MIAMI - Here's one point that seemed to be missed this winter during the long, sometimes heated, debate on who would bat behind Ryan Howard, who would protect the defending National League MVP in the lineup:
It almost doesn't matter who manager Charlie Manuel writes into the fifth spot. Teams are probably going to pitch around Howard anyway.
What matters is that the next guy, whoever he is, makes the other team pay for the move often enough.
Pat Burrell did that last night at Dolphin Stadium and, partly as a result, the Phillies won their first game of the season, 8-2, over the Marlins.
In the third, Howard walked with a runner on first and two outs. Burrell followed by poking an RBI single to center.
In the seventh, with a runner on second and first base open with one out, Howard was walked intentionally. Burrell responded with his first home run of the season to break the game open and assure that a quality start by veteran lefty Jamie Moyer wouldn't be wasted.
And that helped the Phillies avoid getting off to an 0-4 start for the first time since, well, last year.
Burrell became a lightning rod for fan discontent in 2006, largely because he batted .222 with runners in scoring position.
This year, his surgically repaired right foot appears to be fully healed. That's allowed him to put more weight on his back foot. Manager Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson have encouraged him to bend over slightly.
So far, the results have been encouraging. He's still struck out five times, but he's also batting .400 with five RBI.
"As much as these guys get on base, no matter who they pitch around, there are going to be opportunities to drive in runs," Burrell said. "And, in my opinion, that's what I'm here to do.
"It's just one of those things. I have to keep it going. My foot isn't hurting me, which is great. I'm able to put more weight on my back foot, which I used to do. I got away from it without meaning to."
The Phillies had scored a total of nine runs while being swept at home by the Braves. They nearly matched that output last night.
Moyer was able to take advantage of that, holding the Marlins to two runs in his 6 2/3 innings.
"I watch Moyer and he amazes me," Manuel said. "I think he just has more patience than the hitter does."
Said the 44-year-old: "I didn't think I threw the ball particularly well. I wasn't sharp. But I knew we were going to win sooner or later. Hopefully this will create some momentum."
So much that went wrong in the opening losses against Atlanta went right this time around.
In the losses, the Phillies didn't take advantage of their opportunities. They were 5-for-28 (.179) with runners in scoring position.
Last night, they were 3-for-8 and turned two Florida errors into four unearned runs against starter Sergio Mitre.
In the losses, the bullpen was tagged with two of the defeats and a blown save. Last night, Antonio Alfonseca and Geoff Geary combined for 2 1/3 shutout innings.
In the losses, they wasted strong starts by Brett Myers and Cole Hamels. Last night, they took advantage of Moyer's tenacity.
Manuel sat on the bench before the game and gestured toward the five flagpoles on the upper rim of Dolphin Stadium, high above the rightfield corner. From left to right, they represent the National League East standings.
The placement confirmed what the Phillies' manager knew all too well: His team was in last place. It reminded him of something that happened almost 2 years ago, in late May, when he was sitting in almost exactly the same spot.
"[Former general manager] Ed Wade pointed to those flags and said, 'Looky there, we're in last place,' " he recalled. "We were [five] games under .500. After that, we went to Atlanta and had dinner on the off night and got into kind of an argument about it, but then we went on to win [15 out of 17] and got right back in the race."
Clearly, Manuel is hoping for the same sort of turnaround this year. But, as we are so often reminded, you have to play them one at a time.
And in the one that was played last night, the Phillies won.
When Manuel enters the dugout tomorrow, the Phillies will still be in last place. But they'll share the spot with the Washington Nationals.