ATLANTA - The Phillies played their 35th game of the season Thursday night and even a loss wouldn't have diminished the fact that they've begun this season better than anyone could have imagined when they commenced Season 2 of the rebuild with four straight losses last month.
But pulling off a win - as the Phillies so dramatically did against the Atlanta Braves - made things that much better.
Timing means so much in this game and the timing of the Phillies' 7-4 victory in 10 innings at Turner Field was important (see Instant Replay).
It came at the end of a rather grueling 10-game road trip in which the Phillies went 5-5 - and doesn't that just taste a lot better than 4-6?
It also set the stage for a nine-game homestand in which the team hopes to show its fans that it's worthy of their attention and their attendance - at least until the pads start popping across the street.
"It seems like we've been on the road for a month," said Andrew Bailey, who got a huge out in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on second base and ultimately earned the win Thursday night. "Great win to go home with. Happy flight. Let's have a good homestand."
The Phillies go home with a 20-15 record at the end of business on May 12.
Last year, they did not notch their 20th win until June 2 - in their 53rd game of the season.
The environment around that team was morose, lifeless and joyless.
And though the team's mission - building for a better day - hasn't changed, the environment now is hopeful, happy and confident.
"For us to go 20-15 in the first 35 games, I think we've surprised a lot of people like we wanted to," said Cameron Rupp, the ultimate hero in Thursday night's win. "A lot of people didn't have a lot of expectations for us coming out of camp and I think that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to come out and play, have fun and anything we do is going to be a positive after last year. I think we've surprised everybody.
"We're not going to quit. We're going to play hard until the last out is made."
This win should have been a lot easier than it was. Vince Velasquez cruised through six innings with a 4-0 lead, but got in trouble and lost the lead in the seventh inning. He wasn't thrilled with umpire Mike Winters' strike zone in the inning, nor his own choice to throw Gordon Beckham a first-pitch slider with the bases loaded. Beckham, who had just three RBIs before the at-bat, drove it for a three-run double. Jeff Francoeur then tied the game with a pinch-hit single past a diving Ryan Howard.
"Velasquez was cruising," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He just had a hiccup in that seventh inning. He changed his whole approach. I would have rather he went right after the hitters in that seventh inning. He threw too many off-speed pitches. But he's going through a learning experience. This is pitching in the big leagues. He'll make mistakes."
The bullpen picked up Velasquez. And so did his batterymate, Rupp.
After Bailey pitched out of trouble in the ninth, Odubel Herrera led off the top of the 10th with a triple against Jason Grilli. Andres Blanco then trotted to first after being hit by a pitch. With runners on the corners and no outs, Grilli struck out Maikel Franco. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez went to lefty Ian Krol for Howard, but Mackanin countered with pinch-hitter Darin Ruf. Krol silenced the struggling Ruf on three pitches, but walked Freddy Galvis on four pitches to load the bases with two outs. That brought up Rupp, who had been hitless in four at-bats. He lined an 0-1 slider to left-center to clear the bases and set off a little celebration in the Phillies' dugout.
"Guys were going ballistic," Bailey said.
Just a few seconds earlier, Mackanin was standing in the dugout wondering if the Phils were going to waste Herrera's leadoff triple.
Rupp made sure they didn't.
Herrera had four hits and reached base five times. He's hitting .339.
"I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's a good hitter," Mackanin said. "What a day. This guy, he's a potential batting champion at some point. He just has a knack."
Rupp had just four RBIs on the season before his big hit in the 10th.
"After four awful at-bats, you always have another one and to come up and pick up your teammates after you get a leadoff triple from Odubel and you can't get him in with the next couple of hitters and then it gets down to two outs and the bases loaded - it's kind of a big game for us," Rupp said. "To get that hit is pretty exciting."
The Phillies are 20-11 since their 0-4 start. Three of those four losses came in the first series of the season at Cincinnati.
The Reds come to Philadelphia on Friday night. They will find a different Phillies team than they saw last month, one that's confident and having fun.