ST. LOUIS -- Ryne Sandberg's laugh filled the small manager's office deep below Busch Stadium on Thursday night when he heard the question come out.
Could he believe, he was asked, that the Phillies hadn't won four consecutive games in more than a year?
"You've mentioned that a couple times," Sandberg said, beginning to laugh. "It is remarkable."
The Phillies broke that forgettable stretch with a 4-1 win over the Cardinals, giving them their first four-game winning streak since last June 2-6 when they won five straight.
In winning eight of their last 10 games, the Phillies have inched within five games of .500 for the first time since May 31 and within four games of first place in the National League East for the first time since May 30.
Fresh off a three-game sweep of Atlanta to begin this seven-game road trip, Thursday's win came with the help of Ryan Howard's return to his hometown and rookie starter David Buchanan's best performance of his young career.
"This entire stretch of a road trip, starting off in Atlanta, coming here, it's two really tough ballclubs," Howard said. "For [Buchanan] to come out here, especially in St. Louis, it's not an easy place to come into and play and do well. We did just that."
Buchanan, who struggled with leaving pitches up in his first five starts, allowing seven home runs, ran into no such problems against the Cardinals.
The right-hander faced the minimum in five of his 7 2/3 innings and remained calm when he did face a threat in the sixth.
After Buchanan's counterpart, Shelby Miller, led the inning off with a double into left-center and moved to third with two outs, Buchanan got Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday to fly out to center to end the threat.
"I think he rose to the occasion," Sandberg said. "He has that kind of makeup and that kind of character. He seems to be showing improvement and he seems to be adjusting as he's gone along. It looks like he's growing out there."
Buchanan had plenty of run support thanks to Howard, who returned to play at Busch Stadium for the first time since 2011 after being injured in each of the past two seasons.
The Phillies got on the board in the fourth after Carlos Ruiz hit a leadoff double to right and moved to third on a single by Chase Utley. Howard took a first-pitch fastball to right to score the team's first run, and Utley came around to score the second on a sacrifice fly by Domonic Brown to right.
His big hit would come in the sixth with Utley on first. Howard took a fastball the other way down the left-field line, and the ball scraped over the fence for a two-run homer.
"I wasn't sure if the ball was going to stay fair or not," Howard said. "Off the bat it started to slice and then I wasn't sure if it was going to go out. I thought it was going to land right in front of [the wall] or in front of the 336[-foot mark] down there. I was a little surprised, but I'm not mad at it."
The ball in fact flew 340 feet over the fence to give Howard his third home run during the team's four-game winning streak.
"He's on a good roll for us," Sandberg said. "He's played big for us in the last four wins putting a crooked number up there and swinging a good bat."
The Phillies' offense has outscored its opponents 48-23 in winning eight of their last 10 games. The four runs provided for Buchanan on Thursday were plenty.
The rookie wouldn't allow a run until there were two gone in the eighth. After walking the leadoff hitter, Buchanan got a popout before a soft grounder moved the runner to second.
A line drive to right brought in the Cardinals lone run and ended Buchanan's night after 7 2/3 innings. He allowed the lone run on four hits and a walk.
"[Ruiz] called a great game," Buchanan said. "Me and him were on the same page, we were working the ball in and out. The main thing I was trying to focus on was keeping the ball down, not letting the ball get elevated on me."
"He hit his spots and kept us off balance," Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong added. "When you can throw strikes with three pitches, he's definitely tough to beat."
Jake Diekman retired the final hitter of the eighth before Jonathan Papelbon pitched a clean ninth to close out his 17th game of the season.
More importantly, the win ended a yearlong stretch of three-game winning streaks staying just that.
"Well, hopefully we don't go another year before that happens," Howard said when he heard the news. "I guess now we've got another goal to try and go for."
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.