PITTSBURGH (AP) -For the first time since the final week of last season, the Philadelphia Phillies found themselves in first place Saturday.
Not in the NL East, which has been controlled nearly all season by the New York Mets, but in the tightened-up NL wild-card standings, where the Phillies and Padres were tied and four other teams were within 3 1/2 games of the lead.
With one-quarter of the season remaining, manager Charlie Manuel welcomes the added excitement this may bring Phillies fans, but he hopes it is realistic excitement.
too, and they're playing for the same thing we're playing.
``We've just got to keep on winning. ... Whether it's 85, 86, 88, 90, 92 (wins), somebody's going to win and we've got to make sure it's us,'' said Manuel, whose teams finished second in the NL East in 2005 and 2006.
The Phillies were tied for the wild-card lead with a week left in the 2006 season, but finished three games behind the Dodgers.
Still, Manuel doesn't dispute he likes where the Phillies are now, with a seemingly deeper rotation than a year ago and a strong day-to-day-lineup that will get stronger when injured regulars Shane Victorino and Chase Utley return.
``Are we the team to beat?'' Manuel said. ``We're definitely one of the teams to beat.''
What is surprising is the Phillies have gained ground, not fallen back, since right fielder Victorino (strained right calf, July 31) and All-Star second baseman Utley (broken hand, July 27) went on the disabled list.
When Utley was hurt, Manuel said he would be satisfied if the Phillies merely held their position while he was out. Instead, the Phillies won 13 of their first 20 games without him.
``We've held our own, and you got to give them credit. That's good,'' Manuel said. ``But we've still got a lot of baseball to play, 40 games to go.''
After the Phillies finish their weekend series in Pittsburgh on Sunday, they return home to begin a 10-game homestand against the Dodgers, Padres and division-rival Mets that starts Tuesday.
When Utley and Victorino return, Manuel understands there will be additional pressure on the Phillies to at least reach the playoffs as a wild card, even if they don't win the NL East.
``Does that make us better (when they return)? You'd better believe it makes us better,'' Manuel said. ``But we've got to stay after it, we've still got part of our season left and we haven't accomplished anything yet. I want us to keep the same attitude, keep the same even keel, don't listen to what people play. That's how you do it.''
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