SAN DIEGO -- David Bell called it a matter of playing with confidence, while Todd Pratt attributed it to improved intensity. Charlie Manuel cited clearer focus. Maybe it's just the fresh meat at In-N-Out Burger. The trip to San Diego started with a late-night stop at the fast-food chain, with Manuel treating those who rode the bus to as many burgers as they could eat. Fully digested, the Philadelphia's beefy offense showed it was ready for PETCO Park.
Whichever reason is chosen, something has gone right in the Phillies' clubhouse these days, and it's showing up on the field and in the win column. The latest evidence came on Sunday, as Philadelphia continued to batter the NL West. They pounded the Padres, 8-3, to complete a 5-1 road trip with a three-game sweep of the Padres. In two seasons, the Phillies still don't know what it's like to lose at PETCO Park. "That was a good trip for us," said Manuel. "Now we need to go beat up on the East." They'll have their chance on Monday, when they begin a seven-game series at Citizens Bank Park with a four-game series against the Nationals. They enter that game just a half-game behind the Astros in the NL Wild Card race. Washington is a half-game behind the Phillies. "We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," said Bell. "The more you win, the more you learn how to do it." Philadelphia has learned a lot since the All-Star break, as it has gone 18-11 and made up ground in the NL East and Wild Card standings. This road trip to pitchers' parks in Los Angeles and San Diego was supposed to be especially challenging, given the team's struggles on the road. Instead, the Phillies averaged six runs a game, and socked five homers. The starting pitchers compiled a 3.16 ERA. "This is always tough for East Coast teams, and to come out 5-1..." said catcher Todd Pratt. "Our team is still having fun, but it's a lot more intense. Guys are a lot more focused now. A lot of personalities are starting to come out. The fun is still there, but you can tell that everybody is wide-eyed and wants to win." San Diego generously gave Philadelphia extra outs during a seven-run fifth inning -- the Phils' highest single-inning total this season -- and the visitors took advantage, coming away with their first road sweep of the season. The relentless attack sealed the fate of Chan Ho Park on a beautiful afternoon in San Diego. The teams traded runs in the fourth, before Philadelphia broke through in the fifth. Bell, who had a big single and a sacrifice bunt in Saturday's win, started the outburst with a single off Park (1-1), and Pratt walked. Two errors and five singles later, the Phillies had an 8-1 lead. The offense was plenty for Rob Tejeda (3-2), who typically doesn't need much help. The rookie turned in another dazzling outing, limiting the Padres to one run on three hits in seven innings. Tejeda has allowed two or fewer runs in 10 of his 11 starts. "He was the same Tejeda, wild enough to be effective," Manuel said. Whether it's described as confidence, intensity, passion or focus, the one constant has been in the demeanor of the players. While there's always tension in close games, it's a huge leap toward full-scale panic. Manuel spoke at length about how it takes time to gain the respect of the players, and for them to feel comfortable. Winning helps, but there seems to be a constant feeling of calm. "Our guys know what's at stake, and we have to go home and play," Manuel said. "There's no panic," said Jimmy Rollins. "There was tension this year, last year and for the past four years, but when you throw in panic, it makes it tougher. That's one thing that hasn't happened and probably won't with a guy like Charlie. He keeps the staff loose, and the players will be loose. The attitude starts at the top and goes from there."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.