PHILADELPHIA -- This is the way the Phillies needed to enter the All-Star break.
Well, it actually could have gone a bit smoother. But they beat the White Sox, 4-3, in 10 innings Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park to finish their 10-game homestand 7-3 and improve to 48-48, the first time they have been .500 since June 7. They are 6 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East, and 5 1/2 games behind the Reds for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"What's meaningful is that we're not out of the race, with 60-something games left," Jimmy Rollins said. "That's going to determine the season. I've said it before, no matter how good you are, you're going to lose 50 games and win 50 games. So those 62 is where it makes the difference. It probably will come down to the last weekend like it has been the last couple of years, and hopefully we'll be popping open bottles."
Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon blew his fifth save of the season in the ninth inning -- he is 7-for-12 in save opportunities since mid-June -- to send the game into extra innings for the third time this series.
But Chase Utley hit a leadoff double to left-center field in the 10th to get things started. He eventually scored on John Mayberry's Jr. two-out single up the middle.
The game lasted 3 hours, 26 minutes, making it the shortest affair of the series. Friday's game had to be postponed because of rain. Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader lasted 11 innings and 3 hours, 53 minutes, not including a 41-minute rain delay. Game 2 lasted 13 innings and also 3 hours, 53 minutes.
"I'd say that's different," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think those three games were very different. If you look at how they were played, what happened, how long they took, all the moves that were made. Did you like it? Did you enjoy sitting there watching it?"
"I always enjoy it," Manuel said with a grin.
But the Phillies left the ballpark encouraged. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sat in the dugout July 5 and said his team needed to play well during its homestand against the Braves, Nationals and White Sox. He said a 5-5 mark probably would not work as the front office decided to buy or sell before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Consequently, Amaro has talked about nothing but buying lately.
The Phils could be setting up themselves for an interesting second-half run. Based on their history, they can. Manuel's teams traditionally are much better in the second half (.610 winning percentage after the break from 2005-12 is second-best in baseball). That included last season, even after they traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the Deadline.
"We're finding ways to win, and earlier we were finding ways to lose," Rollins said. "So that's changed."
One of the greatest reasons for optimism is Cole Hamels' recent resurgence. He allowed eight hits, two runs and struck out seven in eight innings Sunday. He is 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA (four earned runs in 23 innings) in his last three starts after opening the season 2-11 with a 4.58 ERA.
The Phillies handed Hamels a 2-0 lead in the first. Utley worked a one-out walk and Rollins singled to center field to put runners on first and second. Brown followed with a double to deep center field to clear the bases. They took a 3-0 lead in the fourth when Hamels hit a two-out single to right field to score Delmon Young from third.
Hamels allowed a run in the seventh, although he had worked out of a jam. He then allowed a solo home run to Alejandro De Aza in the eighth to make it a one-run game.
"Hamels was tough today," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You can look at his record or whatever, but he's tough. He had a great changeup. He kept us off-balance."
Papelbon blew the lead in the ninth. Manuel suggested Papelbon needs a rest after a long first half.
"Mentally," the veteran closer said. "It's a mental grind. I think everybody on this team has gone through a lot mentally and physically. It's been a tough first half for us. That's what I mean by having a break mentally. You grind it out mentally and you grind it out physically in this game and play 162 of them, plus 30 Spring Training games, plus playoff games. It's part of it. You accept it. If you don't accept it, you go to the Minor Leagues."
The Phillies will need better performances from Papelbon and everybody else if they expect to catch the Braves or Reds in the second half. But first they need some rest. It was a long weekend.
"I cannot wait to close my eyes," Rollins said. "That was a lot of baseball. The heat was relentless. Both teams were paying a price, you could see that. There wasn't much left in anybody's tank."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.