Braves done in by homers, Phils' defense
Atlanta falls six back after Soriano allows dinger in ninth
ATLANTA -- Ryan Howard hadn't homered against the Braves all season and his success rate against Rafael Soriano was nonexistent. But with one mighty swing of his bat, the Phillies first baseman deflated the growing sense of optimism that had developed in Atlanta over the course of the past week.
While he didn't have to experience the immediate frustration created by the walk-off shots he'd surrendered during the previous two weeks, Soriano certainly once again found himself dejected at Turner Field on Friday night.
Howard's ninth-inning leadoff homer off Soriano provided the Phillies a chance to celebrate a 3-2 win and further distance themselves from a Braves bunch that had seemingly positioned itself nicely after Mike Gonzalez prolonged his recent success by working out of an eighth-inning jam.
"We did everything but win the game," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who saw his team drop six games behind the Phillies in the National League East race with just its second loss in its past nine games.
After Gonzalez escaped the eighth after allowing Ben Francisco to advance to third base with just one out, he saw his effort go for naught courtesy of the left-handed slugging power supplied by Howard, who had gone homerless in 39 at-bats against the Braves this year before drilling Soriano's 2-1 slider over the center-field wall.
While striking out the next three batters -- including one left-handed hitter -- Soriano showed the dominant form Cox had envisioned when he stuck by the book and inserted his closer into the ninth inning of a tie game at home. "It was just the little breaking ball that he hit out and then he struck out the side," Cox said. "I don't think Howard had ever had a hit off of him."
While Howard had been hitless in three previous career at-bats against Soriano, he has also had managed just one hit -- albeit a homer -- in 12 career at-bats against Gonzalez, who recently has looked like the Braves' best option to utilize as their closer.
"Everybody has a bad month," said Soriano, who has now allowed three game-winning homers (including two walk-offs) -- all against left-handed hitters -- in a span of his past eight appearances.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez hasn't allowed an earned run over his past 12 appearances and Francisco's opposite-field, eighth-inning leadoff double accounted for just one of the three hits the veteran left-handed reliever has surrendered in his past seven innings.
|"We played in the wrong park tonight. If we're in Philadelphia, we've probably got five homers, at least four. The long fly balls just weren't traveling. I knew Utley's was out and I knew Howard's was out."|
|-- Bobby Cox|
Gonzalez escaped that eighth-inning threat by getting Shane Victorino and Chase Utley to produce consecutive pop flies. But while Victorino wasn't able to deliver the clutch hit in that situation, he proved to be a difference maker when he robbed Brian McCann of a potential go-ahead RBI double with two outs in the fifth.
Just two days after mastering the art of catching a fly ball with a beer tumbling into his view at Wrigley Field, Victorino found only the center-field wall as his hindrance as he crashed into while hauling in McCann's long drive. Then to further frustrate the Braves, he raced into right-center field to deny Garret Anderson of what had the makings to be a sixth-inning leadoff double off Joe Blanton.
"He's a good center fielder," McCann said. "He covers a lot of ground and you've got to hit it over his head."
The Braves, who had won seven of their previous nine games against the Phillies this year, gained some hope when Adam LaRoche delivered a one-out single off Brad Lidge and then was replaced by Matt Diaz, who promptly stole second base.
But Lidge, who has allowed four earned runs in his the two previous innings he'd completed this week, pitched around a walk to Greg Norton and then breathed a sigh of relief when left fielder Raul Ibanez ended the game by catching Nate McLouth's long opposite-field drive along the warning track.
"We played in the wrong park tonight," Cox said. "If we're in Philadelphia, we've probably got five homers, at least four. The long fly balls just weren't traveling. I knew Utley's was out and I knew Howard's was out."
Utley's two-run, fourth-inning homer accounted for the only damage Jair Jurrjens incurred during a seven-inning effort that was matched by Blanton, who limited the Braves to two runs (one earned) in seven innings.
Jurrjens, who has allowed just those two earned runs in 19 2/3 innings against the Phillies this year, ended his 103-pitch effort by retiring the final seven batters that he faced.
"Any time a guy is pitching good and he comes out of the game like that, it can be to your advantage," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It depends who they're bringing in."
Blanton's night started inauspiciously with McLouth drilling his third pitch into right field for a leadoff double. Chipper Jones followed two batters later with an RBI single. But while seeing a number of long drives fall short, the only other run Atlanta managed came courtesy of Ryan Church's fourth-inning, two-out RBI double.
"Blanton pitched a great game, as did JJ," McCann said. "You knew it was probably going to come down to who hit the long ball."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.