NEW YORK - For the 16th time this season, Ryne Sandberg assembled a lineup designed last winter to keep the Phillies competitive. No team in baseball has employed the same batting order as many times as Sandberg's familiar combination. That unit, after a 7-2 singles-fueled win over the Mets on Saturday, is 5-11.
"You look at our lineup on paper, and it's a great lineup," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "For some reason, some years it just doesn't click. You get two guys hitting and the rest aren't hitting, or you get the rest of the guys hot and it's split up too much in the lineup. It was nice to put it all together tonight."
Perhaps the most damaging fact of this charmless season is how the losses mounted even while the predetermined regulars were healthy. Injuries cannot serve as an excuse for one of the game's worst offenses. The script changed at Citi Field, thanks to seven sixth-inning Phillies singles that scored five runs.
Sandberg's most common order - Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd, Domonic Brown, Carlos Ruiz, and Cody Asche - is the source of consternation. The seven runs scored Saturday were the most manufactured by that lineup this season. It averaged 2.7 runs per game the first 15 times it was used.
But Sandberg continues to field the same unit, and some of the playing-time decisions are influenced by those above the manager. There could be more freedom in September, when rosters expand. The teams with the next most-used lineups are the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox, both of whom have used one lineup 11 times.
"It's challenging," Sandberg often says when asked about finding at-bats for different players.
The Phillies, on Saturday, became just the second team since 1901 to have four 34-or-older players each accumulate 550 plate appearances. (The 2008 Yankees - Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter - also did it.) No major-league team has ever had four such players reach 600 plate appearances, a realistic milestone for these Phillies.
Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Byrd have avoided injury to remain constant presences. Byrd, who turned 37 Saturday, celebrated with a solo blast in the fifth inning. It was his 25th homer of the season, a career high.
"Last year I set my career high," Byrd said. "To come and do it again this year, the work that I put in and everything, I expected that to happen. To do it in August is pretty cool, to get it done before September. I have a chance to keep adding to it."
Mets righthander Bartolo Colon had pitched to a 1.59 ERA in three previous starts against the Phillies. He allowed more runs in the sixth (five) than in those three starts combined (four). After Carlos Ruiz pelted Colon for the seventh one, the portly pitcher flipped the ball up and down as he waited for manager Terry Collins' hook.
Jerome Williams, a Phillies waiver claim turned staff stabilizer, permitted two runs in 61/3 innings. He bequeathed a bases-loaded situation to Justin De Fratus in the seventh inning, and two of those runners scored. Williams' ERA is 2.03 in four starts with the Phillies. The 32-year-old journeyman said he last felt this good in 2003.
"My rookie year," Williams said. "That's a long time ago."