Last October, Ruben Amaro Jr. and his lieutenants went through their normal postseason autopsy report.
They took a look at the remnants of a team that lost 89 games and finished 23 games behind the National League East champion Atlanta Braves and decided the best course of action was to keep playing the same hand. Over the winter, the general manager resisted trading veterans like Cliff Lee and re-signed his dependable-but-aging catcher Carlos Ruiz, too.
Amaro then added a position player older than everyone else in his projected starting lineup and swooped in before spring training and signed a pitcher older than every other player on his 40-man roster.
If you could magically enter Citizens Bank Park last night in some kind of alternate universe where the last two months failed to exist, the Phillies’ front office plan looked to be working swimmingly.
A.J. Burnett was sharp into the eighth inning and Marlon Byrd slugged a go-ahead, three-run home run in the fourth as the Phillies rolled to a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday.
The win followed a much-needed day off after a 1-5 road trip through Washington and Cincinnati.
“It's good to get home, to be here in our house,” Burnett said. “To come out like we did, I always harp on setting the tone, and it feels good to be able to do that. … It’s a good start to the series.”
The victory, however, was just the second for the free-falling Phils in their last 11 days and the fifth in the 20 games they’ve played since placing Cliff Lee on the disabled list three weeks ago.
The Phillies (26-36) remain in last place in the division. They remain in a nightly staring contest with the Chicago Cubs for the worst record in the National League.
But at least for one night - Chase Utley Bobblehead Giveaway Night, no less, when 31,037 patrons came to the 10-year-old ballpark - the roster full of new and old aging Phillies paid dividends.
The 37-year-old Burnett, who used the word “horse (bleep)” to describe his previous effort in Washington, resembled the pitcher who breathed new life into his career in the last two seasons in Pittsburgh. Burnett held the Padres to one run on two hits in his first six innings.
“He got a big double play in the first inning, which was significant after the error with the middle of the lineup coming up,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “And he didn’t use a lot of pitches.”
Burnett retired 14 out of the 15 batters he faced from the end of the first to the start of the sixth innings. The lone blemish was a Will Venable solo home run in the third, which gave San Diego a 1-0 lead.
An inning after Venable’s home run, a Phillies offense that had scored two runs or fewer in 8 of their previous 17 games went to work to erase the deficit.
Ben Revere, who hit his first career home run on the last homestand, came a couple feet short of No.2 when his doubled clanged high off the wall in right field. After Padres starter Ian Kennedy got Jimmy Rollins to pop out, Chase Utley hit a game-tying single back through the middle.
Ryan Howard followed suit with a base hit of his own, moving Utley to third. Both came across the plate when the 36-year-old Marlon Byrd launched a three-run home run into the seats behind the right field fence.
Byrd’s 10th home run of the year gave Burnett a comfortable 4-1 lead.
Burnett, who had allowed a season high eight runs in his previous start, followed with a shutdown inning in the top of the fifth. It was his inability to follow a run of offense with shutdown innings that led him to use the word “horse bleep” six nights earlier.
“I harp on it,” he said. “It’s about time I came through with one of those.”
After sporting a ghastly 7.25 ERA in his last six starts, Burnett collected his fourth win of the season on Tuesday. He allowed two runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings, striking out three while walking two.
“It looked like he was throwing more strikes and he had some contact outs early in counts, like that double play (in the first),” Sandberg said. “He also mixed in some two-seam fastballs which worked for him in getting ground ball outs to left-handed hitters.”
The Phillies offense failed to add insurance in the eighth, when they loaded the bases with no one out but came away empty-handed when Howard, Byrd and Domonic Brown put together a hat trick of consecutive strikeouts. But even the eighth inning wasn’t all bad.
After taking over for Burnett, lefty reliever Jake Diekman dialed up 100-MPH on the radar gun in the midst of striking out the only two batters he faced. Diekman threw four straight fastballs at 99-MPH before topping off at 100-MPH and then burring an 86-MPH slider in the dirt to strikeout Everth Cabrera to end the eighth.
Diekman said it was the first time he had hit 100-MPH, at any level.
“Diekman was fantastic,” Sandberg said. “The best he’s thrown all year.”
Diekman is the first Phillies pitcher to reach triple digits since former closer Billy Wagner. Current Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon clinched Tuesday’s victory with his first save since May 24 and the 300th save of his career.
“We have an opportunity to climb out of a hole in this homestand and hopefully a lot of the guys in the clubhouse can recognize that and hopefully we can take advantage of that in our own ballpark,” Papelbon said. “Regardless of what’s gone on and our situation, we still have an opportunity to get back in this thing. Here at home we haven’t played good baseball so hopefully we turn it around. I definitely think we have the capability and the guys in this clubhouse to make a run. We haven’t been able to do it yet, but hopefully we can get started after tonight.”
RECORDS: Jimmy Rollins eighth inning single moved him four hits away from passing Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (2,234 hits) for the franchise’s all-time hit record. … Jonathan Papelbon collected his 300th save in his 552nd career game, tying Trevor Hoffman for the second fastest in history to reach the plateau. Mariano Rivera notched his 300th save in his 537th career game.