Four homers bring Phils within three of Wild Card

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PHILADELPHIA — Charlie Manuel watched the end of the Cardinals-Cubs game Friday evening from his office at Citizens Bank Park.

The fact he felt he even needed to watch speaks volumes about the Phillies’ turnaround.

“I’m proud of them,” he said following Friday’s 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve seen times when we could have folded the tent. It got close to that, but usually during a losing season it does. And that’s a mark of a bunch of guys who love to play and definitely want to win.”

The Cardinals lost to the Cubs in 11 innings, which gave the Phillies a bit of a boost before they stepped onto the field to face the Braves. The Cardinals loss and Phillies victory moved Philadelphia within three games of the second Wild Card with 11 games to play. Unfortunately for the Phillies, time is running out, and the Brewers and Dodgers, who separate the Cardinals and Phillies in the standings, also won.

Even if the Phillies finish 8-3, they need the Cardinals to finish no better than 5-6 to tie. And even if that happens, they might have to outplay the Brewers or Dodgers.

But why give up now? The Phillies were 14 games under .500 on July 13, and here they are, just three games back.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Ryan Howard, who hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. “This is the end of the season. This is a playoff push right here. This is what you play for. To be in the hunt, with everything that’s gone on this year, being three games out right now, it’s a fun feeling. It’s an exciting time.”

Howard said he never gave up hope the Phillies could rebound.

“That’s why it’s a 162-game season,” he said. “A lot of people saw what happened last year. That’s why you play them all. You never know what happens.”

Howard has three home runs and eight RBIs in the last three days. He entered Friday with 52 RBIs in 56 games since July 19, which ranked third in baseball behind San Diego’s Chase Headley (59) and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (54). Howard is hitting just .228 overall, but .343 (23-for-67) with runners in scoring position.

He is getting the job done.

“I’m really just not trying to think about it, just trying to go with it,” Howard said. “Just kind of in between, I guess [with his swing], and now I just kind of found it a little bit. Not trying to question it.”

Howard was not the only Phillies player to hit a home run against Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson on Friday, but his production is a positive sign for the Phillies, who need to keep winning to have a chance at a sixth consecutive trip to the postseason.

The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, when Juan Pierre tripled off the top of the wall in right-center field and scored on a fielder’s choice. The Braves tied the game in the second, but Kevin Frandsen hit a solo home run to left field in the third inning to make it 2-1.

Howard’s homer to right-center field in the fourth handed the Phillies a 3-1 lead. Carlos Ruiz followed with a solo homer to left field to make it 4-1.

It was the seventh time this season the Phillies have hit back-to-back home runs.

Chase Utley hit a solo homer to right in the ninth inning to give the Phillies an insurance run. Coincidentally, it was Howard’s 299th career homer and Utley’s 199th career homer. The Phillies’ four homers set a season high.

It would be plenty for Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who allowed five hits, two runs, one walk and struck out six in 6 2/3 innings. He improved to 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA in his last eight starts. The Phillies had the option of pitching Kendrick on Thursday against the Mets following a rainout Tuesday, but Manuel said they wanted Kendrick to face Atlanta.

It worked out nicely.

“Kendrick was pretty good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I take it back, he was really good. We knew going in, he was throwing more changeups. He did. He threw a lot of changeups to us. We just couldn’t time him.”

But the Phillies need to keep going. They basically need to win almost every game the rest of the way to have a chance.

“Keep going,” Manuel said. “We need to do that tomorrow.”

 By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com

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