NEW YORK -- The calendar turns to June on Friday with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list, Cliff Lee without a win, Carlos Ruiz the team's most dangerous hitter and the Phillies just three games out of first place in the National League East.
Who could have predicted that?
Well, the moment Howard suffered a setback from left Achilles surgery in February and Utley stopped taking ground balls because of a chronic left knee condition around the same time, many predicted they would not return to the Phillies' lineup until June at the earliest (Howard is not expected back until July). But would anybody have thought Lee would be winless through his first eight starts, especially when he is carrying a respectable 3.00 ERA? And would anybody have thought Ruiz not only would be the team's hottest hitter, but one of the hottest in baseball?
Ruiz, whose 1.010 OPS entering the game ranked sixth in baseball, helped save Lee from his third loss of the season with a big pinch-hit two-run home run in Wednesday's 10-6 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field. The victory moved the Phillies within three games of the first-place Nationals, despite being in last place in the division.
"We've got depth, we've got a lot of talent," Lee said. "Obviously we'd like to have Utley and Howard back, no doubt about it, but we've had guys fill their shoes, and if we play complete baseball, well-rounded baseball, we win. But we're ready to have those guys back, no doubt about it."
Lee allowed seven hits, three runs, two walks, one home run and struck out seven in six innings. He allowed a two-run home run to Lucas Duda in the sixth inning to hand the Mets a 3-1 lead, putting him on the hook for the loss. But after Brian Schneider hit a clutch two-out double in the seventh, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had Ruiz hit for Lee.
"I had a feeling he was going to get a knock," Manuel said. "That's why I put him up there."
Ruiz had not played since Sunday because of a mildly strained right hamstring. Manuel said he could have started Ruiz if he wanted, but he wanted to give his catcher a couple extra days to heal before putting him behind the plate.
But Ruiz proved the hamstring doesn't affect his hitting when he smacked a two-run home run on a 1-1 breaking ball from Bobby Parnell to tie the game at 3. Lee gave Ruiz a quick fist bump before he stepped to the plate and said he wished him good luck.
"It was a big at-bat," Ruiz said. "I'm so happy to have that big home run right there. I was trying to get at least a base hit to get the inning going. I got a good pitch to hit and made a good swing."
"That was the guy we knew was sitting over there," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We had the matchup we wanted, we had Bobby ready for him."
Ruiz said he could have run to second base if the ball had hit off the top of the wall, despite the bum hamstring. But he certainly was happy he could trot around the bases instead.
"It was easier," he joked.
Those three runs were a windfall for Lee. The Phillies had scored just 12 runs for him while he was in the game in his first seven starts. Lee had a 2.82 ERA in those seven starts. Elias Sports Bureau said Lee's ERA was the lowest for any Phillies pitcher who was winless through his first seven starts in a season since Steve Carlton started 0-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 1985.
Lee had never gone more than three starts into a season without a win before this year.
"Yeah, I'd like to have a few wins, but what can you do?" Lee said. "I can only control what I can control -- throw strikes and give the team a chance to win and get us as deep into the game as I can. I'm going to keep doing that regardless of what happens."
The Phillies took the lead in the eighth, when Juan Pierre and Hunter Pence hit a pair of singles to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Ty Wigginton, who homered in the second, struck out for the first out, but Shane Victorino's sacrifice fly to center field scored Pierre to give the Phillies the lead. They poured it on in the ninth inning, when Jimmy Rollins -- who went 3-for-5 -- hit a three-run home run, and the Phillies scored three more to make it a seven-run game.
But it was Schneider's double that set up Chooch's home run to put the game back on track.
"He's a great player, and he's proven it day in and day out," Lee said of Ruiz. "He's been a great catcher ever since I've been involved with him, and now he's starting to prove it even more with the bat. It just shows how complete of a player he is. He's our best player right now and has been the whole time."
He helped the Phillies finish 5-2 on their road trip through St. Louis and New York. They open a seven-game homestand Friday against the Miami Marlins.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.