Braves 8, Phillies 2
Another strong start from Mike Minor has the Atlanta Braves one step closer to erasing last year's debacle.
Freddie Freeman hit a three-run homer to back Minor and the Braves roughed up Roy Halladay to move closer to clinching a postseason berth with an 8-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
The win, coupled with Milwaukee's 10-4 loss to Washington, reduced Atlanta's magic number for securing an NL wild-card playoff spot to three. The Braves were up 8 1/2 games through Sept. 5 last year, but went 9-18 down the stretch and were overtaken by St. Louis on the final day of the season.
''I don't want to hear anything about it,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez said with a smile.
The Phillies fell four games behind the Cardinals for the NL's second wild-card spot with only 10 games remaining. The five-time defending NL East champions had won four in a row and 12 of 15 to get in the race. They also trail Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wild-card standings.
Ryan Howard became the second-fastest player to reach 300 homers, but Halladay (10-8) picked the wrong time to have the second-shortest outing in his 376 career starts.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner lasted just 1 2-3 innings, allowing seven runs and five hits. Halladay's shortest start was on Sept. 10, 2006, for Toronto against the Los Angeles Angels, that was because of an injury. He recorded just two outs and left after getting hit on the elbow by a line drive off Garret Anderson's bat.
Halladay wasn't 100 percent for this start. He said he felt spasms behind his shoulder area on Thursday, but was cleared by doctors on Friday.
''I wish I could blame it on this, but I felt like I should compete,'' he said. ''I just didn't do my job as a pitcher.''
Minor (10-10) gave up two runs and two hits in six innings to win his fourth straight decision. The lefty has a 1.09 ERA in four starts this month.
''It's just experience and having a better game plan,'' he said. ''You put things in your memory bank.''
The Braves remained 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Nationals, making it likely they'll have to settle for a wild-card berth. Considering last season's collapse, securing any playoff spot is quite the accomplishment. It would have been the biggest September meltdown in baseball history except that Boston blew a nine-game lead during the same month.
Howard connected for the fourth straight game, hitting a towering shot off the brick wall in straightaway center in the fourth. He reached No. 300 in his 1,093rd game. Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner hit his 300th homer in his 1,087th game.
Halladay, who missed nearly two months with a strained lat, didn't look right from the start. He walked Michael Bourn to lead off the game, but picked him off. Martin Prado followed with a single and Chipper Jones hit a two-out single.
Freeman then sent an 0-2 pitch off a billboard on the facing of the second deck in right field. Halladay slammed the resin bag to the ground while Freeman circled the bases.
''The two-out hits were really big,'' Jones said. ''It was a good job by our hitters to take advantage of mistakes.''
Halladay has been bad in first innings this year, posting a 5.63 ERA in 24 games. He's allowed 15 runs and 31 hits, including three homers.
It didn't get any better in the second.
Halladay walked two batters, including Prado to load the bases with two outs. Jason Heyward fell behind 1-2 in the count before lining a 78 mph curveball into the right-field corner to clear the bases and make it 6-0.
That ended Halladay's day.
''He didn't have a whole lot,'' manager Charlie Manuel said. ''He had a hard time putting the ball where he wanted it. Just one of those days. Rough day.''
Jones greeted Jeremy Horst with an RBI double for a 7-0 lead.
Darin Ruf, who hit 38 homers in Double-A to break Howard's record for single-season homers at Reading, drove in his first career run with a sacrifice fly in the third.
NOTES: Jones' single in the first moved him ahead of Lou Gehrig for 58th on the career hits list with 2,722. He's one hit away from tying Roberto Alomar for fifth place among switch hitters. ... Freeman is 7 for 15 with three homers and nine RBIs off Halladay. ... Prado extended his NL lead to 37 multihit games. ... Bourn was 4 for 38 before a second-inning single. ... Phillies are 8-16 on Saturdays. ... Howard has three homers in 15 at-bats off Minor. ... Cliff Lee (6-7) faces Tim Hudson (15-6) in the series finale Sunday. Hudson is 9-9 vs. the Phillies, including 2-1 this year. Lee is 4-3 vs. Atlanta, 1-0 this season.