For much of the Phillies Thursday afternoon’s series finale against the Atlanta Braves, one could have mistaken the contest for the game the evening before. Outstanding starting pitching from both teams, strong defense, and an excruciating lack of offense. Fortunately for the Phillies, the narrative of this afternoon’s contest took a sharp turn with the game on the line and Philadelphia managed to fend off a sweep from the first-place Braves in their final at-bat. A.J. Burnett, recently diagnosed with a hernia, was magnificent over seven innings of shutout work as, for the second straight game, the Atlanta lineup was stumped by a Philadelphia starter. Atlanta’s Alex Wood matched Burnett pitch-for-pitch through seven innings, extending a Phillies scoreless streak to 17 consecutive innings bridging back over the series. However, unlike the first game of the series where the Braves delivered a winning blow in the 8th inning, it would be a Phillies clutch hit provided by perhaps the most unlikely source giving Philadelphia a key home win.
Ben Revere would start in center field as well as hold down the lead-off spot for the Phillies, as they tried to avoid their second series sweep over their last nine games. After leaving his last start with sharp pain in his lower body, later revealed as a hernia, A.J. Burnett would look to keep an Atlanta lineup at bay that had already slugged half-a-dozen home runs in the series. Alex Wood would enter the contest with a 1-0 record against the Phils and a 3.86 ERA.
For the better part of the afternoon, the story of the game was defense. Both teams had spectacular plays that prevented scoring threats from the opposition and helped coax their starters through outstanding starts. Revere had a remarkable diving catch in center field to rob Dan Uggla of extra bases in the 7th inning, Burnett’s last frame. Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman had an excellent unassisted double play in the first inning that, with Revere on first, could have given the Phillies an early run. The Phillies did have a successful challenge in the top of the 5th inning when Andrelton Simmons slid past second base in an attempt to steal a base. The Atlanta shortstop was initially called safe, as the umpire thought he had evaded the lunging tag of Jimmy Rollins. After almost three minutes of video review and some amusing antics from bench coach Larry Bowa, the call was overturned in the Phillies favor.
With both sides putting up zeros through the 8th inning, Burnett left the game in favor of Antonio Bastardo in the top of the 8th. Bastardo worked around a lead-off double by Gerald Laird to keep the game tied and the Phillies took advantage. With Wood still in the game, Domonic Brown led off the bottom of the 8th with a single. Wil Nieves, filling in for Carlos Ruiz on the afternoon, moved Brown to second with a successful sacrifice. After Jayson Nix struck out and Ryan Howard walked to give the Phillies runners on first and second, Revere stepped up with a chance to swing the favor of his manager and the fanbase back in his favor. Revere stuck with an 0-1 curveball from wood and slapped it between the 2nd baseman and shortstop. Brown slid home ahead of the throw of B.J. Upton to put the Phillies ahead 1-0. Jonathan Papelbon would cruise through the top of the 9th, including back-to-back strikeouts of Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to close out the win.
The Phillies end the homestand on a high note as they prepare for a west coast trip, starting with a series against the Colorado Rockies. It is expected that Cole Hamels will rejoin the team and make his first start of the season at some point. Winning Thursday afternoon, despite it only putting the Phillies record at 7-8, is a nice boost of confidence against a Braves team that had already swept the Nationals. Jonathan Pettibone will start his second game of the season as Philadelphia is in a position to jump above the .500 mark against a Rockies team also trying to find their footing. Considering one of the defeats came after a valiant comeback against the best team in the division and the other a 1-0 struggle with Cliff Lee delivering his A+-game, losing two out of three this early in the season is hardly a death-blow. We’ll see if Thursday’s win gives the team a nudge in the right direction as they head out west.