Putting it all together, Phillies beat Braves again

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Putting it all together, Phillies beat Braves again

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ATLANTA -- Baseball is a game of adjustments, they say, and after getting tattooed all season long in the first inning, Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick made an adjustment to his pre-game warmup routine Tuesday night.

Instead climbing the bullpen mound about 20 minutes before game time, Kendrick started throwing a little earlier, took a 10-minute break then threw some more off the mound.

It worked.

Kendrick got through the first inning without allowing a run -- in fact, he struck out the first two batters on six pitches -- as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves for the second straight night, 5-2, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Entering the game, Kendrick had allowed 13 earned runs in the first inning of his 13 starts. That's a 9.00 ERA.

“I put up a zero in the first inning, that’s the main thing,” he said.

It was imperative that Kendrick put up a zero in the bottom of the first because he was staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the inning as Jimmy Rollins doubled to lead off the game and Ryan Howard homered on a full-count pitch from Ervin Santana with two outs.

Throwing back an early lead like that would have been demoralizing to the whole team. Putting up the zero was a positive tone-setter for the night.

“We got those two runs, it was big,” Kendrick said. “I knew I had to put up a zero.”

Kendrick went seven innings and allowed just two runs for the night. He struck out six and walked just one. He is 8-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 22 career games (16 starts) against Atlanta.

He loves pitching in Atlanta, especially on muggy nights. The warm night might have helped cure his first-inning woes as much as his new warmup exercise.

“It could have been the weather, too, because I always enjoy pitching here,” he said. “I was pretty loose early.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg called the outing Kendrick’s best of the season “as far as command and quality of pitches.”

Kendrick did an excellent job keeping the ball down. That’s the key for any pitcher, but especially for someone who does not have overpowering stuff. He rolled a huge ground ball for a double play to short-circuit a Braves’ threat in the seventh.

A lot of things clicked for the Phillies in this game. That starting pitching was there. The big middle-of-the-order bat was there in Howard. And so was the bullpen. One night after needing 28 pitches to blow a save and get through the ninth inning, Jonathan Papelbon needed just seven pitches to close out the game. Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless eighth.

Over the first 36 games of the season, the Phillies’ bullpen had an ERA of 4.95, worst in the NL.

In the last 33 games, the bullpen has an ERA of 2.53, which ranks third-best in the NL.

The bullpen’s work has helped the Phillies win six of their last eight games. Management has one eye on breaking up the team and the other on the standings just to see if it wants to keep things together a little longer. Though the Phils are seven games under .500, they are just five games out of first place in the NL East. With Tuesday night’s win, the Phillies knocked the Braves out of first place in the division.

The Phils are two games into a stretch of 18 games that includes 14 against NL East opponents ahead of them in the standings. Teams can make up ground in a hurry, or get buried, in stretches like this. So far, the Phils are 2-0.

“We know where we’re at,” Kendrick said. “Shoot, we’re still in it. Obviously we’re seven under .500. We have to take it one day at a time. Hopefully we can come in tomorrow, sweep these guys and go on to St. Louis.”

Howard’s homer was his second in as many nights and 13th of the season. He hit a full-count fastball from Santana over the left-field wall. The fastball was away and Howard went with it nicely.

“It makes a big difference when Howard swings the bat like that,” Sandberg said. “It tends to bring out the best in everybody.

“It was especially big because they were early runs and that went a long way for Kendrick.

"We've played two good ballgames here."

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

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ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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Best of MLB: Blue Jays beat Orioles in opener of AL wild-card showdown

Best of MLB: Blue Jays beat Orioles in opener of AL wild-card showdown

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer, Aaron Sanchez struck out 10 and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-1 on Tuesday night in the opener of their AL wild-card showdown.

Ezequiel Carrera also homered as the Blue Jays won for the sixth time in eight games. They lead the wild-card standings by two games over the Orioles with five to play.

Baltimore began the day two games ahead of Detroit and Seattle for the league's final playoff spot.

Orioles slugger Chris Davis was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Will Little after striking out against Joe Biagini in the seventh, the third time in three at-bats Davis was caught looking. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter also was tossed after he came out to argue (see full recap).

Syndergaard, Mets pound grieving Marlins
MIAMI -- With time running out in the playoff race, the New York Mets set sympathy aside.

Noah Syndergaard struck out eight and allowed one run in six innings Tuesday night, and the Mets totaled 19 hits to beat the grieving Miami Marlins 12-1.

Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes each hit his 31st homer for the Mets, who began the game with a half-game lead over the Giants in the battle for the first NL wild-card berth, with the Cardinals 1 1/2 games behind.

The game was the Marlins' second since the death of ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident. One night after a heart-tugging victory over New York filled with tributes to their teammate, emotions were more subdued, and Miami's bats were too.

Syndergaard (14-9) had a lot to do with that. After missing a scheduled start Saturday with strep throat, he threw 93 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.60, third-best in the majors. He'll return to pitch the regular-season finale Sunday at Philadelphia if needed (see full recap).

Cards beat Reds to tighten wild-card race
ST. LOUIS -- Playing with a heavy heart, Aledmys Diaz hit his first career grand slam and the St. Louis Cardinals finished with five home runs Tuesday night in a 12-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Chasing the Giants and Mets in a tight race for the two NL wild cards, St. Louis moved within a half-game of San Francisco for the league's final playoff spot -- pending the Giants' late game against Colorado.

New York, which beat Miami 12-1, leads the wild-card standings and remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals.

Jhonny Peralta had a three-run homer and drove in four runs for the Cardinals, who had lost four of five. Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk and Matt Adams also homered (see full recap).