Jones-less Braves swept at home
Atlanta drops third straight after ninth-inning woes
ATLANTA -- Since the beginning of Spring Training, the Braves have talked about how they have the talent to regain their former supremacy in the National League East. But after being victimized by the defending division champs over the course of the past three days, it might be a while before such confident comments come out of the Atlanta clubhouse.
What had the makings to be a memorable weekend, with a chance to put an end to yet another successful homestand, became a rough three-day stretch that leads the Braves to wonder about their bullpen depth and inability to hit in clutch situations on a consistent basis.
"I'm disappointed, because we're a much better team than the way we've been playing," Braves left-handed reliever Will Ohman said after the Phillies completed a three-game series sweep with a 6-3 win at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon.
With this loss, the Braves encountered their first losing (3-4) homestand of the season, and lost the sense of invincibility that they seemingly previously held at home. Heading into Friday, they had won 25 of 33 games at Turner Field.
"This was like the playoffs," said Blaine Boyer, who allowed three ninth-inning runs on Sunday and suffered his second loss during this three-game series. "We didn't need to just take one. We needed to take them all."
As Ohman stared into his locker, he displayed the bewildered emotion felt by many of the Braves, who had previously lost consecutive home games just once before the Phillies came in and found a way to score the decisive run during the eighth inning or later in three consecutive victories.
"The entire series, we couldn't get the one hit so that we could get some runs, so that we could have a lead going into the ninth inning," said Braves manager Bobby Cox after seeing his team go 4-for-24 with runners in scoring position during the weekend. "We pitched very well until the ninth inning."
If there was a defining moment to this three-game series, it occurred during Friday's ninth inning, when Kelly Johnson dropped what would have been the game-ending pop fly. His embarrassing error allowed the Phillies to take advantage of the consecutive two-out walks issued by Boyer.
With Sunday's game tied 3-3, Boyer didn't issue any unintentional walks. But he did allow three consecutive one-out singles and hits to four of the six batters he faced in a 16-pitch appearance.
"I don't think I made one pitch today," said Boyer, who said he wasn't fatigued despite pitching for the fifth time in nine days. "Again, it's on my shoulders and I take full responsibility for that. I just made some bad pitches out there. ... I was in the zone, but I was straight down the middle [of the plate]."
Shane Victorino's RBI single to center off Boyer proved to be the game-winner, and Ryan Howard's two-run double simply put the icing on the cake for the defending division champion Phillies, who now own a 6 1/2-game advantage over the Braves in the NL East.
"They got guys who go up there with a game plan," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who missed Sunday with a strained right quadriceps muscle. "They got guys who work at being a tough out. Over the course of nine innings, they wear you out. That's what division champions do."
Without Jones and his Major League-best .420 batting average, the Braves were at a definite disadvantage in this series finale. But after Jorge Campillo surrendered three hits, including the first of Howard's three run-producing doubles, before recording his second out of the afternoon, they responded quickly.
Mark Teixeira tied the game in the bottom of the first inning with his 435-foot two-run homer. Then, after Howard placed his third-inning RBI double along the left-field line, Josh Anderson produced a game-tying RBI single in the fourth.
Anderson's ability to direct that single to center provided a rarity for the Braves, who stranded 32 runners during the three-game set. Jeff Francoeur singled in his third straight at-bat to begin the second inning. But with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning, he drilled a sharp grounder to Jimmy Rollins, who promptly turned the inning-ending double play.
"Their hitters put big at-bats up in crucial situations," Jones said. "They got big base hits. When they needed to put a ball in the outfield, they did it. We just couldn't do it. When we needed a hit or a big at-bat, we struck out or hit into a double play."
While his teammates were busy squandering scoring opportunities, Jones was limited to taking swings in the indoor batting cage. It's still unknown when he'll be able to begin running. But with Tuesday marking the start of a 10-game road trip that begins with a six-game stretch against the Cubs and Angels, the Braves are hoping he returns very soon.
This coming road trip, which concludes with three games against Josh Hamilton and the offensively potent Rangers, would be a challenge for any team. But given the Braves have won just seven of their previous 28 games outside of Atlanta, this could be a two-week stretch that defines the remainder of their season.
"I don't know about everybody else, but I'm worried," Jones said. "I don't want to come back from this road trip and be out of the race. We're playing the Cubs in first place, the Angels in first place and the Rangers, who are pretty darn good. They're the best offensive team in the American League. It's not going to be easy. Some people in here better start picking it up."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.