IT WOULD BE HARD to say for sure which was more hot and heavy. The weather, with a soupy heat index of over 100 degrees at gametime. Or the daylong rumors that a trade that would send Astros rightfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies for a packet of the team's best prospects was imminent.
By the bottom of the second inning, while the Phillies were batting around accompanied by low rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning, the familiar Center City skyline beyond the outfield walls at Citizens Bank Park vanished temporarily.
Pence didn't go away that easily. And moments after the Phillies put the finishing touches on a 10-3 win over the Pirates, it became official: In their latest buzzer-beater before the trading deadline, they've acquired the 28-year-old Pence from Houston for a quartet of minor leaguers, including two of the system's brightest stars, righthander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton, both from the Class A Clearwater Threshers. Houston will also get righthander Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. The Phillies received $1 million cash that will help them remain under baseball's luxury tax threshold.
Pence is owed approximately $2.3 million for the rest of the season.
After the postgame fireworks show ended, a clip of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announcing the deal was shown on the videoboard and the remaining fans responded with a warm round of applause.
In the final analysis, it came down to this: Charlie Manuel has consistently talked about the potential of 23-year-old Domonic Brown and he did it again after the deal was announced.
"I think he's got a chance to be a real good hitter," the manager repeated.
But the Phillies are a team gunning for another world championship and Pence already is a real good hitter. He's batting .308 with 26 doubles, 11 homers and 62 RBI. He's also a righthanded hitter, which gives the lineup more balance than it had with the lefty-swinging Brown.
The Phillies may have to make a pair of roster moves today. Pence is expected to arrive in time for tonight's game against the Pirates and Placido Polanco could also be activated from the disabled list. So it's not impossible that Brown could return to Triple A Lehigh Valley to continue his development. He's hitting .246.
The Phillies also countered San Francisco's acquisition of Carlos Beltran on Wednesday. The defending world champion Giants bounced the Phillies from the playoffs a year ago and improved themselves with that deal, even though Beltran is a free agent at the end of the season.
Time will tell whether the Phillies will regret letting Cosart and Singleton go, especially since this continues a recent trend of trading promising kids for older, established - and more expensive - stars. But there's little doubt that this helps their chances for the remainder of this season.
"We gave up what we consider a very strong package," Amaro said. "We felt like we addressed a need that will help us move forward hopefully for the rest of this season and beyond."
Pence is not eligible to become a free agent until after the 2013 season. He's making $6.9 million this year and it's not out of the question that he could command salaries in the $10 million to $12 million range through arbitration the next 2 years.
Roy Oswalt was Pence's Astros teammate before being traded to the Phillies a year ago yesterday.
"He's a good, hard-nosed player. He gives 100 percent on the field. You don't have to worry about him putting his work in. His first year up, he had the aura about him that he wanted to help carry the team. So he has a leadership mentality, doesn't play second fiddle to anybody. Good teammate, plays hard and leaves everything on the field," Oswalt said.
Amaro and Manuel sketched a similar portrait.
"He plays like a kid, with a lot of energy," the general manager said. "He's a guy I think our fans will take to as well."
Added the manager: "He's a hard, hustling player. He's going to give you everything he's got."
Manuel said it's likely Pence will bat fifth, behind lefthanded hitters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, giving them better protection than they've had since Jayson Werth left as a free agent after last season.
At least there was a game to be played, which injected some normalcy into a day that was otherwise turning into a through-the-looking-glass experience.
And it was a game that had some significance, too. The Phillies were coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in nearly 2 months. Not to mention that Roy Halladay was starting, which always adds some pizzazz.
That drama didn't last long, though. The Phillies jumped all over Pirates starter Charlie Morton, who seemed to have turned his career around earlier this season after cloning Halladay's delivery, scoring eight runs - six earned - in the first two innings and then coasting from there.
The original allowed just one hit, a bloop single by Xavier Paul leading off the fourth, in seven innings to become the National League's first 13-game winner.
On any other night, that would have seemed like a pretty big deal.