It took the Phillies 16 innings, but they lost, too. They started 90 minutes before the Braves and ended 75 minutes later, but they succumbed to the sub-.500 Astros on a night the Braves were falling to plus-.500 Colorado. And if you’ve ever struggled to define “lockstep” … well, here’s your answer.
It has been more than a week since ground was gained or lost at the top of the National League East. It last happened on Aug. 16, when the Braves beat the Dodgers on Melky Cabrera’s walk-off hit and the Phillies didn’t play. That stretched the Braves’ lead to 2 1/2 games, where it has remained.
The Braves and Phillies have played, though not each other, each of the past eight days. They’ve matched results eight days running. The day-by-day tally: Won, won, lost, won, lost, won, lost, lost. The Braves played three games against the last-place Nationals when the Phillies were playing the Giants and didn’t gain. Then the Phillies played the Nationals while the Braves went to Chicago and nothing changed. And Tuesday was plain weird.
The Braves lost in accustomed fashion — Derek Lowe got knocked around — in Denver, while the Phillies tied the Astros with two out in the bottom of the ninth on Jimmy Rollins’ homer. Somehow Philadelphia contrived to play seven more innings without mustering another run. Indeed, they managed only three more singles, one an infield hit.
Ryan Howard got ejected in the bottom of the 14th after a check-swing strikeout — his fifth whiff of the long night — with the winning run at third. The game ended with the tying runs aboard and the Phillies looking to that famous slugger Roy Oswalt for deliverance. The Phillies had been forced to deploy a pitcher in left field after Howard was thumbed. (It was the first time the Phillies had used a pitcher afield since 1971.) To his credit, Oswalt put the ball in play. He grounded out to third.
The point being: Don’t think it’s only the Braves who leave runners aboard and wind up in strange situations. (We recall Matt Diaz getting doubled off and Martin Prado failing to bunt last week.) The Phillies do it, too. They’re good, but they’re not perfect. They’ve been given an opening each of the past two nights against a lousy opponent, and they’ve lost twice while scoring four runs in 23 innings. This with Howard, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino all having returned from injury.
Eight days have passed since there was movement in this race, and nothing says the next eight days will be any different. Indeed, there’s no guarantee the Braves and Phillies will offer anything but matching outcomes for nearly another month. Only on Sept. 20 does something have to change. That’s when the Braves and Phillies next face each other.