In sports, the ability to win on enemy turf often distinguishes the contenders from the pretenders.

That’s proven to be true during the 2010 MLB season, particularly in regards to the marathon-style NL East race.

The Phillies, who begun the season just 22-30 away from home, have now won 17 of their last 20 on the road. The 2010 season will mark the seventh straight season in which the Phillies have had a winning record when needing room service. Simply remarkable.

Then again, maybe it’s not too remarkable, since these Phillies seem to prove every year that divisional standings only matter at the end of September, not at the end of July.

Remember the type of rhetoric that was being thrown around on sports-related radio, TV, and web pages in early July? You remember, right? Try not to laugh…

The Phillies were not going to win the NL East in 2010 because the division was so dramatically improved. 

The Braves and Mets were motivated by and hungry for success, while the Phillies were emotionally and physically drained from all the baseball they had played the past two seasons, and had grown (gasp) complacent.

Of course, the experts prognosticating Philadelphia’s free-fall from greatness in early July forgot to take both Atlanta and New York’s incompetence on the road into consideration.

By Independence Day, the Braves and Mets were both “lights out” at home (30-10, 28-12 respectively). However, each team had an underwhelming 18-24 record on the road.

In the 10 weeks since, both teams have learned how difficult it is to win seven out of every 10 games at home, while neither has ever been able to rectify their road woes.

Being a road warrior is the signature of a champion, and longtime Atlanta skipper Bobby Cox has always known it.

From 1991 to 2005, Cox’s Braves were perennially one of baseball’s best road teams and finished all but two of those division-championship seasons with a winning record on the road (1996 and 2005).

Still, Bobby’s upstart 2010 Braves spent much of the past three months in first place, as it took the veteran Phillies a pretty long time to begin rounding into October form.

By the end of July, Philadelphia had lost 23 of its previous 32 road games. The last time the Phillies suffered through that bad of a prolonged stretch on the road was back in 2003, a telltale year in which the Phils were dynamite at Veterans Stadium (49-32) but were ultimately undone by their inability to win on the road (37-44).

Philly hasn’t suffered a losing season away from home since, and has made winning on the road a staple in its very own twenty-first century glory days.

The 2007 Phillies won their last six games in Shea Stadium against the Mets. As it turned out, every one of the wins was critical.

The 2008 Phillies won all nine of their games in Turner Field against the Braves.

The 2009 Phillies averted disaster by starting the season 24-9 on the road, despite beginning the year 13-22 at home.

The 2010 Phillies recent excellence away from Citizens Bank Park has placed them on the doorstep of a franchise-record fourth consecutive division title.

Of course, the Braves hopes of a NL East championship aren’t dead yet. They still have six road games remaining and end the regular season with six more at Turner Field. But for Atlanta, it all might be too little, too late.

The Phillies meanwhile, when it comes to winning on the road, have once again shown that it’s better to do it late than never.

And that’s a cliché that suits this club just fine.

By the way, since July 8 the Phillies are 27-10 at Citizens Bank Park. That too is the sign of a team who’s “for real.”

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