Philadelphia – My, how times have changed. The Braves’ big decisions of late center around if they should wear their socks up again to ward off bad karma on Mondays.
The Phillies have been facing whoppers like whether or not to trade veteran left-hander Cliff Lee, and just how far to take their recent roster transformation.
That’s about how their meeting played out Monday night, with the Braves cruising past the Phillies 6-1 wearing high socks, while the Phillies fretted the end of their three-year home sellout streak.
After going winless in their first 12 Mondays this season and 16 straight dating back to last August, the Braves won for the second straight Monday on the strength of another strong outing from Ben Sheets.
He gave up one run in 7 1/3 innings to move to 4-1 with a 1.41 ERA in his comeback after two elbow operations and two years out of the game.
The new-look Phillies, meanwhile, failed to sell out Citizens Bank Park for the first time since July 7, 2009, ending a streak of 257 sold-out regular-season starts. It was the longest home sell-out streak in National League history. Only the Red Sox (current streak of 772 sellouts) and Indians, who sold out 455 from 1995-2001, have had longer streaks.
A team now minus players like Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence played in front of 41,665 fans on Monday night, well under their 45,082 average.
The Braves opened this three-game series by beating the Phillies for the seventh straight time, their longest winning streak against the Phillies since taking nine in a row from Aug. 15, 1996 to July 14, 1997.
“Still a very tough lineup over there,” Sheets said. “I feel like there’s no let-up. Some of them might not be swinging it like they have in the past, but same guys you know, very dangerous, very good hitters. Glad to get by and get us a victory.”
Sheets, who got in on the socks-up phenomenon, gave up his first home run in 27 2/3 innings, but a solo shot by John Mayberry Jr. was all the Phillies would get against him.
Sheets gave up seven hits in 7 1/3 innings for his longest outing of the year, while the Phillies were already onto their fifth pitcher. He needed only 92 pitches to get there, pitching to contact all night.
The former four-time All-Star with the Brewers was an overpowering strikeout pitcher in his past. Even as a reclamation project of sorts, he was leading Braves’ starters with 8.39 strikeouts per nine innings, but he didn’t record a one on Monday night.
“Getting them out, man, is just as much fun,” Sheets said.
Catcher Brian McCann said Sheets mixed his two-seam fastball with his four-seamer effectively and was keeping all his pitches down.
“He can attack you in many different ways,” McCann said. “It’s not just fastball/curveball. He can sink you down and away. He can throw a slider in there. He can mix in a change-up. When you have two devastating pitches, you have to respect them both (fastball/curveball). And then he can get easy outs on first-pitch change-up when somebody is looking heater.”
Jason Heyward snow-coned a ball in right center field to take extra-bases from Brian Schneider to strand two runners for Sheets in the second inning. He also supplied two key add-on runs for him too – scoring from first base on a McCann single in the seventh, then hitting his 18th home run of the season in the ninth.
“It was unbelievable,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Heyward’s baserunning play. “He played until the whistle blew.”
The Braves chased Phillies starter Vance Worley after only 3 2/3 innings and 74 pitches. Freddie Freeman had the big hit against him, stroking a two-out two-run double just fair over the first base bag in a three-run third inning.
Michael Bourn scored easily on Freeman’s double and Martin Prado not so easily, but he got his left hand in just ahead of the tag from the catcher Schneider.