READING-It could be worse, and the Reading Phillies had the hapless Harrisburg Senators to thank that it wasn't.

Last Thursday morning the Reading Phillies (13-11 .542) had again steamed into a virtual tie for first place in the Eastern League's (EL) with the Akron Aeros (12-10 .545).

They had split a doubleheader with the SeaWolves in Erie the night before, losing the first game, 6-4, and taking the nightcap, 8-1.

Meanwhile, last-place Harrisburg (7-18, seven games out) took two from Akron, 3-1 and 6-4 forcing the virtual first place tie.

By Thursday afternoon, the R-Phils (13-12 .520) had fallen into another virtual tie, this time with Erie (12-11 .522) for second place, a half-game behind Akron as the SeaWolves tied and won the game in the ninth, 5-4.

Forget the scorecard. You need a computer with an Excel package to keep track of who's in first, who's in second, and who's in third in the EL South.

However, it doesn't take much to figure out that the R-Phils are sputtering, however, not by much. They have gone 4-6 in their last ten games while Akron and Erie have gone 6-4. After dropping two of three to Akron over the previous weekend, the R-Phils had a chance against Erie to regain some solid first-place footing, especially after beating the Aeros 11-6 in Sunday's getaway game in Akron with an off-day on Monday.

The R-Phils got an extra day off when Tues-day's opener of three in Erie was rained out. It became part of a doubleheader on Wednesday night.

In the first game of the twin-bill, Erie's surprising ace, Dallas Tehern (5-0, 1.78 ERA) flirted twice with danger over five innings but allowed only three runs on five hits and struck out five as the SeaWolves swamped Reading, 6-4. The R-Phils scored twice in the third with two out as right fielder Greg Jacobs (.284, 3 HR, 12 RBI) singled home catcher Tim Gradoville (.216, 1 RBI) who had walked. Designated hitter Pedro Swann (.273, 1 HR, 6 RBI) then singled in centerfielder Javon Moran (.291, 1 HR, 8 RBI) who had reached first on a fielder's choice. Jacobs was out at home trying to score on the play with third baseman Mike Costanzo on deck.

Erie came back with two in their half against R-Phils pitcher Heath Totten (1-4, 4.60 ERA) on two singles wrapped around a triple.

In the fourth, Reading took the lead when with two out Gradoville scored first baseman Matt Padgett (.202, 1 HR, 7 RBI) with a line drive single to center.

Erie countered in the fifth with two doubles, a single, and a homer to score four runs and take the lead, 6-3. Reliever Ryan Cameron (0-0, 4.82 ERA,1 save) came on after Brent Dlugach doubled and Kody Kirkland walked following the homer by first baseman Jeff Larish, and worked a scoreless last 1 1/3 innings of the opener.

Reading scored a run in the seventh on a triple by Joey "Mr.Clutch" Ham-mond (.296, 1 HR, 8 RBI) who scored on a ground out second to first by pinch hitter Juan Tejeda (.268, 3 HR, 14 RBI).

In the second game, the R-Phils scored early and often on their way to an 8-1 win. Designated hitter Pedro Swann drove in Javon Moran with a single in the first after Moran had led off with a single for the R-Phils' first run.

Third baseman Mike Costanzo (.247, 5 HR, 16 RBI) belted a home run to left center (his fifth) leading off the second for Reading's second run.

Swann then went long ball in the third with a three-run shot to right center that scored Joey Ham-mond and Juan Tejeda who had hit back-to-back doubles.

Left fielder Brian Burgamy (.173, 2 HR 5 RBI) ,scored a solo run in the fourth when Hammond grounded into a force out at second.

Hammond scored the R-Phils final run in the seventh. After taking third on a double by Swann, Costanzo singled home Hammond for Reading's eighth run.

Starter Tim McClaskey (2-2, 3.10 ERA) scattered four hits over five innings while pitching shutout ball and striking out five for his second win of the year.

Erie scored its only run when Jeff Larish homered (the EL's home run leader with 6 and RBI leader with 28) off Nick Evangelista (0-0, 7.71 ERA) leading off the bottom of the seventh.

On Thursday morning, the R-Phils came from behind to score four runs in the eighth but couldn't hold off the SeaWolves as they came back with two in the ninth to win, 5-4.

Reading loaded the bases on three singles off 21-year-old Erie starter Jair Jurrjens, (1-1, 3.57 ERA) one of Detroit's top pitching prospects. Juan Tejeda scored the R-Phils' first run on an error. Catcher Jason Hill (.283, 1 HR, 9 RBI) then ripped a double to left to score two runs.

Costanzo followed with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Tejeda with the fourth run of the inning to put the Reading ahead 4-3.

Starter Landon Jacobsen (3-2, 4.50 ERA) went 5 2/3 innings for the R-Phils allowing three runs on four hits. Relievers Bubba Nelson (1-0, 2.61 ERA) and Julio De La Cruz (0-0, 3.86, 2 saves) held the SeaWolves at bay for the next 2 1/3 innings.

Manager P.J. Forbes went to his closer, Anderson Garcia (0-1, 3.29 ERA, 6 saves), for the ninth. The EL leader in saves just didn't have it Thursday. Two doubles around a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk and a single to center dropped the R-Phils into that virtual tie for second in the EL South with the loss.

Farther south in Altoona, the fifth-place Connecticut Defenders (8-13 in the EL North) ended a three-game losing streak with an 11-inning win Thursday afternoon over the third-place Curve (11-12), 6-5, which kept them a half-game behind Reading. To make things even closer, Bowie (14-13 .514) beat Portland Thursday night, 7-3, to keep the Baysox a half-game behind the R-Phils.

Virtual standings notwithstanding, the R-Phils opened a three-game weekend series last Friday at FirstEnergy against the Defenders. They're back on the road with three at Bowie (May 7-9) and four at Connecticut (May 10-13).

However, there's nothing virtual about the R-Phils needing what P.J. Forbes would call a significant winning streak just about now.

On track with the R-Phils: Heading into Thursday's game, the R-Phils ranked seventh in the EL in pitching with a 4.07 ERA and second in saves with nine to Trenton's 13; and second in hitting with a .263 average to Akron's .277... They were leading the EL in home runs with 20... SS Jesus Merchan with two hits on Thursday raised his average to .380, second best in the EL to Portland's Jacoby Ellsbury's .449... OF Pedro Swann stole his first base of the year in Wednesday's game one... CF Javon Maron was tied with Connecticut's Alex Requenna, Trenton's Justin Christian, and Harrisburg's Roger Bernadina for first in steals with ten... 3B Mike Costanzo was leading the R-Phils with five HRs and 16 RBI; he was tied with New Hampshire's 1B Chip Cannon for the EL lead in whiffs with 34; his five HRs are third in the EL... P Matt Maloney was leading the R-Phils with 19 strikeouts, followed by Kyle Kendrick with 17 and Heath Totten with 16... P Tim McClaskey was tied with Harrisburg's T.J. Hall for the gopher ball lead with five...P Anderson Garcia was leading the EL in saves with six.

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