Saturday, September 19, 2009

Phillies Use Long Ball to Take Opener in Atlanta


Ryan Howard continued his assault on Braves pitching with a pair of home runs, and then Jimmy Rollins and Ben Francisco sealed the victory with back-to-back homers in the 9th inning. Kyle Kendrick also stepped up big-time, coming into relieve starter J.A. Happ and toss four scoreless innings to earn the victory. The 9-4 win reduced their magic number to 8 and assured that the Braves can gain no more than 1 game in the 3-game series.

Having been staked a 1-0 lead by Phillies killer Martin Prado's solo home run, Braves starter Tim Hudson retired the first 10 hitters before Francisco singled to left in the 4th. After Chase Utley smoked a line drive to right that was caught, Howard blasted a ball deep into the right-center field stands to give the Phils a 2-1 lead.

Happ was taken out after 3 innings for pre-cautionary measures because he grimaced covering first base. Kendrick used an effective sinker to keep the Braves off balance and off the board in his four innings of work. In the sixth, Howard launched another home run to extend the lead to 3-1.

Jayson Werth singled (one of three hits in the game) with the bases loaded in the 8th inning to push the Phillies lead to 5-1. Brian McCann hit a 2-run shot off reliever Tyler Walker in the bottom half of the inning to pull the Braves within striking distance.

The Phillies did not back off, though. After a pair of walks, Rollins launched his 19th home run of the season into the right field bleachers and Francisco followed by jacking a ball into the left field stands.

Charlie Manuel tapped Chad Durbin to throw the 9th. After giving up a couple hits and a run, he settled down to record the game's final outs. The win allowed the Phillies to stay 8 games up on the Marlins and increased their lead over the Braves to 8.5 games.

All wins are meaningful, particularly at this point in the season, but it was important for less tangible reasons. A series opening loss would have kept the Braves momentum going and may have caused the Phillies to press a little in the next two games. Also, since the Marlins have 6 head-to-head games left with the Phillies and the Braves have a relatively easy schedule after this series, both teams still have a legitimate shot.

Howard's two bombs gives him 40 home runs for the year and is the fourth consecutive year that he has eclipsed that threshold. Prior to that was his rookie year, when he hit 22 in a little over half a season. He is hitting .344 with 7 home runs and 14 RBI this season versus Atlanta.

The series continues tonight and tomorrow afternoon with two good pitching match-ups. First up is Pedro Martinez against Javier Vasquez. Pedro looks stronger each time that he takes the mound, but he will be watched closely after throwing a total of 249 pitches in his last two starts. Meanwhile, eyes will be on the scoreboard as the Marlins take on the Reds at Great American Ball Park where they had lost 9 in a row until last night.

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