YOU WANT TO be steadfast in your support.

You want to be as optimistic as Phillies manager Charlie Manuel when you see the 10 Phillies hits in yesterday's box score, accentuating the opportunities those hits presented rather than the three runs they produced.

In Brett Myers' 106-pitch, three-run performance, you want to see an outing that foreshadows greatness, an ace, a guy this team can lean on the way Atlanta has leaned on their Opening Day starter, John Smoltz, over the years.

You want to believe it set a tone for starters to go deep, and not one of ill-placed mistakes that can doom your sometimes productively unproductive team.

Myers allowed four hits and struck out nine, outpitching Smoltz yesterday. And well, shouldn't that make you feel much better about that 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Braves?

So why the boos as Aaron Rowand grounded out to end Game 1 of this Team-to-Beat season? Why so harsh, so soon? Why, after a warm, sunny day accentuated by forgiveness and ovations - meted out rather evenly to virtually every returning Phillie not named Pat - did we all act as if nothing, including this team's prospects for a pennant, had changed?

"I just hope that they can stick with us all year," Myers said in the Phillies clubhouse late yesterday afternoon. "Not every game is going to be pretty. There could be a stretch like last year where we had like 10 [losses] in a row and they're all on our back. They just need to be with us through the good and the bad."

We'll try.


But as we do, here are some things they can do to strengthen our resolve:

With two runners in scoring position and no one out, put the ball in play.

With the count 0-2 and no one on base, do not allow your opponent to put the ball in play. Note: A ball hit straight and out of play 420 feet away is also not a desirable result.

Bullpen, repeat the following phrase:

One, two, three.

"Like I said before, I feel like these fans are my family," Myers said. "Family never gets on family."

Not trying to be argumentative, but what family is he talking about? Isn't love-hate a staple of any big family?

But Brett is right. A lot of good things happened yesterday, not the least of which was the Phillies rallying from two runs down to take a lead against Smoltz, whose stuff, Myers said, "Was filthy."

Smoltz struck out the first two batters he faced, put the Phillies down meekly the first time around, but ran into trouble in the fourth when Howard led off with a single, and Chase Utley scalded the ball into the rightfield corner. That's when the ball skimmed Howard's toe, or at least umpire Bill Miller said it did, and instead of second-and-third no one out, Utley was at first with one out.

Myers later attributed the loss to five mistakes, four by him, but there were more than that, some subtle, some not. An example: Needing a run to win in the ninth inning, Jimmy Rollins struck out mightily on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt. Two pitches later, Shane Victorino doubled into the leftfield corner, producing - as this team too often does - happiness and regret within the same emotion.

But that's what families are about too. Myers over the years has been emblematic of that, racking up some gaudy statistics while recording win totals in the lower teens, never seeming to take his stuff or his stature as seriously as the rest of us do.

That seems to have changed. He's 30 pounds lighter, evidenced by a fluid first-to-third yesterday. "Did I look fast?" he asked, an easy smile on his face.

He has been painfully open about his quest for atonement after his domestic violence arrest in Boston last summer, which resulted in a 3-week sabbatical that probably cost this team a few wins and a postseason berth. Yesterday he outlasted everyone who asked of his team, and this after a rather painful loss. Rather than blame us for adding to, or misreading his situation, he seems to not only have turned the page, but invited a once-scornful public to be part of his family album.

"Families, they pat each other on the back," he said. "They tell them just get them tomorrow. And a lot of people in this city do that.

"But they expect to win. They don't want to see a drought. They don't want to see us get beat up all the time and then have to come and watch it. It's not fun to watch. They could make or break us just as much as we could."

So no yelling and fighting yet. Keep the boos to a minimum for now.

OK kids?

"Because," brother Brett said yesterday, "it's going to be a long year." *

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