ON A MUGGY night that hinted the long, hot haul of the summer ahead, Greg Dobbs wore the sweat-soaked shirt of a man with one too many jobs - or one too few.
He had fielded balls at third. He had taken some at first. He worked on some outfield before the game, too, well aware that the uncertainty of where he plays is matched only by the uncertainty over whether he plays.
"I have to,'' Dobbs said. "I have to prepare for four different positions just so I can mentally feel comfortable going in there.''
That equation, which has defined Dobbs' two seasons in Philadelphia, was underlined about 30 minutes before last night's 7-4 victory, when Pat Burrell was scratched because of a stiff neck and Dobbs inserted in his place. Thirty minutes after that, Dobbs came to bat with the bases loaded and did what he has done routinely in his time here, and particularly this season. He delivered the big hit, knocking in important runs.
His soft liner into right ignited a four-run first inning, continuing the obscene run production by this team this week and allowing Kyle Kendrick the operating room he had grown accustomed to during his starts last season. It also continued an equally obscene run of success by Phillies role players this season, a big reason why they have kept their head above water amid injuries to key players like Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, and the well-chronicled early struggles of Ryan Howard.
Jason Werth was tremendous in Victorino's absence. Eric Bruntlett, after a rocky start, put together a career-high 10-game hitting streak while Rollins nursed his ankle back to health.
Platooning for the first time in his career, Geoff Jenkins has nursed his average over .280 with a strong May. A platoon player these days, Chris Coste is hitting a lusty .341. Even So Taguchi, last year's MLB pinch-hit leader but mired in an early slump, had three hits in Monday's 20-run outburst.
The Phillies lead major league pinch-hitting in average (.281), home runs (4), runs batted in (16). Dobbs leads the majors with 11 of those RBI and 12 pinch-hits, but Coste, Chris Snelling and Pedro Feliz have had moments, too.
Dobbs, who now is hitting .366, was in the middle of everything in the second inning as well, stroking a single to centerfield as the Phillies pushed their lead to 7-0. T.J. Bohn replaced him to start the eighth and threw out Seth Smith trying to score from second on Todd Helton's single.
"We kind of joke about it,'' Coste said. "It's incredible how often Charlie [Manuel] has made the right move . . . Whether he puts So in, or Jayson Werth earlier in the year, sometimes myself. And Dobbs, of course.''
There was a time not long ago when two facets of the Phillies evoked a particular and familiar groan among the populace. One occurred from about the seventh inning on, when a fickle bullpen habitually blew to pieces comfortable leads. The other occurred when someone sitting on the bench put a bat in his hands.
Amid the inconsistencies of this season, those are now things to look forward to on most nights. The Phillies' bullpen trio of J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge is among baseball's most consistent. And the bench players have quite often been the difference between a win and a loss.
Certainly Pat Gillick, the general manager who picked up Dobbs, Werth and Romero for close to nothing, deserves ample credit for this turnaround. But the influence of Manuel, whose long professional career included stints as both an everyday star in the minors and Japan, and as a bench bat in the majors, is significant. It's not just talking hitting. Manuel is very good at finding at-bats for his bench, at keeping them involved.
"He knows what it feels like to be going well,'' Dobbs said. "He knows what it feels like to not be going well. He knows what it feels like to be playing every day and he knows what it feels like to be that bench guy. And how tough it is. And he doesn't discount that. He remembers that. He's not one of those guys who played the game and now remembers it as being so easy. Charlie understands more than any other manager how tough it is to keep your head above water. And for me that's a godsend.''
It's a good word choice, godsend. Because anxiety, especially among part-time players, will engulf you, haunt you with doubt, and by the end erode your talent.
What's happened here has been the opposite. Dobbs may be setting the bar right now, but summer is still almost a month away, and there are still 108 games left to play. Many more games. Many more opportunities.
"Everybody we have here is good,'' Jenkins said. "I've been on teams in the past where your bench is terrible, and the manager is kind of dreading getting them in there. But everyone on this team can play. When you say whoever's in there can do the job, you really mean it.'' *
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