Andruw drives in three, but Braves fall
Thomson unable to preserve lead against rival Phillies
PHILADELPHIA -- Nobody said things were going to be peaceful in the city of Brotherly Love. Nor should anybody have simply assumed that the Braves' magic number was simply going to decrease with the passing of each calendar day.
After the first two games of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park, the Braves have learned that their once comfortable National League East lead doesn't seem as cozy anymore, and that the Phillies are serious about their fight to gain entry into the postseason.
While suffering a 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday night, the Braves squandered another three-RBI performance from Andruw Jones, were unable to capitalize on a prime early scoring opportunity, and saw yet another opponent erase another of the leads they've established on their 10-game road trip.
"We couldn't hold the lead," said Jones, who upped his National League-leading RBI total to 124. "We made a couple of mistakes and they took advantage. It's a tough loss. But we have two more games against them. We have to go out there and play better."
During the first five games of this trip, the Braves have won just twice and squandered three leads that they've had in the fifth inning or later. The latest such occurrence came when Mike Lieberthal delivered a two-out single in the sixth off Blaine Boyer that scored Ryan Howard and proved to be the difference for the Phillies, who have claimed the first two games of the series.
"It's almost like they're clicking on all cylinders," said Braves starter John Thomson, who allowed four earned runs and eight hits in five innings.
With their recent struggles, the Braves, who were fortunate enough to overcome the five-run eighth inning that the Nationals used to gain a brief lead on Sunday, have seen their seven-game division lead reduced by two in a matter of two days. The benefactors have been the Phillies, who now own sole possession of second place in the NL Wild Card chase. They trail the front-running Marlins by a game and are a half-game ahead of the Astros.
Boyer, who has allowed runs in consecutive outings since going 15 conseutive appearances without allowing one, found himself victimized by the same two-out magic the Phillies had produced during their two-run fifth against Thomson. The 24-year-old rookie reliever allowed Howard a one-out double that put the rookie first baseman in position to score when Lieberthal delivered his game-winner to right field.
It looked like the Braves might have a chance to retire Howard. But Jeff Francoeur's throw was up the line toward third base. When catcher Brian McCann threw to second and got Lieberthal in an eventual inning-ending rundown, Francoeur was credited with his NL-leading 12th outfield assist.
"We should have never been in that situation," Boyer said. "I should have made my pitches."
While Boyer and Thomson allowed the Phillies to get back into the game, the Braves could have established a much bigger early lead against Gavin Floyd, who had surrendered 13 runs in his previous four innings against them this year. But with runners on the corners and nobody out in the third, the young right-hander recorded consecutive strikeouts of Jones and Julio Franco. Floyd then ended the inning by getting Ryan Langerhans to fly out to left field.
"He pitched pretty tough," Jones said. "When he struck me out with men on second and third, all of the pitches he threw me was tough pitches. I just couldn't lay off them. I think I just went out there trying to do too much."
All of the Braves' runs against Floyd came in their four-run fifth that was highlighted by Jones' two-out, three-run double into the left-field corner. It gave him his 14th game with at least three RBIs and the Braves a brief 4-2 lead.
"You've got to give Philly credit," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "They hit the ball. They don't strike out. We're not striking anybody out at all and they're striking us out right now."
During the first two games of the series, Phillies pitchers have registered 19 strikeouts and Braves pitchers just 10. Thomson could have used one in the fifth, which was extended when Langerhans lost Jimmy Rollins' two-out sinking liner in the lights. It caused him to dive early and resulted in a rally-sparking double.
Given life, the Phillies erased their deficit with the help of a Kenny Lofton RBI single and Chase Utley RBI double. Utley's game-tying double came on a slider that Thomson admittedly overthrew in the same manner he did the cut fastball that Howard drilled into the right-field seats for a second-inning solo homer.
"They're getting their hits in key situations," said Thomson, who had retired 10 of 12 before Rollins' double. "As far as me, I know I have to make better pitches. If I do, maybe I get a ground ball or a popup in that situation."
Franco's two-out double in the eighth gave the Braves some hope that was dashed when Langerhans' long drive was caught at the left-field wall by Pat Burrell. Brian Jordan provided more hope with his ninth-inning single off Billy Wagner. But Philadelphia's dominant closer rebounded and closed the game by striking out pinch-hitter Chipper Jones and getting Rafael Furcal to ground out.
The odds were stacked against Chipper, and it wasn't just because he was appearing for the first time since leaving Monday's game with a strained left quad. Career-wise, he's 1-for-15 with 11 strikeouts against Wagner and just 3-for-30 as a pinch-hitter.
"When you lose two games in a row and you have some opportunities to score some runs and you don't take advantage of them, it can be frustrating," Andruw Jones said. "But we have two more games against these guys. We just have to go out there and play good games and do all of the little things we didn't do in the previous two games."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.