Updated at 12:15 a.m., Sept. 21, 2012
NEW YORK (AP) — Boosted by their biggest start on the road in a century, the Philadelphia Phillies enjoyed an easy laugher in an empty ballpark.
Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley sparked an eight-run first inning, Ryan Howard added a late grand slam and Philadelphia kept pace in the wild-card race by routing the inept New York Mets 16-1 before a scarce crowd Thursday night at quiet Citi Field.
The Phillies said the last time they scored eight runs in the first inning of a road game was 1912, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
“The bats were definitely alive tonight,” Howard said.
Rookie right-hander Tyler Cloyd (2-1) pitched eight innings of three-hit ball and the Phillies stayed four games behind St. Louis for the second NL wild card, with two other teams in their path. The Phillies and Cardinals both have 12 games left.
Juan Pierre matched a career high with five hits, Utley added four and Philadelphia set season highs for runs and hits (21) — including 19 singles. Utley had four RBIs, and his double in the sixth was the only extra-base hit until Howard hit his 12th career slam to cap a seven-run ninth.
“It’s one of those things you just really can’t explain. We were in the zone or something,” Pierre said. “These young guys will probably play the rest of their career and never see anything like that again.”
Riding their two biggest innings of the year, the resurgent Phillies finished a three-game sweep and won for the 11th time in 14 games.
“It seemed like everything we hit was starting to fall,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “Things were going our way.”
New York rookie starter Jeremy Hefner (2-7) did not record an out in the makeup game for Tuesday night’s rainout. With the Mets setting marks for futility at home, it appeared only a few hundred fans were in the stands for the first pitch.
The announced “crowd” was 20,010, the smallest at 4-year-old Citi Field — and those who were there watched the Mets get overwhelmed from the start.
New York, which has dropped five straight and 11 of 12, allowed nine first-inning hits for the first time in its 51-season history. The Mets lost their ninth consecutive home game for the second time this summer and fell to 4-25 in their last 29 at Citi Field.
The previous team to win only four times in a span of 29 home games was the 1980 California Angels, according to STATS LLC.
“I saw some things tonight that were unacceptable,” manager Terry Collins said, refusing to elaborate. “No disrespect to Tyler Cloyd, none whatsoever, but three hits? Please. We’re better than that.”
Collins acknowledged he was embarrassed and said he spoke to his team. Asked if he thought his players had quit, he said: “You have to ask them. I have my own opinion. And I’m not going to express it publicly.”
Mike Baxter homered on an 0-2 pitch but New York has gone a club-record 16 straight home games without scoring more than three runs. STATS said the only other team since 1949 with a streak so sluggish at home was the 2010 Seattle Mariners, who also went 16 in a row.
The Mets had never given up eight runs in the first inning of a home game. The last time they allowed 16 runs at home was July 30, 2002, against Houston.
“Guys are upset, guys are embarrassed and we should be, because we have been very, very bad in the second half,” David Wright said.
Utley hit a pair of run-scoring singles in the 33-minute first. Rollins got it started with a bloop single, then added a two-run single and scored twice in the inning. He finished with three RBIs.
Pierre also had two hits in the first, including a bunt single, with Collins visibly steaming in the dugout.
Hefner, starting for the first time in 12 days, gave up six straight singles and then a walk to begin the game. Two were bloopers, plus Pierre’s perfect bunt.
“Words can’t even describe how embarrassing that is. And it’s not fun to answer questions about it,” Hefner said. “It’s hard. You started that game and you have to watch all nine innings, and I’ve never had to do that before. Never happened to me before. It’s something I’ll never forget and it’s something I’ll try to learn from.”
Howard connected off rookie left-hander Josh Edgin, who gave up a go-ahead homer to the big slugger with two outs in the ninth inning of Philadelphia’s 3-2 victory Wednesday night.
New York used 10 pitchers, a franchise record for a nine-inning game, and needed 58 pitches to get through the first inning.
“It was tough sitting there, but I found a way to stay loose and stay warm,” Cloyd said. “It was great to go out there with eight runs already.”
NOTES: Phillies C Carlos Ruiz was rested but probably will catch RHP Kyle Kendrick on Friday night against Atlanta, Manuel said. … It was Pierre’s first five-hit game since Oct. 2, 2005. … Philadelphia finished 8-10 against the Mets this year. … It was New York’s smallest home crowd since 19,557 showed up at Shea Stadium on April 5, 2006, according to STATS. … Before the game, Collins said Edgin’s next outing would be his last one of the season. The team wants to protect his arm. … The last team to use 10 pitchers in a nine-inning game was St. Louis in a 6-5 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 30, 2007.
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