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Phils move up in Wild Card, East races

Phils move up in Wild Card, East races

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PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Burrell gripped the bat over his shoulder in the eighth inning as Brewers reliever Brian Shouse intentionally tossed four balls away from Ryan Howard.

In a tie game, even the lefty-killing Shouse wanted no part of the guy forging his way into National League MVP consideration. The big guy had already tied the game with a two-run sixth-inning homer, so Shouse and Milwaukee manager Ned Yost opted for the struggling Burrell, who had been hitting .175 since July 31.

"I can't lie," Burrell said. "I needed to get a hit in that situation, especially with the game on the line. I haven't been contributing much."

Burrell, who carried the team in April, sliced a tiebreaking single, lifting the Phillies to an eventual 7-3 win over the Brewers.

The latest thrilling win in September charge '08 took the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park and moved Philadelphia within one game of tying Milwaukee for the NL Wild Card lead.

A win in Sunday's nightcap would ensure that. On the division front, New York's 7-4 loss to Atlanta placed the Phillies 1 1/2 games behind the Mets in the NL East.

Like their performance against the Mets a season ago, the Phils lashed out against the team directly in front of them. The Brewers have lost 10 of 13 games, and allowed the Phillies, Astros and Cardinals into what has become a wide-open race for the NL Wild Card representative.

"It's definitely an exciting time," Howard said. "Everybody knew coming into September that it was going to be exciting the way the race was going. It's been exciting for everybody."

Howard lifted his September batting average to .386 and pounded his seventh home run of the month. His sixth-inning drive landed a few rows out in the left-field stands, surprising Brewers starter Dave Bush and giving the Phillies new life.

Joe Blanton survived a shaky first inning in which he allowed a two-run homer to Ray Durham, and gave up three runs over seven innings.

The key for the right-hander was going seven innings, especially with the Phillies having to play a second game. Blanton hadn't worked seven innings in an outing since Aug. 8, and his effort came at the perfect time.

"I put in a lot of work between my last start and this start, trying to get mechanically sound and right," Blanton said. "It's good to be here [in a pennant race]. Every day, you feel like you have a chance to win. A great offense, and great new guys behind me."

After Burrell gave the Phillies the lead in the eighth, Shane Victorino padded the cushion with a three-run homer. The inning unfolded when Jayson Werth singled to start the rally against reliever Guillermo Mota. With lefties Chase Utley and Howard due up, Yost went with the lefty Shouse.

On his own, Utley bunted to get Werth in scoring position, a questionable move since it allowed Milwaukee to walk Howard and set up a possible double-play situation for the struggling Burrell.

Yost stuck with the lefty, and Burrell came through.

"Utley [bunting] and leaving it up to the other guys just shows the confidence we have in our team right now," Victorino said.

Confidence appears to be an understatement. Like last season's 13-4 gallop that produced their first playoff appearance in 14 seasons, the Phillies are playing with the same energy and determination.

"It's nice to see we're 1 1/2 back and we've taken care of what we need to take care of, but we have to forget about this," Victorino said. "We just want to keep playing the game hard, keep battling and play all 27 outs."

And remember last season.

"We've put that behind us," Victorino said. "A lot of people bring that up, and it's in the back of our heads, but we have to worry about this year, go out there and go out and get what we're trying to achieve. We have to keep plugging along."

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

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