Boy did they take advantage.
Joe Blanton tossed four-hit ball into the eighth inning and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley each homered off Johan Santana, leading the Phillies to a 2-0 victory over the Mets on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep of their NL East rival.
The Phillies had lost 12 of 15 and returned home after being swept by the Atlanta Braves, but they took advantage of the injury-ravaged Mets to earn their first sweep at Citizens Bank Park since taking three straight from the Nationals May 29-31.
"We wanted to try and take this because we know that team over there isn't at full strength," Howard said. "It's July, but we want to take as many games as possible. We didn't give extra outs. We didn't make a lot of mistakes. When you look back, it was everything you can hope and dream for a baseball game."
The defending World Series champions pushed the third-place Mets four games back in the NL East, handing them their eighth loss in 11 games. The Marlins beat the Pittsburgh Pirates to remain a game back in the division.
Blanton (5-4) retired the first seven Mets before Luis Castillo bounced a single over third baseman Pedro Feliz's head. Castillo was sacrificed to second, but was stranded there on a diving stop by Howard, one of several fine fielding plays by the first baseman.
The righty allowed little else, striking out five and lowering his ERA to 4.69. His biggest challenge came in the sixth inning after an 11-pitch walk to Daniel Murphy loaded the bases and had him visibly frustrated with his control lapse.
After a quick visit to the mound from pitching coach Rich Dubee, Blanton induced David Wright to ground into a double play, started by Utley.
"That was a big play," Blanton said. "With the bases loaded, I'm trying to make good pitches and hopefully get him to hit it on the ground for a double play. So I really got the result I wanted. It was a sinker and had pretty good movement and I got lucky."
Since snapping a seven-game winning streak on June 4, the Phillies Struggled through a 24-game stretch in which they went 7-17 with a .235 batting average and a 5.02 ERA.
Rollins, who batted .169 during that stretch, keyed Sunday's win with his 30th career leadoff homer, on Santana's second pitch. The 2007 NL MVP is 7 for 14 with a homer and three doubles after a career-worst 0-for-28 slump that included a four-game benching during the road trip.
Utley connected with two outs in the sixth.
Santana (9-7), named to his fourth All-Star team, pitched more like an ace than the struggling lefty who posted a 6.19 ERA in June, the worst June of his 10-year career. Other than the homers, he allowed one other hit, and struck out three in seven innings.
For the fifth time in Santana's 16 starts this season, the Mets lost by two or fewer runs. He also fell to 4-1 vs. the Phillies as a Met.
"I did everything I could, but they were better," Santana said. "I was trying to give them a chance to win, but in the end it came down to a couple of pitches. They did everything right the whole series."
Brad Lidge struck out the side in the ninth inning to earn his 16th save in 22 opportunities. He has converted his past three chances.
"In these three games, we did all the little things right," Lidge said. "We have seven more games at home and if we keep playing like this, maybe we can create a little separation. "
- Phillies' left-handed pitcher Scott Eyre was activated from the disabled list before Sunday's game, with Sergio Escalona returned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
- Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, voted to the first All-Star Game in his 14 career seasons, will begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Reading on Monday, and is scheduled to play five innings. Manuel said he would like to see Ibanez get 10-12 at-bats before activating him.