Braves rally, sink Phils in extras again
After McCann's tying blast in ninth, Thorman homers in 11th
PHILADELPHIA -- Two games into the season, it's already become apparent that the resilient Braves are more than willing to utilize their power to take advantage of what appears to be a very suspect Phillies bullpen.
Just like on Opening Day, this one required extra innings. Fortunately for the Braves, Scott Thorman was able to provide his best Edgar Renteria impersonation by providing the power that would equate to another victory and at the same time create further doubts regarding the Phillies bullpen.
Thorman's 11th-inning solo homer off Ryan Madson delivered the Braves to a 3-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night and salvaged a performance that provided indication that Tim Hudson will be much different than he was last year.
"I knew I had hit it good. I was just trying to run hard and make sure I touched all the bases," said Thorman of the first game-winning homer of his young career. "I'm not a real flashy guy. I don't try to do too much. I got a pitch I could handle, put a good swing on it and that was it."
Thorman's swing was a little more violent than the ones Renteria displayed while providing his 10th-inning game winner on Monday off Madson. But the result was the same, and with two extra-inning victories to begin the season, the Braves are feeling pretty good about themselves and their much-improved bullpen.
"It's huge for us," Chipper Jones said. "We need to get that attitude back that we're going to win these games. I think we kind of got out of that mode last year, because we couldn't get a lot of outs late in games. Now that we're hopefully going to get outs late in games, our offense should capitalize on that, hopefully."
While Thorman's shot proved decisive, there were many other key contributors to this victory. Hudson limited the Phillies to two hits and one run over seven innings and Brian McCann contributed once again with both his offense and defense. This time, the most important contributions came in a span of about five minutes.
With Mike Gonzalez struggling with his control during an eighth inning in which he issued two walks and two doubles, McCann came up huge. After he delivered an RBI double to put the Phillies up, 2-0, the speedy Shane Victorino found himself gunned down while attempting to steal third base.
Two batters later, Chase Utley drilled a double to right that was fielded by Jeff Francoeur, who threw a strike to second baseman Kelly Johnson, who turned and provided a strong throw to McCann, who showed great concentration while simultaneously making the catch and tagging Ryan Howard, who was attempting to score from second base.
"That [play] saved our bacon," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has seen his revamped bullpen allow just one run in its first eight innings this season.
As for the Phillies' bullpen, it's already squandered two leads in the eighth inning. The latest blown save opportunity came in Wednesday's ninth. After allowing a leadoff double to Francoeur, Phillies closer Tom Gordon saw McCann deposit his next pitch into the right-field seats for a game-tying, two-run homer
Before Francoeur's double, the Braves had had just two baserunners reach second base on the night. Phillies starter Cole Hamels used his changeup to scatter four hits and register eight strikeouts over seven scoreless innings.
"The way Brian is swinging right now, I knew that I had to get on base somehow," Francoeur said. "I just told myself to relax and give it a nice swing. Luckily, he hung me a little 1-1 slider and of course, with Brian coming up, we knew that we had a shot."
McCann's second two-run homer of the season erased the two-run lead the Phillies claimed courtesy of Carlos Ruiz's fifth-inning solo homer and Victorino's eighth-inning double. In addition, it gave the Braves another chance to prove why their revamped bullpen will consistently prevent the late-inning letdown that last year's relief corps too often brought.
"Last year, we're probably on the losing end of these two games," said Hudson, who was effectively wild while throwing 53 of his 92 pitches for strikes. "You've got to be realistic. We didn't have the guys to come in and shut the door like we do this year."
Bob Wickman shut the door on this one with a scoreless 11th inning that gave him his first save of the season. But it was Macay McBride who may have gotten the most crucial out. After entering with runners on second and third and two outs in the 10th, the young left-hander needed just one pitch to get Howard, the reigning National League MVP, to hit a harmless grounder to second base.
Two batters later, with one out in the 11th, Thorman drilled Madson's misplaced changeup over the short porch in right-center field. Suddenly the Braves could taste victory and Hudson could savor a start that he hopes proves he truly is destined to rebound from the forgettable season he experienced last year.
"It's great to win these kinds of games," Hudson said. "It does a lot for your confidence."
About the only question concerning the Braves two games into the season is, how can you top the excitement these first two have brought?
"I don't think you can as far as pure baseball goes," Cox said. "They've been well pitched and well played. They're a lot more fun when you're on the winning side, that's for sure."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.