ATLANTA -- The Braves kept coming up just short of the fence. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard showed them how it's done.
Utley hit a two-run homer and Howard led off the ninth inning with a tie-breaking shot that gave the Philadelphia Phillies their fourth straight win, 3-2 over Atlanta in the opener of an important NL East series Friday night.Shane Victorino put on a dazzling defensive show in center field, chasing down one long drive after another to keep the Braves from extending their winning streak to a season-best six games. Atlanta had at least four flyouts to the warning track."We were playing in the wrong ballpark tonight," manager Bobby Cox said. "In Philadelphia, we probably would have had five home runs, at least four."Howard won it with his 28th homer of the season, driving a 2-1 pitch off struggling Rafael Soriano (1-4) into the center-field seats to break a 2-all tie. Philadelphia extended its lead over Atlanta in the NL East to six games."I don't know how many balls they hit to the wall," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We couldn't afford to have them go any farther."Joe Blanton surrendered only one earned run in seven innings, Ryan Madson (4-4) won it with a scoreless eighth and Brad Lidge escaped trouble in the ninth for his 22nd save in 29 chances.After struggling in his two previous starts, Braves starter Jair Jurrjens allowed just two runs on five hits in seven innings. His only big miscue was a pitch left up in the strike zone, which Utley drove deep into the right-field seats in the fourth, putting the Phillies up 2-1."I made just one mistake," Jurrjens said, "and it cost me two runs."Soriano, pitching for the first time in nearly a week, couldn't get past Howard. The Atlanta closer has given up five runs in his last four appearances, getting through only one of them unscathed."You're just trying to put the ball in play, get on base and let the guys behind you try and drive you in," Howard said. "We want to take care of business against the teams in our division. So I guess it could mean that much more right now, especially because of how the race is. We still have another month to play, so we want to handle the teams in our division as much as possible."The Braves threatened against Lidge, who came into the game with a 7.29 ERA. Adam LaRoche singled to center with one out, and pinch-runner Matt Diaz stole second. After pinch-hitter Greg Norton walked, Nate McLouth ended it with a drive to the warning track that was caught by Raul Ibanez in the left-field corner.Atlanta jumped ahead in the first. McLouth, who had missed the last three games with a sore left hamstring, led off with a double into the right-field corner and came around to score on Chipper Jones' one-out single up the middle.Utley put Philadelphia ahead in the fourth. Victorino led off with a single and Utley followed with a drive into the right-field seats that was never in doubt, nearly reaching the second section and snapping Philadelphia's scoreless streak of 15 2/3 innings against Jurrjens dating back to April 7.Victorino put on a real show in center field.He ended the fifth chasing down a drive by Brian McCann, leaping up to catch it before he slammed into the padded well. Blanton slapped his glove and pumped his fist on his way off the mound, while McCann buckled over in disbelief after rounding first. The catch prevented McLouth from scoring the go-ahead run."I thought it was out," McCann said. "But he covers a lot of ground."Victorino wasn't done, either. Garret Anderson led off the sixth with another towering shot, this one to right center. The Phillies outfielder caught it reaching back over his right shoulder with his left arm, lost his balance and tumbled into the wall."I take pride in my defense," Victorino said. "That's it."The Atlanta defense came up big, as well. Chipper Jones made a brilliant diving catch to end the second when Pedro Feliz ripped a liner than looked to be headed into the left-field corner. Jayson Werth was running from first on the play and might have gotten around to score if Jones hadn't made the grab.
Philadelphia SS Jimmy Rollins doubled in the fifth, reaching his eighth straight season with at least 30 doubles. ... A rare error by the Phillies led to an Atlanta run in the fourth. Yunel Escobar reached when 3B Feliz bobbled a grounder, and Ryan Church brought the runner all the way home with a two-out double. ... The Braves fell to 17-10 since the All-Star break.