when Carlos Ruiz led off with a double, kicking off a four-run rally that gave J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras all the cushion they would need to close out the victory.
Manuel gave much of the credit to Valdez, who followed Ruiz in the order. Earlier in the game, he had dropped down a successful sacrifice bunt in a similar situation. But when he saw the Yankee infield cycling into a bunt defense, he slapped a single into the spot vacated by Derek Jeter to drive Ruiz home for the pivotal fourth run.
"I was thinking that was the way we were supposed to play," Valdez said. "We've been having a hard time scoring runs, but hopefully we can keep it going from here. Everything is going to be OK."