Braves back Hanson, move into first place
Atlanta feeling good after knocking Philadelphia off its perch
ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones had the opportunity to dust the rust off his home run trot and help the Braves rise back to their once-familiar spot atop the National League East standings. If the Phillies weren't facing the daily reminder that they are in the midst of a nightmare, they might have gained the sense that they had been sent back in time.
Proving that he still has something left in his 38-year-old tank, Jones victimized Joe Blanton with a two-run, first-inning homer that set the tone for the 9-3 win the Braves claimed over the slumping Phillies on Monday afternoon at Turner Field. The victory enabled the veteran third baseman to once again know what it's like to be part of a first-place team.
"Rounding first, I was like, 'You did exactly what you needed to do in that first at-bat in the first inning of a game where you're vying for first place,'" Jones said. "You put a good at-bat up there, the guy made a mistake and you put it out of the park and helped give your team a 2-0 lead and helped get them jump-started. There really isn't a prouder moment you can have than going out and leading by example."
Jones' first homer since April 16 provided an early lead for Tommy Hanson, who prolonged Philadelphia's recent offensive woes and helped Atlanta move into first place this late in the season for the first time since it captured the last of its 14 consecutive division titles in 2005. The most recent post-April date that they had been in first place was May 15, 2007.
"You only remember who is in first place at the end of September," first baseman Troy Glaus said after helping the Braves move a half-game in front of the Phillies. "Nobody looks back and says, 'Well, we were first place in June.' That's not why we're here. It's nice to be in first place certainly. It means we're playing well. That needs to continue."
Glaus' three-run seventh-inning homer gave him 28 RBIs in May and virtually shut the door on the struggling Phillies' offense that had tallied its three runs in the top half or the same inning, on three consecutive RBI doubles against Peter Moylan, who entered after Raul Ibanez ended Hanson's day with a two-out, seventh-inning double.
This marked just the fifth time this season that the Phils exited a game without at least a share of first place. The two-time defending NL champs have scored a total of 10 runs while losing seven of the past nine games. Before they erupted for those four consecutive seventh-inning doubles, it looked like they could endure what would have been their fifth shutout loss during this span.
"They've got too good of players to be going through the funk that they're going through," Jones said. "You know at some point, they're going to break out of it. You just hope it's not against you."
Jones' tone-setting homer off Blanton marked the first time he went deep from the left side of the plate since Sept. 28 (a span of 119 at-bats). The blast highlighted a three-run first that gave Hanson some comfort as he battled through early control problems for the third consecutive start. The 23-year-old right-hander threw just half of his first 38 pitches for strikes and escaped the first two innings unscathed with the benefit of a couple of double-play groundouts.
Once again showing his ability to make quick adjustments, Hanson righted himself in the third and had retired 14 consecutive batters before his 109th and final pitch was delivered into left-center field to account for Ibanez's double. He scatted three hits over 6 2/3 innings and overcame the consecutive walks he issued to open the second.
"The first couple innings of the last couple of starts, he's come out and just hasn't had it," Jones said. "To be honest with you, I haven't seen him have it since Milwaukee. But there in the third inning, I think he started to make an adjustment and get ahead of the hitters and be at the bottom of the strike zone. You can't hit Tommy when he's at the bottom of the strike zone."
While Hanson was able to overcome his early struggles, Blanton found himself burdened by an anemic offense and a couple of defensive woes that enabled the Braves to carry a 6-0 lead into the fourth. Right fielder Ross Gload dropped Glaus' long drive along the warning track to set the stage for Eric Hinske to cap the three-run first with an RBI single.
Ryan Howard's inability to cleanly field Hinske's grounder and turn what could have been an inning-ending double play allowed Yunel Escobar to cap a three-run third with a two-run single. With nine hits in his past 23 at-bats, Escobar has improved his batting average from .175 to .212 and proven to be the valuable run producer that he was targeted to be entering the season.
"When we played [the Braves] at home, I know they weren't playing as well," Blanton said. "But you look at the names in the lineup and what they've done in the past and you know what they're capable of."
With 16 wins in their past 20 games, the Braves enter June with momentum and the understanding that they only care about being in first place when the season concludes Oct. 3.
"It's better than being on the bottom, that's for sure," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We have  games to go, something like that. A lot of baseball left, but we made a great recovery and we'll take what we've got right now, 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.