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NEW YORK (AP) – Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence sat on either side of the chess board, staring at bishops and rooks as a steady rain fell outside.
With the wet weather granting them a rare breather on a gloomy evening at Citi Field, the slumping Phillies have but a few days left to get all their pieces in place for baseball’s ultimate end game.
Philadelphia’s series opener Friday night against the New York Mets was postponed before it started and will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader Saturday—though rain is in the forecast again. The first game is slated to begin at 1:10 p.m., with the nightcap set for 7:10 p.m.
And although the NL East champions are eager to end their season-worst, six-game losing streak, manager Charlie Manuel thinks his club can benefit from the rest.
Due to makeup games and doubleheaders, the banged-up Phillies are in the midst of playing 33 games in 31 days to finish the regular season.
“We could definitely use a day,” Manuel said before the game was called. “We’re definitely kind of out of whack. We’re out of tune, our timing and stuff. We need to get back in the groove, we need to get back and play like we can. I think a day off would help that.”
Looking to get his slumbering offense clicking again in time for the playoffs, Manuel had most of his regulars in the posted lineup Friday even though Philadelphia had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Second baseman Chase Utley was set to rest but slugger Ryan Howard, who had an anti-inflammatory injection in his sore left ankle Monday, was in his customary cleanup spot. Pence, nursing a strained left knee, is expected back in right field Saturday.
Six regular-season games remain before the Phillies open the playoffs Oct. 1.
“We want to get winning. We want to get rolling,” said center fielder Shane Victorino, who went 0 for 15 during Washington’s four-game sweep in Philadelphia this week. “You’ve got to figure it out sooner than later.
“Clinching early was great, but again sometimes that team that’s rolling at the end of the year that gets in hot is the one that usually has the most success,” he added. “But I think the experience that we have here—and that’s a lot—in postseason play, I think that helps a lot and will come into play.”
The Phillies are winless since wrapping up their fifth consecutive division title last Saturday. They are averaging 2.47 runs while going 5-10 in their last 15 games, scoring three or fewer 13 times during that stretch.
Not exactly how they want to be swinging the bats heading into the NL playoffs, where the pitching-rich Phillies will be heavy favorites thanks to a fearsome rotation that features Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
“We want to be ready. We want to go in on a real positive note,” Manuel said. “We celebrated, and we’ve had a great year. But we’re in a position where we could have a really special year. … A lot of us are trying too hard. Some of us are maybe not focused as much as we could be. All we’ve got to do is get back and play the way we want to. We play because we want to, not because we have to. And we always play in a relaxed atmosphere and we get after it. We go back and we start doing that these last six ballgames, we’ll go into the playoffs fired up and ready to play.”
Hamels had been slated to pitch Friday night against New York knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Both starters were pushed back to the first game Saturday, when Hamels will try to match a career high with his 15th win.
The rainout means that after Saturday, Hamels may not get another full outing in before the playoffs begin. Just a tuneup, perhaps.
Mets rookie Dillon Gee starts the nightcap against Joe Blanton, with the Phillies planning to use their bullpen extensively.
During the final week of the regular season, Major League Baseball makes the call on rainouts in order to preserve the integrity of pennant races. Across town, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees also had their game postponed in a series with much more at stake than the one at Citi Field.
“It’s really an extra night’s sleep, if anything,” said Dickey, who is 4-5 during a run of 11 consecutive quality starts. “It can be to your benefit, because you have one extra day to kind of recover.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)