MILWAUKEE — The Philadelphia Phillies played Thursday for 3 hours, 6 minutes, and it was a maddening brand of baseball because a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, who own the National League's best record, does not mitigate the pain of a 41-51 team. That did not stop them from savoring a peculiar 9-1 rout.
Matt Garza no-hit the Phillies for six innings. He buckled in the seventh and the Phillies scored seven runs in the eighth. Twelve Phillies batted that inning to sink a downtrodden Milwaukee team that has lost nine of 10.
"It's crazy," Jimmy Rollins said. "You can't explain it. You just hope it's good-crazy and not bad-crazy. We've been a lot of bad-crazy."
That about sums it up. This week means more in Wisconsin than it will back home for the Phillies, who won five straight games in June only to further flounder afterward. The Brewers have postseason aspirations; the Phillies could soon dismantle. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., speaking before the game, said he continues to gauge interest in his players.
"We are open-minded about a lot of things," Amaro said. "We'll see what happens over the next several weeks."
This marked the Phillies' first four-game sweep since Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2011 at Cincinnati. They were hitless until Rollins' single started the seventh. The Phillies then stranded two runners in scoring position; they were held scoreless through seven innings for the 17th time in 92 games.
But everyone hit in the 34-minute eighth. The seven runs were the Phillies' most in an inning since July 19, 2013. Cesar Hernandez, a pinch-hitter, batted twice. Ben Revere, who pinch-ran and scored the tying run, later singled in the inning.
Rollins slapped a two-run single to left to push the Phillies ahead, 2-1. Ryan Howard padded it with a ground-rule double, his first extra-base hit in 66 plate appearances. That was the longest drought of his career. Howard followed with a two-run blast in the ninth against Wei-Chung Wang, a Rule 5 pick who has a 11.12 ERA for Milwaukee.
"It just snowballed and got contagious there in a hurry," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Everybody contributed."
"I've see that before," Rollins said.
There will be referendums on the future in the coming weeks; the first such instance will happen during the all-star break. The Phillies expect Cliff Lee to return to the rotation July 19 in Atlanta - the second game after the break - and one starter must be demoted.
"We'll talk about that when the time comes," Sandberg said.
Those with a longer-range view would advocate for David Buchanan, who held the Brewers to one run in seven innings. He lowered his ERA to 4.40. Buchanan will never be a topflight starter, but his upside is higher than Roberto Hernandez's, and a team 10 games under .500 in July is mandated to prioritize the future. That "possibly" could play into the decision, Sandberg said.
Whatever the Phillies do with the rotation could be temporary because of July trades. Hernandez signed for $4.5 million last winter. He tossed his best start Wednesday with eight innings of one-run baseball. The 33-year-old Dominican has a 4.22 ERA in 20 outings (17 starts).
Buchanan has demonstrated improvement over his 10 starts. On Thursday, he looked his most confident.
"When Cliff comes back, whatever happens happens," Buchanan said. "I've enjoyed my time here. It's been a great experience for me. It's out of my control.
"I've learned so much and I feel like I've definitely taken strides in my game."
The Phillies departed home last week 10 games under and returned at the same level. Four wins will not move the needle; these Phillies are on pace for 90 losses. But 90-loss teams must win 72 games, and they will remember these four against the Brewers as happy moments in a glum season.