Mahay's effort helps Braves top Phils
Reliever gets out of tight spot; Atlanta back in second place
PHILADELPHIA -- Since acquiring Mark Teixeira, the Braves have found a greater number of people who think they can reclaim division supremacy. But what is often forgotten about the transaction is the fact that it also provided them the addition of a savvy reliever, who has the capability to baffle the most dangerous of the National League East's left-handed sluggers.
After the Braves claimed their 7-5 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night, manager Bobby Cox took satisfaction in the fact that his offense provided another good showing and that closer Bob Wickman appeared healthy. But most of his excitement was aimed toward Ron Mahay, whose fifth-inning escape act proved to be the night's best highlight.
"He saved the ballgame," Cox said of Mahay, who has allowed just one run in the 7 1/3 innings he's pitched since being acquired along with Teixeira from the Rangers.
Mahay's ability to escape the fifth-inning, nobody-out, runners-at-the-corners situation unscathed played a large role in a victory that moved the Braves back ahead of the Phillies into second place in the NL East race. They've now cut their deficit behind frontrunning Mets to just 2 1/2 games -- the closest they've been since July 21.
"We're gaining games on the road, which is huge," said All-Star catcher Brian McCann, who has seen the Braves win three of the first five games of this important six-game road trip against the Mets and Phillies.
After homers by Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson helped the Braves gain a 6-1 fourth-inning lead against Phillies starter Adam Eaton, it looked like Lance Cormier might earn the win in his first big league start since June 8. But by the time Cormier allowed each of the first five hitters he faced in the fifth inning to reach safely, the lead had been cut to two. This set the stage for Mahay, the 35-year-old southpaw who wasn't fazed with the situation or the fact that his first challenge came in the form of reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard.
"I was fortunate enough to leave out of there unharmed," said Mahay, who needed eight pitches to register consecutive strikeouts of Howard and Aaron Rowand.
Three pitches later, Greg Dobbs hit a weak grounder to end the remarkable escape act and put Mahay in deserving position to be credited with his first win as a Brave.
"He was in a zone," McCann said. "He put the ball exactly where he wanted to tonight."
When the Braves acquired Mahay, they knew he'd have the courage and stuff to challenge the powerful left-handed duos possessed by the Mets (Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado) and Phillies (Chase Utley and Howard). This was the first time he ever faced Howard.
"He's been terrific," Cox said of Mahay, who has been happy to do much more than simply provide long relief -- his primary role in Texas.
It was a good night all around for the Braves' bullpen, whose only blemish came when Rafael Soriano surrendered an eighth-inning solo homer to Rowand. Oscar Villarreal contributed two perfect innings and Wickman, who was bothered by right forearm stiffness earlier this week, completed a scoreless ninth.
"He looked normal to me, so that's a good sign," Cox said of Wickman, who has allowed just one earned run in his past 10 1/3 innings.
Although Cormier surrendered four earned runs and seven hits in four innings, Cox said the right-hander will remain in the rotation. Through the first four innings, the only damage he incurred came courtesy of Jimmy Rollins' third-inning solo homer. But his good fortune ended in the fifth, during which he exited after Pat Burrell followed a Tadahito Iguchi two-run double with an RBI single.
This is what set the stage for Mahay's escape act.
"Obviously, when you leave a guy on third base and nobody out, you almost concede that run to yourself anyway," said Cormier, who is 3-10 with a 7.33 ERA in 17 career Major League starts. "He did a great job."
While Mahay has certainly proven his worth, Teixeira has also proven to be the superstar addition the Braves envisioned. When he followed Chipper Jones' third-inning triple with one of his own, the switch-hitting first baseman collected his 12th RBI in 10 games with the Braves.
Eaton, who allowed six earned runs and eight hits in three innings, retired the first two batters he faced in the third before seeing Kelly Johnson follow a Willie Harris double with a two-run homer. The Phillies right-hander exited during Atlanta's two-run fourth inning, which began with Francoeur's 14th homer of the season and marked the beginning of Andruw Jones' two-hit game. Jones, who had just two hits in his previous 20 at-bats entering the game, capped his night with an eighth-inning RBI double.
"That was a big run," Cox said. "I thought Andruw swung the bat a lot better tonight. He looked a lot better."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.