Phillies-Braves: Save the statements for September

Cole Hamels, who pitched the final game of the series, and his fellow starters dominated the Braves.
Cole Hamels, who pitched the final game of the series, and his fellow starters dominated the Braves. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff photographer)
Posted: July 11, 2011

CONSIDERING the way things went down in the first two games of the midseason National League East showdown between the Phillies and Atlanta Braves, yesterday's series finale was anticlimactic.

After each team needed extra innings to split the first two games, the script called for the rubber match to go about 15 innings.

Uh, not so much.

The Phillies' offense let go of the snooze button by banging out a season-high 20 hits in a 14-1 dismantling of Atlanta.

Based solely on his work, Phillies starter Cole Hamels hasn't needed more than four runs to win a game since May 13, when he gave up four in a no-decision in Atlanta.

When he had four after four innings, this thing was effectively over. Hamels threw a three-hit gem over eight innings to notch his 11th victory.

As a result of yesterday's win, the Phillies took the three-game series and go into the All-Star break with a 3 1/2-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East.

With 71 games remaining, it's hardly an insurmountable margin, and nobody in the Braves' locker room was acting like the sky had fallen.

But considering what the Braves could have achieved over the weekend, losing two of three was a letdown.

"[Philadelphia] is a good team," said Atlanta starter Derek Lowe, who gave up four runs in six innings. "Sometimes you've just got to say, 'You got your butts beat.'

"That's what happened. They pitched great; 20 hits, 14 runs. You just have to give them credit."

For the Braves, a three-game sweep that would have given them a half-game lead going into the break was a pipe dream - especially since Charlie Manuel was able to line up his rotation with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hamels.

Still, the Braves were able to survive Lee on Saturday, holding the Phillies to one run in eight innings and pulling out a 4-1 win in 11 innings that gave Atlanta a chance to take momentum into the second half.

Yesterday was a chance for the Braves to let the Phillies know they plan to be around for the rest of the summer.

"A statement game?" Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said when asked if Atlanta had wanted to say something to the Phillies through this series. "I've never even heard that term before. That's the first time I've ever heard that phrase.

"You want to win every series. This series was important for us because we had a chance to catch the guys in front of us in our division.

"We have two more series before this is all said and done so those might be important also."

Atlanta knows it can play with the Phillies. Still, the Braves leave South Philadelphia a little farther behind the Phillies than when they arrived on Friday.

The third-largest regular-season crowd in Citizens Bank Park history jumped on the Braves, too, mocking Atlanta with a "Tomahawk Chop" chant when the game got out of control in the seventh inning.

"Look, they handed it to us," Lowe repeated. "But I don't think you're ever trying to prove anything to another team.

"Just because you lose two out of three doesn't mean you weren't as good as you were coming in. It's going to be fun the last 2 months of the season.

"But we're going to have to win. Let's be honest, the Phillies are too good and their starting pitching is too good to fade away."

This was always a bit more important for the Braves than the Phillies. When the Phillies said it was just another series, they spoke with the confidence of four straight division titles. They have shown over and over that they know how to close things down in August and/or September.

The Braves are a younger team still building its resumé. Last season, the Phillies chased them down in August and never looked back.

If the division remains close to the status quo, the Phillies will have whatever mental edge there is come September - especially if they can set their starting rotation the way they want for those final series.

In 23 innings this weekend against Halladay, Lee and Hamels, the Braves managed four runs and 12 hits. They struck out 22 times while drawing just four walks.

"This was a real big series for us to win," said Manuel, whose team tied the franchise record with 57 wins by the All-Star break. "It's going to help our team. I think it actually helps us more than it will hurt [Atlanta].

"I'm sure they'll look at it like we would have if we had lost. We'll come out in the second half and prove we're better than you. That's baseball."

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