A strange race got downright bizarre this week. The Braves lost three times in Colorado and wasted a nine-run lead in the finale. The Phillies, with all their big names back from the disabled list, got swept at home by sub-.500 Houston, and the presumably bolstered Phils managed a total of seven runs in the four games.
As of Friday morning, the Braves were in the odd position of having not won since Sunday … and still padding their division lead by a half-game. Things changed Friday night.
The Braves trailed the Marlins 2-0 after two batters and lost 7-1. Tommy Hanson yielded four solo homers on the night before his 24th birthday. The Phillies managed their new allotment of two-runs-in-regulation and were one strike from victory in San Diego, whereupon Brad Lidge balked home the tying run. (”A bizarre thing,” Lidge told reporters afterward, fully in the schizo swing of this chase.)
To their credit, the Phillies won in 12 innings, Jimmy Rollins sliding around Yorvit Torrealba to score the finally decisive run. And thus did the Braves, for the first time in two weeks, watch their lead shrink.
It stood at two games when they reported for work Saturday. The Phillies were again playing in San Diego, their game starting at 4 p.m. EDT. The Braves would face the Fish three hours later. This seemed a propitious moment to ask the staple question of every pennant race: Do you guys watch the scoreboard?
Jason Heyward said he doesn’t, and indeed, the ambiance in the Braves’ clubhouse suggested that the local nine wasn’t overly concerned with the Phillies. Of the four big-screen TVs mounted in the center of the team’s dressing quarters, three were tuned to an ESPN show involved the New Orleans Saints. The fourth carried a Babe Ruth game — meaning the league for teenagers, not the Bambino himself — being aired on MLB.TV.
“You know what’s going on,” said Brian McCann, speaking of the Phillies. “At the same time, you’ve still got to take care of your business.”
Asked how it felt to lose three straight and gain a half-game, McCann smiled. “It’s been weird for a while. We’d win and they’d win. We’d lose and they’d lose.”
But Saturday was another day at the races, and it had begun in peculiar fashion. The Phillies didn’t manage a hit against the Padres’ Jon Garland over four innings. Then they mustered a hit batsman, a ground out and an actual single to take a 1-0 lead in the fifth.
This correspondent, speaking as he was to McCann about doings involving the Phils, felt duty-bound to pass along this update. “They’re up 1-0 today,” I said.
McCann brightened. “It’s 1-1 now. Garland got a hit.”
Which tells us that, somewhere beyond the areas of a clubhouse where we media types can go, there was a TV tuned to the Fox broadcast of the Phillies-Padres game. Which tells us also that some Braves were lingering around it.
By the time the Braves got started, the Phillies were done. They won 3-1, reducing their deficit by another half-game. And with Josh Johnson set to face Derek Lowe here Sunday, Saturday night’s game seemed of some significance. Luckily enough, the Braves dispatched Tim Hudson. Being Tim Hudson, he hooked the Marlins.
Thirteen strikeouts in seven innings for Hudson, of whom Bobby Cox said: “He’s the guy who reminded us of [Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux and Smoltzie [John Smoltz].”
The Braves won laughing. Martin Prado drove in five runs. McCann cleared the bases with a double. Matt Diaz hit an actual home run off an actual righthander. After a week in which not much worked, everything worked. Baseball is a funny game.
“This was a big win for us,” Hudson said. “We’d hit a little skid there.”
And then, answering the question of the night, Hudson offered this: “We knew Philly had won today.”