- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Larry Bowa watched his bullpen squander several leads last month and slept little while the team lost a club-record 18 games in April.
Still, he kept his composure. The Philadelphia Phillies are now rewarding him for that patience.
After losing 15 of 19 games, Philadelphia won six straight to climb within four games of .500.
"We just self-destructed as a team early. We couldn't get things together," Bowa said. "We've got a long way to go. We don't have anyone to blame but ourselves. We have to get to the break-even point."
The Phillies won 86 games last year and finished just two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The expectations were high for this season, so the team's start was all the more disappointing.
They were 5-4 after beating the Braves on April 10 but went 4-14 the rest of the month.
Bowa, known for his temper, stayed calm when the team was struggling. He nearly lost it a few times during a 1-5 road trip through Colorado and San Francisco but bit his tongue.
"I've really had to work on that," Bowa said.
The players appreciated it.
"Screaming and yelling is not going to make us catch or throw the ball any better," said third baseman Scott Rolen, who clashed with Bowa a few times last season and is in the final year of his contract.
Bowa had plenty of reasons to rant at his relievers. The bullpen was a major reason for Philadelphia's awful start.
In a two-week span, the relievers failed to hold a lead five times. They had a 4-6 record with a 5.38 ERA in the opening month. Last April, they were 7-3 with a 2.69 ERA on the way to finishing with the fourth-best ERA in the NL (3.88).
Bowa stuck with the pitchers who had success last year, and they have been outstanding the last six games.
Before closer Jose Mesa allowed a run in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 5-3 victory over Houston, the relievers had pitched 18⅔ scoreless innings. Mesa had five saves during the six-game winning streak and 11 in his first 13 opportunities this year.
"The whole bullpen is pitching with confidence," Bowa said. "They're coming in with the idea that they are going to get someone out. I'm seeing different looks in their eyes than I saw a couple of weeks ago."
It's not just the bullpen. The entire team is playing better.
Reserves Tomas Perez, Jason Michaels and Ricky Ledee who snapped a 4-for-34 slump with a pinch-hit, two-run game-ending homer Wednesday were responsible for three of the victories in the last week. Starters Brandon Duckworth and Randy Wolf had strong back-to-back outings, and Jimmy Rollins continues to establish himself as one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.
"We just have to continue to play good baseball," Rollins said. "We've been executing, and that's been key. But you have to be lucky, too. Everybody is contributing. The bullpen has stepped up. I'd rather they struggled and got it out of the way early than do it late in the season."
The Phillies still are having trouble with the middle of their lineup, though. Bobby Abreu, Rolen, Travis Lee and Mike Lieberthal the Nos. 3-6 hitters aren't producing. They were hitting a combined .248 with 13 homers two fewer than Sammy Sosa had through Thursday and 66 RBI.
Rolen, however, hit his first homer in 14 games Wednesday night.
"Bobby and Scottie got hot together last year," Bowa said. "They're getting close."
Rolen turned down a 10-year deal that could have been worth up to $140 million and plans to test free agency.
If the Phillies falter, he could be traded before the July 31 deadline. But general manager Ed Wade insists he isn't going to trade Rolen and hopes to persuade him to stay after the season.
If the team continues to win and stays in contention, Wade will have a better chance. At least, it's already better than it was a week ago.


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