Chipper Jones was on the bench, nursing an injured finger.
Bring on Omar Infante, the latest player to come through for a team that can do no wrong.
Infante lined a two-out, run-scoring single in the eighth inning to back Derek Lowe’s best outing of the season, leading the Atlanta Braves to their eighth straight win, 2-1 over the slumping Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.
The Braves finished off a three-game sweep of the defending NL champions and increased their lead in the East Division to 2 1/2 games as they headed off on an 11-game road trip that could determine if they’re a true contender for their first playoff appearance since 2005.
“We can make something special here,” Martin Prado said. “We’re going to be a surprise.”
Lowe (8-4) went eight innings in his longest outing of the season, allowing six hits and the only Philadelphia run. Billy Wagner worked a scoreless ninth for his ninth save. Jose Contreras (2-2) took the loss, giving up only his second run in 16 2-3 innings and snapping a streak of 13 straight scoreless outings.
Manager Charlie Manuel was livid at his team, saying the players have shown no sense of urgency to end their slide. He showed his displeasure before the game when he spotted several of them gathered around a television, watching the movie “Gran Torino.” He ordered the clubbies to shut it off.
That didn’t stop the Phillies from losing their fourth in a row and ninth in 11 games. They haven’t scored more than three runs during that span.
“I see a whole lot of cockiness and big-headedness and complacency,” Manuel said. “Just because we did something last year doesn’t mean we’re going to do it this year.”
Philadelphia never led in the series against the Braves and wasted a strong outing by Kyle Kendrick, who surrendered five hits and a run in the seven innings.
Lowe escaped a jam in the top half of the eighth. Greg Dobbs led off with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and took third on a ground out. After Jayson Werth was walked intentionally, Lowe retired Wilson Valdez on a flyout to center.
The Braves took advantage of a nearly identical scoring chance in the bottom half. Nate McLouth, hitting only .179 coming into the game, drew a leadoff walk from Contreras. Melky Cabrera moved the runner along with a sacrifice bunt before Prado struck out.
After Jason Heyward took an intentional walk, Infante lined a single over leaping second baseman Chase Utley to drive in the winning run.
“Contreras has been pitching really good,” Infante said through an interpreter. “That was a difficult at-bat for me. But everything is going well for us. I was happy to make contact and find the hole.”
Infante started the day on the bench, but came on in the fifth inning after Jones left with inflammation in his right ring finger. He was listed as day to day.
“My timing was impeccable,” Jones quipped. “Omar Infante put on a show.”
Lowe’s only troublesome inning was the third. He gave up four singles – one when Kendrick faked a bunt, then squared around to line a hit into left, and another when Valdez put down a perfect bunt. But Utley hit into a double play to keep the Phillies from the big inning they so desperately need.
“That was a huge play,” Lowe said. “That kept the momentum with us.”
Lowe struggled last season, his first in Atlanta after signing a four-year, $60 million contract. But he’s come around over the past month, the breakthrough coming when he began to rely more on his changeup.
“The light bulb went on for me,” he said.
The Braves started strong against Kendrick – back-to-back singles by Prado and Heyward put runners at first and third with no outs – but they managed only one run. Prado scored when Jones hit into a double play.
Raul Ibanez might have saved Kendrick a run in the second. Troy Glaus hit a towering drive toward the left-field wall, but Ibanez reached over the yellow line and kept it in play. He couldn’t hang on for the out, but the ball fell back onto the warning track as Glaus coasted into second for a leadoff double.
He didn’t get any farther. Glaus was doubled off the bag after Yunel Escobar’s liner up the middle was snagged by Kendrick.
NOTES: Kendrick had allowed no more than three earned runs in each of his eight career starts against the Braves. … Utley came into the game hitting .444 in his career against Lowe but went 0 for 3 on Wednesday, never getting the ball out of the infield.