PHILADELPHIA -- If the Braves had entered this season knowing that Matt Diaz and Jair Jurrjens were going to be sidelined for at least six weeks before the end of June, they wouldn't have had any reason to think they would be nearing the All-Star break sitting atop the National League East.
But now that Jurrjens and Diaz have returned to action and have already provided indication that they're ready to resume their roles as two of the club's key members, the Braves can't help but be very optimistic about what the second half of the season might bring.
"It should make us that much stronger," manager Bobby Cox said after watching Diaz and Jurrjens key the 6-3, 11-inning win over the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
After Jurrjens showed no signs of rust while limiting the Phillies to two hits over six innings, he saw Diaz cap a three-hit performance with an 11th-inning RBI double that proved decisive for the Braves, who maintained a two-game advantage over the second-place Mets, who also won on Tuesday, and regained a five-game advantage over the Phillies.
"All you heard last night, whether you were watching television, listening to the radio or whatever, was the fact that [Roy Halladay] shut us down [on Monday] and this was possibly going to be the series that turned momentum around," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We came out tonight, and they're as many games back as they were before yesterday."
While outhitting the Phillies, 13-3, the Braves certainly didn't think they were going to need extra frames to snap a four-game road losing streak. But after Jesse Chavez worked a scoreless 10th inning, Atlanta finally recorded a few hits that buried the defending NL champs.
After Yunel Escobar singled up the middle to begin the 11th, Diaz executed his hit-and-run responsibilities by driving an 0-1 fastball from right-handed reliever David Herndon to the gap in right-center. Escobar scored easily, and three batters later, Eric Hinske drilled a two-run homer that provided some insurance for Billy Wagner, who notched his 18th save of the season.
"It's exciting to know that I contributed a little bit, and the hope is that I'll contribute more down the stretch," Diaz said. "This is a great team, a great group of guys. You're almost jealous when you're on the [disabled list] watching everybody pitch in. I really want to be a part of that, and tonight I was able to be a part of it."
Inserted into the lineup for just the second time since missing six weeks because of an infection in his right thumb that bothered him in April and the first two weeks of May, Diaz victimized Phillies starter Cole Hamels with a two-out double in the fourth inning that put him in position to score when David Ross followed with a game-tying RBI single to center.
"I told Rossy before the game that we were going to combine for four hits and he was going to have three," Diaz said. "He told me I was selfish after the game because I took the three hits."
Those three hits matched the total produced by a Phillies club that was once again handcuffed by Jurrjens, who was making just his second start since straining his left hamstring on April 29. The 24-year-old right-hander surrendered just two hits, but he also paid the price for the two leadoff walks that blemished an otherwise stellar performance.
Jurrjens opened his outing by walking Jimmy Rollins, then surrendered a two-run homer to Raul Ibanez with just one out. He would retire 17 of the next 18 batters he faced before seeing Ibanez end an eight-pitch plate appearance by drawing a leadoff walk to begin the seventh inning.
When Ryan Howard followed with a game-tying triple that Diaz momentarily lost after leaping against the wall in left-center, Jurrjens' night was over. But his performance was preserved by Peter Moylan, who struck out Jayson Werth before handing the ball to left-hander Jonny Venters, who stranded Howard at third while retiring the only two batters he faced.
"You've got to score there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "When you've got a man on third with nobody out, you've got to score, period. Doesn't matter [if it's] first inning, second inning, third inning, doesn't matter. Ninth inning, 15th inning, 20th inning, doesn't matter. You've got to score."
Jurrjens, who posted the NL's third-best ERA (2.60) last year, entered the seventh inning having thrown just 75 pitches. As he did in his return outing against the Nationals last week, he showed flashes of brilliance before ending his outing with the reminder that he is still attempting to regain his endurance.
"He threw the ball extremely well again," Cox said. "I couldn't be more pleased the way his two outings have been. That's the old JJ, just about. He's just about there. For me, he is. But for himself, I bet he thinks he can do better."
Jurrjens' second leadoff walk of the game helped erase the one-run advantage he'd be given when Martin Prado took Hamels deep with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. But it didn't erase the fact that he took another step toward regaining the successful form that he displayed during both of the previous two seasons.
"It's still like Spring Training for me," Jurrjens said. "I'm just trying to go out there and throw strikes and keep the team in the game."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.