For seven innings, this game looked like every other Braves game lately. The Braves were losing by six runs and showing no signs of getting back into the game. In what were two of the most incredibly lucky innings I have ever seen, the Braves mounted a seven-run assault on the back-end of the Phillies' bullpen, leaving not only with a 9-8 win, but a huge amount of momentum in their favor.
Phillies' starter Kyle Kendrick had his A-game going today. Atlanta could muster little more than a couple hits through the first five innings of his start. The first sign of life came with the sixth inning. Willie Harris finally snapped out of his "0 for the century" slump with two hits, including a solo shot to right field to leadoff the sixth. Kelly Johnson, who also had two hits, singled following the Braves' left fielder's homer and then went first to home on Chipper's 37th double of the season.
The real excitement was packed into the last two innings though. Up 8-2, Charlie Manuel brought in his setup man, Tom Gordon, to try and nail down the eighth inning of a must-win game. There is only one explanation for what happened over the next two frames; God must have wanted the Braves to win. Chipper started off the inning with a double and after Mark Teixeira flew out, the craziness began. With Chipper on first, Brian McCann blooped a single to right field, Jeff Francoeur followed that with an RBI-single just out of the reach of Chase Utley, and Scott Thorman added in a bloop hit of his own to left field. After a pitching change, Phillies' closer Brett Myers promptly threw a run-scoring wild pitch on his first pitch of the game. Yunel Escobar walked to reload the bases and with the infield back, Matt Diaz chopped a softly hit ball that Jimmy Rollins couldn't do anything with, scoring yet another run. Still with the bases loaded and one out, Willie Harris drew an RBI-walk, bringing the deficit to only two. Both Kelly Johnson and Chipper Jone however failed to get anyone else home with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Move on to the ninth, and Brett Myers, who did a decent job limiting the damage in the eighth looked poised to close out the game. His control was back and the right-hander got two easy outs on a Mark Teixeira strikeout and a soft ground-out off the bat of Brayan Pena. It just wasn't to be though. With two outs, no one on, and Myers cruising, Jeff Francoeur hit a bouncing ball toward the gap in the left side of the infield. Jimmy Rollins made a great play to get to the ball but an off-balance throw was neither in time or on target. Martin Prado, who had come in as part of a double-switch in the top of the inning hit a two-strike pitch off the plate that just had too much hang-time for Myers to do anything with, moving runners up to first and second. Still with two outs, Yunel Escobar drew his second-straight debatable walk in as many innings to load them up for Matt Diaz. On an 0-1 pitch, Diaz drove a ball out to right-center off the glove of Chris Roberson. Both Francoeur and Prado came around to score easily and Escobar with the help of a slightly off-line throw slid in right before the tag to score the winning run.
The pitching was pretty bad today to say the least. Tim Hudson showed the same fatigue that has been plaguing him his last couple starts. Every pitch he seemed to be pushing towards the plate instead of getting on top of it. That left the ball up in the zone and it got hit hard. Hudson went only five innings, allowing five earned runs on eleven hits and two walks, while striking out four. Royce Ring relieved him with a scoreless inning of work before Oscar Villarreal came in. Right after the Braves came to within three, the normally steady right-hander gave up three runs in just 0.2 innings. Jose Ascanio and Rafael Soriano combined to throw the last 2.1 scoreless innings.
The Mets lost so we are only 7.5 out of the east and 6.0 out of the wild card, isn't that exciting? Watching Hudson today was just not good. He seems to have hit a wall and although his endurance through the course of a season was much better this year, he still looks like he can't get out of August/September well and that is a big problem if we have any shot at a miracle. John Smoltz will open up the Nationals series at 7:35 ET on Friday. The Braves absolutely have to take advantage of playing the cellar-dwellers right now.