If Chase Utley wants to prepare for the Home Run Derby, he should take a few tips from Ryan Howard. Howard had his own personal derby today, belting a pair of home runs and providing the bulk of the offense in the Phillies 4-1 win over the Cardinals.
Of course, Utley did his part as well. In the first inning, he grounded to second with Shane Victorino on first, but hustled down the first base line and beat out the potential inning-ending double play. Howard made the most of Utley's efforts as he hit a sharp line drive home run to left-center, putting him ahead of Utley in that category. That put the Phillies up 2-0 and would be all the run support Jamie Moyer would need.
Utley gave the Phillies a three-run lead in the third as he lined a two-out RBI double to right field, scoring Jimmy Rollins. However, in the top of the fourth Yadier Molina singled up the middle for an RBI that negated Utley's insurance run. The score remained 3-1 until the sixth inning, when Howard struck again with a towering solo home run to left. It was his 27th of the year. (Just for the record, Howard had 28 in the first half of his MVP season of 2006.)
Meanwhile, Moyer was his usual self, working around seven hits and two walks and allowing only a single run in the process. He went seven strong innings and the bullpen did the rest. Ryan Madson pitched 1 1/3 innings, but ran into a little trouble in the ninth. Madson allowed a single and walk in the ninth, putting the tying run at the plate. With one out, Charlie Manuel turned to J.C. Romero, giving Brad Lidge the day off (perhaps to celebrate getting Albert Pujols out last night for the first time in more than a year). Romero did his part, getting Aaron Miles to fly out and then inducing a Brendan Ryan pop-out, after he ran the count full. That gave Romero his first save of the season and gave the Phillies a much-needed win.
Winning the rubber game meant that the Phillies won a series against a team other than Atlanta for the first time since they took three of four from Cincinnati in the beginning of June. It also allowed the Phillies to maintain their now-slender lead on the NL East. Fortunately, they now face the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks, who lead the NL West, despite being a game under .500. (Is anyone else jealous?)
When today's game ended, there was a new league leader in home runs. The Phillies will have to make sure that when the first half of the season ends, there's no change in the pecking order in the NL East.