The Atlanta Braves have a message for the Philadelphia Phillies: They’re not going to let them run away with the NL East.
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Alex Gonzalez hit the go-ahead RBI single and Brian McCann added a two-run homer in the 11th inning to lift the Braves to a 4-1 victory over the Phillies on Saturday. It was the second straight extra-inning game for the teams, following Philadelphia’s 3-2 victory in 10 innings Friday.
”We have to keep close to these guys,” said Gonzalez after the Braves pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Phillies. ”Both teams have great teams. We’re still fighting and we want to keep it close.”
The Braves (54-37) have won 10 of 12. Meanwhile, Philadelphia (56-34) remains one win shy of tying the club record for victories in the first half.
”It’s basically the same game as (Friday) night,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ”Our bullpen held today and we win. The teams are so evenly matched. Runs are hard to come by. Starting pitching has been outstanding both games. You’re going to get games like this.”
Philadelphia starter Cliff Lee accounted for the Phillies’ only run with his first career homer off Tommy Hanson, but both pitchers were gone by the time this one ended.
Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske led off the 11th for the Braves with a walk off Michael Stutes (3-1), and pinch-runner Wilkin Ramirez went to second on Jordan Schafer’s sacrifice. First baseman Ryan Howard could have gotten the second out, but he failed to make a tough over-the-shoulder catch of Gonzalez’s foul pop fly. It was ruled ”no play,” and two pitches later, Gonzalez lined a single to center, scoring Ramirez and putting the Braves ahead 2-1.
”He usually catches that ball most of the time,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Added Howard: ”It kind of slipped through my glove. I thought I had it and I should’ve made the play, but you can’t do anything about it now.”
McCann followed by launching Stutes’ 1-2 pitch into the seats in right.
”I was getting my pitches up and I paid for it,” Stutes said.
George Sherrill (2-1) worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th to earn the victory, allowing two hits and striking out one. Craig Kimbrel pitched a scoreless 11th for his 28th save in 33 chances.
”It’s big. We want to come in here and win the series and that’s what we try to do with everybody,” Hanson said. ”Playing in a tough place against a really good team, it’s good to even the series and have a chance to win it tomorrow. … It’s a huge series and I think everybody knows that.”
Neither Lee nor Hanson earned a decision, although both were worthy of a win. Lee pitched eight innings, allowing three hits and striking out nine while walking two. Lee had won each of his last six home starts and now stands at 7-1 at home while lowering his ERA to 1.61 at Citizens Bank Park this season.
After having his 34-inning scoreless streak snapped in his last start at Toronto, when he gave up seven runs – six earned – in 7 1-3 innings, Lee was back to being the pitcher who went 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in June. His only blemish Saturday was Dan Uggla’s homer on the first pitch of the fifth inning. Other than that, Lee allowed just one baserunner to reach second.
”We know it’s a good series,” Lee said. ”They’ve been playing well and are right behind us. They have an unbelievable bullpen and starting pitching and it showed the last couple of days.”
Hanson was equally dominant, scattering four hits while striking out six and walking one. Aside from Lee’s third-inning solo homer, the only Phillies batter to advance to second was John Mayberry Jr., who doubled in the sixth. The right-hander was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning after tossing seven innings, and the no-decision snapped Hanson’s career-high streak of five straight wins.
”Going up against a pitcher like (Lee), you always want to go up against the best and see what you’ve got against the best,” Hanson said. ”Besides the ball he hit out, I felt like I did a pretty good job.”
Lee homered on a 3-2 count, on the 10th pitch he saw, into the first row in right-center to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead in the third. He pumped his fist slightly while rounding first once the ball cleared the fence. Lee, who entered 8 for 39 (.205), was given a curtain call by the crowd of 45,637, the Phillies’ 171st straight sellout.
”He put a good swing on it,” Hanson said. ”Nothing you can do, just tip the hat and he got me.”
Added Lee: ”Anytime you do anything to help the team in a positive way, you definitely feel good. It was a first for me in my career and hopefully I get an opportunity to do something like that again.”
After Lee had retired 11 straight, Uggla tied it at 1 by belting Lee’s first pitch of the fifth inning to deep left field.
Philadelphia reliever Antonio Bastardo pitched a scoreless ninth, extending his scoreless streak to 15 innings. The left-hander has allowed just one hit in 45 at-bats during the stretch.
Bastardo struck out Uggla to end the ninth, and the Braves’ second baseman dropped his bat, argued with plate umpire Mike Everitt before tossing his helmet toward the dugout in frustration. Fredi Gonzalez came out to argue, as well, although neither was tossed.
The Phillies loaded the bases in the 10th off Sherrill, but the left-hander got Mayberry to ground out to first to end the frame.
”Our pitching is right there,” McCann said. ”You’ve seen the last two nights. We’re going to hang in there until the end. Our guys are coming in and putting zeros out of the bullpen on a nightly basis. Our pitchers are matching them pitch for pitch. It’s been fun to be a part of.”
Notes: Braves All-Star 3B Chipper Jones was placed on the disabled list before Saturday’s game with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Jones had a procedure Saturday in Atlanta and likely will miss 2-3 weeks. … Utley went 0 for 4 and had his 11-game hitting streak snapped. … Phillies All-Star 3B Placido Polanco missed his fifth straight game with a back injury. … The last Philadelphia pitcher to homer was Chan Ho Park, on April 25, 2009, against Florida.