Phils rally, maintain Wild Card lead

Phils rally, maintain Wild Card lead

PHILADELPHIA -- Chris Coste added a dream at-bat to his already extended dream season.

What more can go right for the 33-year-old rookie?

"That was easily the biggest home run of my career," a beaming Coste said of his three-run shot that catapulted the Phillies to a 10-7 win over the Marlins on Sunday. "I wanted to do cartwheels around the bases."

To properly set the scene, it must be noted that this was Fan Appreciation Day, so 44,772 appreciative fans crammed into Citizens Bank Park to see the National League Wild Card leaders continue their ascent to the postseason. They were sad at first, when Phillies starter Jamie Moyer allowed four first-inning runs. That happened because NL Rookie of the Year candidate Hanley Ramirez sent the game's second pitch over the left-field fence, and Cody Ross followed five batters later with a two-run poke.

In a season that has been an arduous uphill climb, the Phillies didn't flinch.

Florida starter Scott Olsen didn't know what hit him.

The third-inning rally began with a quiet Abraham Nunez single. Jimmy Rollins fired the opening salvo with a two-run homer, slicing the lead in the half. A Ramirez error put Shane Victorino on first, and allowed Chase Utley to tie it with a two-run homer, his first of two in the game.

Because of that error, Ryan Howard striking out didn't end the inning.

"That [error] was the key play," Coste said.

Still breathing, Jeff Conine and Pat Burrell laced singles, bringing up Coste. The catcher put together his dream at-bat by fouling off three straight two-strike pitches, then narrowly avoided an up-and-in ball three. He delivered Olsen's next offering to deep left field, knowingly flipped his bat toward the dugout and began his trot. Showing up the pitcher was not his intention.

"I probably should've gotten out of the box a little, but I couldn't help it," Coste said.

Already frustrated and perhaps peeved, Olsen's second pitch to Abraham Nunez drilled him in the side. Considering the events of Saturday, when Miguel Cabrera and Howard were hit, home plate umpire Mark Wegner ejected Olsen without a warning.

"I was surprised, but it was his decision, and you've got to live with it," said Olsen, who maintained that he was simply trying to get Nunez off the plate. "At that point, you've got to move feet. When they're sitting back and hitting like they were, you have to get them back off the plate a little bit."

Nunez understood.

"It's the nature of the game," he said. "Did I like it? No. But [Olsen] was getting his [rear end] whooped, and that's all that matters. [Getting hit] is always in the back of your mind. Yeah, I was ready for that."

Thanks to a torrent of rain, the game took 95 minutes longer. When it resumed, the swell of loyal, weather-bearing fans applauded the triumph. Really, the third-inning offensive downpour signaled the end, and Pat Burrell's homer on the second pitch following the delay served as a symbol of a team not giving up.

Utley drove in four runs with his three hits, adding a solo homer to right in the sixth.

And so, a day after taking over the NL Wild Card for the first time in 2006, the Phillies guaranteed themselves sole possession of the lead for at least another day. The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks, 5-1, on a walk-off grand slam by Nomar Garciaparra to remain a half-game back.

In a roller-coaster season, it breaks down like this: If the Phillies, riding a five-game winning streak, keep winning, they're in. At 82-73, it's that simple.

They seem to have picked the perfect time to play their best baseball of the season.

"We're clicking," Utley said.

With brimming confidence, the Phils have no doubt that they'll be there at the end.

"Every day we go out there, we believe we can win," Rollins said. "It's that time of year where you have to step up. If you don't step up now, you're going to be in Spring Training next year thinking about things you could have done last year, thinking, 'I wish I had one more game.' Hopefully, we don't have to say that. We can make that one more game late October."

Considering how far they've come -- 5 1/2 games out and trailing six other teams on July 31 -- not getting there would be viewed as a major disappointment.

"I don't know if everyone is like me, but every day, I reflect back to the trade deadline and the All-Star break, when it seemed like we were way out of it," Coste said. "It's been such a roller coaster. We've come so far and all of a sudden, now we're heading the Wild Card. However, everyone would agree that we still have some work to be done. To fall short at this point would make it even tougher."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.