PHILADELPHIA -- The anger boiled within Ryan Howard after he started Sunday afternoon with a flyout, a whiff and an error that led to two unearned runs. Before the still seething first baseman took the field to start the fourth inning, manager Charlie Manuel pulled him aside. "I told him not to get down, because we was going to get another chance to win the game," Manuel said. "He could beat that guy."
When Howard's line-drive homer lifted the Phillies to their first lead in 48 innings -- in a game they'd win, 8-5, over Tampa Bay at Citizens Bank Park -- Manuel approached Howard a second time. "He basically said, 'I told you," Howard said. "That was pretty much it." It was enough. "Oh yeah," Howard said. "I was mad because of my previous at-bats. He came up and told me to stay with it. He took time to come to me personally and keep you focused." The Phillies had a miserable week by their own admission, and entered the finale against the Rays in must-win mode, despite it still being June. In losing a season-high six straight, Phils starters had compiled a 9.21 ERA during the skid. They hadn't led since the second inning of Tuesday's loss to the Mets -- and New York retook the lead in the next half-inning. Philadelphia took baby steps toward its first win since June 10, a win that left the Phils one game under .500. Starter Ryan Madson sent a positive vibe by keeping the Rays scoreless in the opening frame, the first time in five games a team hasn't scored against the Phils in the first inning. "Everybody was giving me high-fives in the dugout, and joking about it," Madson said. "Maybe that gave them a little jump-start." Philadelphia still had to come from behind. Madson surrendered a solo homer to Russell Branyan in the second and a two-run shot to Carl Crawford in the third. Howard's error on a grounder by Josh Paul helped set up Crawford's opportunity. Madson settled in from there, retiring 12 of the next 15, and lasted into the seventh, including pitching with a lead for the final 1 2/3 frames.
"That felt great," said Madson (7-4), who team is 9-2 in his 11 starts. "They always score runs for me."Howard gets the credit for the big blow, but Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley deserve recognition for setting up the rally. Rollins laced a one-out single and stole second, while Utley's single came after Shane Victorino popped to third for the second out. Bobby Abreu walked in front of Howard's team-leading 23rd homer of the season. Though the drive fell just over the wall in the left-field corner, it might as well have gone 500 feet. "Big, just big," Victorino said. "We needed it." The Phillies also needed closer Tom Gordon for a five-out save -- his 19th -- when Arthur Rhodes struggled in the eighth. It wasn't that big a deal, considering Gordon hadn't pitched since June 10. "This was definitely a game we had to have," said Gordon, who wasn't surprised with the extended outing. "Usually, when things are going bad, they're going bad. Every little aspect of the game, we hadn't been playing well. It's been nothing you could put your hand on." Manuel's solution through this stretch of sloppy play has been to stay positive. He knows no other way. "Stay tough," he said. "As long as you bust your [behind] and play hard, you can overplay some of your mistakes. When you're struggling, you have two ways to go. You can lay there and die or bounce up and play right." With six games against the Yankees and Red Sox this week, the Phillies won't get much rest, and they know they still trail the Mets by 9 1/2 games in the National League East. "There's no panic button," Utley said. "We had a rough week, but next week could be our week."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.