Burrell's home run makes the difference

Phillies fans high-five and cheer after Pat Burrell's two-run homer put the Phillies up 6-0 in the third inning.

Pat Burrell could be a spokesman for Dramamine. You know, the medicine that controls the queasiness one feels from - among other things - an out-of-control roller coaster.

It's been a long roller-coaster ride of a season for Burrell.

Up: Three weeks into the season, Burrell was batting .344 with a staggering .481 on-base percentage.

Down: By July 1, the leftfielder was batting .201 and was benched in several games.

Up: From July 2 to Sept. 13, Burrell hit .340 with 20 home runs and helped carry the Phils back into playoff contention, raising his overall average to nearly .270.

Down: In his last 12 games before last night, Burrell hit .146 (6 for 41) with just one homer, and his average slipped to .258.

Dramamine, anyone?

But Burrell, moved to No. 6 in the order last night - he had batted third in all but two games since Aug. 4 - supplied an important two-run homer as the Phils defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-4, and moved into a stunning first-place tie with the free-falling New York Mets.

"We thought we had a legitimate chance at the wild card," Burrell said, "but the focus has kind of shifted."

Burrell's 30th home run - a two-run, third-inning shot off John Smoltz that barely cleared the left-field wall - gave the Phillies a 6-0 lead, and it proved to be the difference after the Braves rallied for four runs.

Smoltz has been a long-time Burrell nemesis. Before his third-inning at-bat, Burrell had been 2 for 26 (.077) with 14 strikeouts and no homers against Smoltz.

"He's been slumping a little [lately] and he didn't have good numbers against Smoltz," manager Charlie Manuel said, "but I figured he was due to hit him."

"He finally made a mistake," Burrell said, "and I hit it."

Earlier this season, Burrell was booed at every opportunity. Last night, there were no boos after his first-inning strikeout. And fans gave him a standing ovation when he trotted to left field after his homer.

"At times, the fans get a bad rap here," Burrell said. "More than anything, [they booed] because the team wasn't playing well . . . but there's no better place to play."

Rightfielder Shane Victorino said last night's loud, towel-waving crowd gave the club "positive energy."

"I couldn't hear myself think," closer Brett Myers said. "It was great."

The fans' about-face with Burrell has coincided with his strong second half. Since the all-star break, he has 19 home runs, which is tied for fifth among National League players.

"He took off," Manuel said.

"It's been good," Burrell said. "More importantly, we're playing good. And with Chase [Utley] going out with an injury [July 27 to Aug. 27], it was tough to lose a guy of that caliber, but we were able to hang in there."

Burrell, 30, was one of the reasons they survived Utley's absence.

Burrell last night became the first Phillies outfielder to have three 30-homer seasons with the club since Greg Luzinski (1975, 1977, 1978). Hall of Famer Chuck Klein, who starred in the 1920s and '30s, is the only other outfielder in the club's history to have had at least three 30-homer seasons.

The home run was the 218th of Burrell's career, moving him into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time franchise list - five shy of Luzinski.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.