The Phillies beat the Reds on Friday at Citizens Bank Park, 5-3, bouncing back in the bottom of the eighth inning after blowing a one-run lead in the top of the eighth. It was the type of game they lose early in the season, but lately this team has shown intermittent signs of life. It will now need to start winning consistently to turn Rollins' hopes into reality.
"We still have some adjustments we want to make," third baseman Michael Young said. "I still think the good feeling for our team is our best baseball is still in front of us. At the same time, we want to make quick adjustments. Good teams don't wait forever. We recognize the things we want to work on, but we want to do it quickly."
Everybody in the ballpark recognized Joey Votto's tying home run against Antonio Bastardo in the eighth inning Friday.
They also noticed what happened next.
Young turned an impressive 10-pitch at-bat into a one-out walk against Reds left-hander Sean Marshall to get things started in the bottom of the eighth. Ryan Howard then reached on an improbable check-swing single to the left of the mound, catching nearly everybody in the ballpark by surprise. Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips covered his face with his glove as he met Howard at first base. He could not believe what had just happened. Howard could not believe it either, but he would take it.
"Speed kills," he said. "It's like a meteor coming through."
"That's how you beat the shift," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel joked.
Reds right-hander Jonathan Broxton replaced Marshall. Broxton has had bad times against the Phillies, sustaining big losses with the Dodgers in the 2008 and 2009 National League Championship Series. His nightmares continued Friday when he promptly drilled Delmon Young with his first pitch to load the bases. Domonic Brown's groundball up the middle allowed Michael Young to score, giving the Phillies a one-run lead.
Carlos Ruiz's sacrifice fly to center scored Howard -- television replays indicated Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan might have blocked the plate -- to extend the Phillies' lead.
It righted the Phillies' universe for one night.
"I thought it was going to be a good race," Manuel said of the play at the plate. "He beat it. He made it. He was safe. Oh yeah, he got in there."
The Phillies had taken a 2-0 lead in the third inning, when Rollins smacked a 3-1 fastball by Tony Cingrani over the left-field fence for a two-run home run.
A couple of things about that homer:
It was Rollins' first against a left-handed pitcher since June 24, 2012.
It was the Phillies' first with a runner on base since April 27. The Phillies had hit 16 consecutive solo home runs since Brown hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning against the Mets at Citi Field, making it the organization's longest solo streak since 1961. The Reds hit 16 consecutive solo homers earlier this season (April 20 to May 11), but no team had gone longer without a multi-run homer since the Giants hit 21 consecutive solo shots in 2011.
Indeed, things appeared to be lining up nicely for the Phillies. Rollins hit the rare homer against a lefty, Young picked up the rare RBI (just his 10th of the season) with a two-out triple to extend the lead to 3-0 in the fifth and Lee settled nicely after facing 11 batters and throwing 47 pitches in the first two innings, allowing just six hits, two runs, two walks and striking out seven in seven innings.
But then Votto homered to tie the game, killing the Phillies' momentum.
It did not matter Friday. The Phillies used a fantastic at-bat from Michael Young, who has walked 22 times this season, and a rare check-swing single from Howard to turn things back in their direction. The Phillies have won six of their last 10.
Maybe they are onto something.
"We're playing better baseball, no doubt," Lee said. "Still feel like there's things we could improve on. Never completely got it figured out, but we're definitely playing better as a group, no doubt."