Phillies beat Braves again

ASSOCIATED PRESS Ryan Howard, Reid Brignac embrace after Phillies' second consecutive victory in Atlanta.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Ryan Howard, Reid Brignac embrace after Phillies' second consecutive victory in Atlanta.
Posted: June 19, 2014

ATLANTA - The Braves have not looked like a first-place team on either of the last two nights. And after a 5-2 Phillies victory last night, they no longer are a first-place team. What all of that means for the power structure in the National League East remains to be seen. The mood in the Phillies' clubhouse has certainly shifted dramatically over the last week, despite the fact that they are still seven games under .500.

"You can sense that this team is starting to have fun again," said infielder Reid Brignac, who went 2-for-5 with a double last night.

Since falling to a season-worst 11 games under .500, the Phillies have won six of eight games. On the other side of things are the Braves, who are just 19-27 since winning 17 of their first 24 games.

Kyle Kendrick and Ryan Howard were the difference-makers last night, the latter providing the former with a 2-0 lead in the first inning with his second home run in as many nights. Kendrick made good use of it. He altered his pregame warmup routine in an attempt at avoiding the first-inning struggles that have plagued him throughout the season.

"I changed up some things, and obviously what I did worked," Kendrick said.

He burst from the gate throwing his first six pitches for strikes and recording two strikeouts in the opening frame. From there he cruised, facing his most serious trouble in the seventh inning, when he had runners on the corners with no out, but got a big doubleplay ball from Gerald Laird and held the Braves to one run.

"Shoot, we're still in it," Kendrick said. "We're seven under, but take it one game at a time is what we need to do. Come in tomorrow and get a 'W' and sweep these guys and go to St. Louis."

The Phillies and the Braves play the series finale today at 12:10. The Phillies then head to St. Louis for a four-game series with the Cardinals, while the Braves go to Washington to play four against the first-place Nationals.

Jake Diekman continued to impress as the Phillies' primary setup man, pitching a perfect eighth inning that included strikeouts of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, the first on an 82 mph slider, the second on a 97 mph fastball, both swinging. Jonathan Papelbon bounced back from a blown save Monday night to shut down the ninth inning.

Kendrick allowed his first run in the fifth inning on a Heyward single that scored Laird, who had drawn a one-out walk. That was it until the seventh, when the Braves were only able to push home one run after starting the frame with runners at the corners and nobody out. Chris Johnson led off the frame with a double, and Andrelton Simmons followed with a sinking line drive that popped out of Marlon Byrd's glove as the rightfielder attempted to make a belly-flopping catch. With the Phillies leading 4-1, Kendrick was more than happy to exchange one run for two outs, which he did by getting Laird to ground into an easy doubleplay.

Kendrick stranded runners on second and third in the third inning after a two-out double by Heyward and a single by B.J. Upton. He also allowed a long ground-rule double off the bat of Freeman in the first inning. Otherwise, he was as sharp as he has been all season. Kendrick struck out six with one walk in his seven innings, allowing two runs to lower his ERA to 3.97. In his last two starts he has allowed just three earned runs with 11 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings.

"It was probably his best outing of the year as far as command and establishing the strike zone and quality of pitches," manager Ryne Sandberg said.

The Phillies, who entered the day tied with the Mets for last place in the NL East but trailing the first-place Braves by only 5.5 games, improved to 31-38.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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