Phillies 6, Rockies 3

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PHILADELPHIA (AP)—With one swing, Jim Thome unloaded some soaring stress. With another efficient and effective outing, Jon Lieber looked more and more like Philadelphia’s ace.

Thome ended his season-long homer drought to back another solid outing from Lieber, who became the major leagues’ first four-game winner in the Philadelphia Phillies’ 6-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

“It’s always nice to get going,” Thome said.

With Thome slugging, Lieber cruising and Billy Wagner finishing with a save, this was exactly how the Phillies expected to contend in the NL East.

Lieber (4-0) so far has lived up to his billing as the ace of Philadelphia’s otherwise so-so staff. He’s done what No. 1 starters are supposed to—stop losing streaks. In his previous start, he snapped Philadelphia’s three-game skid and ended a two-game losing streak in this one.

“I’m just getting the ball every fifth game and trying to help us win a ballgame,” said Lieber, whose answers are as expeditious as his innings.

Lieber, who signed a $21 million, three-year contract in December, gave up nine hits and struck out only one in eight innings. But it was his second straight start where he didn’t walk anyone.

A 20-game winner with Chicago in 2001, Lieber has delivered for the Phillies in his return to the National League. He’s the first Philadelphia pitcher to win his first four starts of the year since Dennis Cook in 1990 and pitched at least eight innings in his last three starts.

“I’m going to have some rough games, I’m sure, this year,” Lieber said. “It’s only my fourth start and it’s a long season. I want to be able to be pitching like this in August and September, also.”

And he doesn’t waste any time, throwing 57 strikes in 98 pitches, completing a game that took just 2 hours, 15 minutes.

“He does what the book says, he works fast, throws strikes and mixes it up,” Colorado’s Todd Helton said. “That’s what he did today. He’s not going to blow you away. He catches corners and he knows how to pitch.”

Lieber got some offensive help in the fourth with a pair of two-run homers from Thome and Todd Pratt. Thome, who hit 89 homers his first two seasons with the Phillies, was off to the longest home run drought to start a season in his career.

Hitting just .231 and without a homer in 53 at-bats, Thome hit one the other way to left off Joe Kennedy (1-2) and got a big ovation around the bases. He broke into a wide grin back in the dugout, the pressure off for a while.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said before the game that Thome was pressing, trying too hard to knock one out. Manuel joked he wasn’t going to get concerned until Thome had 350 at-bats.

Thome acknowledged how badly he wanted to hit first home run since Sept. 23 against Florida.

“I think after a while, sure, you want to hit it,” Thome said. “That’s my job, to drive in runs. I’m not a .350 hitter. I’m a guy that hits the ball out of the park. You can’t try and do it. The more you try, the worse it gets. I’m just glad it’s over with.”

Kennedy then walked Jason Michaels and gave up Pratt’s first homer of the year for a 4-3 lead.

“It’s nice to see Jimmy get that first one out of the way,” Pratt said. “It’s a little something off his shoulders.”

Kennedy allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings and struck out five.

Placido Polanco added an RBI single and Thome had an RBI groundout in the seventh off Scott Dohmann for a 6-3 lead.

Wagner struck out two in a perfect ninth for his third save.

Lieber got some help from his defense to avoid a big inning in the second.

With Colorado ahead 1-0 and with runners in scoring position, Aaron Miles hit a shallow fly ball to left. Catcher Todd Greene tagged and challenged strong-armed Pat Burrell, whose throw was toward the left-handed hitter’s side of the box. Pratt, though, came around for a sweeping tag to complete the double play.

Lieber gave up a two-run homer to Desi Relaford in the fourth inning for a 3-0 Colorado lead.

“He made one mistake today, but he makes it easy,” Pratt said.

Notes

The Phillies went 4-3 on their homestand and head to Atlanta for a three-game series. … The Rockies have lost 11 of their last 12 on the road. … Attendance was 21,749 on a beautiful afternoon at the second-year ballpark. … Pratt’s homer came in his 10th at-bat. Last season, he didn’t homer until his 108th at-bat.

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