Now, there's more than one way to skin a cat, as they used to say. The Phillies almost certainly would have gone to Brad Lidge even if, like Wagner, he'd pitched in the previous two games. That's the approach Charlie Manuel has demonstrated over the years. Of course, the Phils don't have any rookies in the bullpen featuring Kimbrel's overwhelming stuff, either.
It goes deeper than that, though. The Braves are three out in the National League East with 12 games to play. They have been a lousy road team all year and hadn't played particularly well overall this month. These next three games will go a long way toward determining if they have a chance to send the retiring Cox out with his 16th division title or whether they need to turn their attention to the wild card.
But after the game, while the Phillies were constructing their remarkable comeback, the television sets in the visitor's clubhouse were tuned to the Patriots-Jets game. During optional batting practice, the chatter on the bench seemed to center on yesterday's NASCAR race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The Phillies tweaked with their rotation to make sure that Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt were lined up against Atlanta. The Braves kept everybody in order, meaning struggling Jair Jurrjens (2-2, 7.09 in his last five starts) and weary rookie Mike Minor (0-1, 9.00 in his last three starts) will start the first two games.
"We'll find a way. We have all year long," Wagner said with a shrug. "Every time we shouldn't have, we have. We should be dead."
He was referring to the fact that Atlanta leads the majors with 23 wins in their final at-bat.
"You take half of them away and we're not even in this discussion. So we shouldn't try to do anything different from what we've been doing all year long," he said. "Momentum can switch in a heartbeat. If we go down there and do what we're hoping to do, we put ourselves in a very good situation. If we go down there and lose two of three, we put ourselves in a tough situation."
There are plenty of reasons why the Braves aren't obsessing, at least not outwardly, about their stay in Philly.
One, certainly, is the example set by the even-keeled Cox even though when asked if he expects a playoff atmosphere in Philadelphia, he laughed and said, "This felt like a playoff atmosphere in my stomach."
One is a quiet confidence that has been built up over the season by all those come-from-behind wins and amplified by the success they had over the weekend away from Turner Field, even if it did come against a Mets team that doesn't have much tangible left to play for.
One is that they've won seven of 12 meetings against the Phillies this season.
One is that they held a team meeting before Friday night's game, resolved to focus on each game, each at-bat and each pitch, not to get ahead of themselves, and so far they have stuck to that game plan.
One is that they have a couple of safety nets: The final three games of the regular season are against the Phillies in Atlanta, where they're a best-in-baseball 52-23, and the wild card if they fall short in the division; they lead the Padres by 2 1/2 games.
One is that Derrek Lee, acquired from the Cubs to give them a second-half boost, has heated up after a slow start in an Atlanta uniform. Since Sept. 4, he's 15-for-45 (.333) including yesterday's decisive grand slam in the seventh inning, and has also walked eight times in the 14 games.
One is that the trade that brought shortstop Alex Gonzalez from the Blue Jays solidified the middle infield.
One is that catcher Brian McCann, acclaimed rookie Jason Heyward and second baseman Omar Infante have all gotten hot at the right time.
Look, the Phillies are still right where they want to be. They only need to win this series to make the math even more overwhelmingly in their favor. But it's worth remembering how quickly things can change in baseball.
You've still got to love the Phillies' chances of nailing down their fourth straight division championship. And you've also got to expect that the Braves aren't going to make it easy for them.
BRAVES VS. PHILLIES
SEASON SERIES RECAP
Overall: Braves lead, 7-5
In Atlanta: Braves lead, 4-2
In Philadelphia: Series tied, 3-3
April 20: Braves 4, Phillies 3,
Kyle Kendrick pitched eight scoreless innings, but Ryan Madson gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth, including home runs to Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward. Nate McLouth homered off Jose Contreras in the 10th.
April 21: Phillies 2, Braves 0
Roy Halladay pitched a five-hit shutout, his first in the National League, and Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth had RBI doubles.
April 22: Phillies 8, Atlanta 3
Jamie Moyer did not give up an earned run in six innings. Shane Victorino drove in two runs and Juan Castro had three hits. For the series, Phillies starting pitchers did not allow an earned run in a combined 23 innings.
May 7: Phillies 7, Braves 0
Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a shutout, allowing two hits and striking out five. He faced only one batter over the minimum. Jayson Werth's three-run homer sparked the offense.
May 8: Braves 4, Phillies 1
Six Braves relievers held the Phillies scoreless over 4 2/3 innings to back up a spot start by reliever Kris Medlen. The Braves strung together three singles, a double and a sacrifice fly for three runs in the sixth inning.
May 9: Phillies 5, Braves 3
Placido Polanco, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino each hit solo home runs, and the bullpen pitched four scoreless innings to rescue starter Cole Hamels. He went five innings, allowing eight hits and four walks, giving up only three runs, but dodged trouble several times.
May 31: Braves 9, Phillies 3
Joe Blanton allowed six runs and the Braves moved into first place by a half-game with the victory. Atlanta won its sixth straight and made up 7 1/2 games in the NL East in 2 weeks.
June 1: Braves 7, Phillies 3
Troy Glaus hit a three-run homer in the first off Cole Hamels, and Tim Hudson allowed two runs in six innings for his fifth straight win. The Phillies lost for the eighth time in 10 games.
June 2: Braves 2, Phillies 1
Omar Infante singled in the eighth inning off Jose Contreras and Billy Wagner pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the save as the Braves finished off the sweep. Derek Lowe went eight innings, allowing six hits and a run.
July 5: Phillies 3, Braves 1
Roy Halladay needed just 93 pitches for his second consecutive complete game and seventh of the season. He allowed five hits and struck out seven. Greg Dobbs hit a two-run homer for all the run support Halladay would need.
July 6: Braves 6, Phillies 3,
Matt Diaz hit a tiebreaking double and Eric Hinske hit a two-run homer as the Braves scored three runs in the 11th inning. The Phillies had just three hits, including a two-run homer by Raul Ibanez in the first inning.
July 7: Braves 7, Phillies 5
Jamie Moyer allowed seven runs, including six in the sixth, as the Braves upped their NL East lead to six games over the Phillies, who lost for the seventh time in 10 games. It was the most games out of first for the Phillies since their miraculous finish to the 2007 season when they caught the Mets.