The heat can do funny things to the mind.

So on a day when the temperature at Turner Field was 90 degrees and climbing at first pitch, you had to wonder: Is this real, or is it some shimmering mirage meant to tease fans who hope for a meaningful summer of baseball in Philadelphia?

The Phillies spent three days in Dixie not only sweeping a three-game series from the Atlanta Braves and knocking them from first place in the National League East (see standings), but also sending a message to their own front office that they shouldn’t be counted for dead in the division race.

At least not yet. (Check back in a few days.)

The Phils completed the sweep Wednesday afternoon with a 10-5 win (see Instant Replay). They had a season-high 18 hits and their improving bullpen pitched three more scoreless innings to finish the series with one run allowed in 11 innings.

Wednesday’s victory was the Phillies’ seventh in the last nine games and though they are still six games under .500, they will be no more than five games out of first place when they open a series in St. Louis on Thursday night.

Is this a mirage?

Or is it a veteran team finally putting together the long-awaited run that vaults it into contention?

“I don’t think we’ve ever really been out of it,” Ryan Howard said. “These are the kinds of games you want to play against division rivals. This is a step in the right direction.”