Was Braun's gesture a shot at Phillies fans?

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Was Braun's gesture a shot at Phillies fans?

It's a good thing Ryan Braun is embracing the role of the villain in road parks, because he'll be receiving thunderous boos in every stadium he visits this season.

And, along those lines, it's probably a good thing for him that the Brewers traveled to Citizens Bank Park so early in the season, because it's hard to imagine Braun getting louder jeers than he's received from Phillies fans this week.

"I try to use it to my advantage," Braun said of the boos after Tuesday's Brewers win over the Phillies. "I love it. It’s great. Seriously, as a competitor I really enjoy it. It’s a challenging game and it’s a long season and playing in an environment and atmosphere like this is certainly motivating."

The boos continued Wednesday night after Braun's three homers in the series opener. And if you thought maybe, just maybe, they were getting under his skin after three strikeouts in four plate appearances in the middle game of the series, Braun's two-run triple in the eighth inning squashed that idea.

"Well I struck out three times today," said Braun when asked about his 39 RBIs in 45 games against the Phillies. "You just continue to compete. I'm friends with Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and those guys, so I've always enjoyed competing against them."

Braun made an emphatic gesture after reaching third base, putting two fingers in the air in the direction of the crowd. The safe assumption was that it was directed at his Brewers teammates, but an assumption wasn't safe given the context of these two games and Braun's three previous lousy, frustrating at-bats.

"No [it was directed] to our dugout, we always do that when we get big hits," Braun said with a smirk. "We've done that forever, we just haven't had an opportunity to play too many good games, close games, exciting games."

It's been an exciting few days for the Brewers' disgraced perennial MVP candidate. Braun was suspended 65 games last season for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal, and that was just one calendar year after he tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone but walked on a technicality.

Braun's fierce denial of the initial positive test and eventual suspension are the main reasons for all the boos. But that's what makes the reaction in Philly so interesting -- most of it is based on baseball fans' disgust, but some of it is also based on respect for his game.

Braun has absolutely destroyed the Phillies. He's played 45 games against the Phils and has driven in 39 runs. He's played 76 games against the Braves and Mets combined and he's driven in 42 runs.

Braun entered this series with zero RBIs. He now has nine. And that's with a balky thumb that has caused chronic pain. "I've talked about it enough, I wish it would just go away," he said of the injury.

As far as the destruction of Phillies pitching ...

"Obviously it's a great ballpark to hit in," Braun said after Milwaukee's 9-4 win (see Instant Replay). "I enjoy competing against these guys. Aside from that, I don't know -- small sample size, anything can happen."

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Saturday night behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered (see full recap).

Cardinals solve Wrigley again, crush Hammel, Cubs 10-4
CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to accomplish if they want to return to Chicago in two weeks for a rematch of last year's NL Division Series. They would have to qualify for one of the wild-card spots, then win the single-elimination playoff game.

If they do, the Cardinals may be the one club that won't be fazed by Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

Yadier Molina drove in four runs, Stephen Piscotty homered and the Cardinals boosted their playoff hopes by getting to Jason Hammel early in a 10-4 rout of Chicago on Saturday.

Randal Grichuk added three RBIs and Jhonny Peralta had three hits and scored three runs for the Cardinals, who stopped a two-game skid and moved into a tie with San Francisco for the final NL wild-card spot pending the Giants' game at San Diego (see full recap).

Yanks shut out for 3rd straight game in 3-0 loss to Jays
TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' offense has disappeared, and their playoffs chances have pretty much vanished, too.

Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-0 Saturday.

New York has been shut out in three straight games for the first time July 27-28, 1975.

"Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just seem to have lost it the last few days."

The Yankees have lost 10 of 13 following a seven-game winning streak and dropped 4 1/2 games back for the AL's second wild card with eight games left. They likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years (see full recap).

Dietrich homers, Marlins end Braves' streak at 7 win
MIAMI -- Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer to help the Miami Marlins end the Atlanta Braves' winning streak at seven games, winning 6-4 on Saturday night.

Dee Gordon had two hits, two walks and three stolen bases - one shy of tying the Marlins' single-game franchise high, which he has done on two separate occasions.

Atlanta's Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 28 games in the first inning and has reached base in 44 straight. He also hit a solo home run in the sixth, his 32nd.

Brian Ellington (4-2) earned the win in relief and A.J. Ramos recorded his 39th save in 42 chances.

The Braves pulled within 5-4 on a wild pitch by Fernando Rodney in the seventh inning (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 10, Mets 8

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Phillies 10, Mets 8

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Noah Syndergaard’s throat probably closed up a little bit more when he saw how the Phillies treated his replacement on Saturday night.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco’s three-run home run to left field and starting pitcher Alec Asher’s two-run single to center chased spot starter Sean Gilmartin after just 2/3 of an inning in the Phillies’ 10-8 win over the Mets. Syndergaard, the Mets’ last ace standing, had been scratched from the start earlier in the week due to strep throat.
 
Despite a long string of shaky moments from the bullpen, the Phillies were able to make the 10-0 lead they built in the first four innings stick.
 
The Mets’ grip on the first wild card spot in the NL loosened. The Cardinals defeated the Cubs, 10-3 to pull into a tie — for the moment — with the Giants for the second wild card spot, a half-game behind the Mets.
 
The Giants were a full game behind the Mets for the first wild card spot entering Saturday. They had a 6-5 lead over the Padres when the Mets’ game concluded.
 
The Phillies improved to 70-85. They scored at least 10 runs in a game for the sixth time this season and finished with 17 hits, tying their season high.
 
Starting pitching report
Asher was effective at first and displayed excellent command of his two-seam fastball as he retired the first nine Mets hitters he faced. He was touched up for four unearned runs in his fifth and final inning on two errors, two singles, a double and a sacrifice fly.
 
With a runner on third and two outs, Asher quelled the rally by inducing a groundout from pinch-hitter James Loney to first baseman Tommy Joseph. His night ended after just 76 pitches.
 
The runs Asher knocked in on his single were the first two runs batted in of his young career.
 
Gilmartin walked three batters, surrendered four hits and was booed off the mound by a full house of Mets fans.
 
Bullpen report
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning and quickly worked himself into trouble. He gave up two runs on a Gavin Cecchini double — his first major league hit — and T.J. Rivera single. Rodriguez survived a two-out, runners-on-the-corners jam by striking out Brandon Nimmo swinging with a slider in the dirt.
 
David Hernandez pitched a scoreless seventh. He erased a leadoff single by eliciting a 4-6-3 double play ground ball from Eric Campbell.
 
Hector Neris struck out his 100th batter of the season but walked two batters and gave up an RBI double to Cecchini that brought the remaining Mets fans to life. With the tying run at the plate, he got Rivera and Nimmo to fly out.
 
Given first crack at temporarily supplanting Jeanmar Gomez in the closer role, Michael Mariot gave up a solo home run to Jay Bruce to bring the Mets within two runs and then walked Campbell and Michael Conforto to bring the winning run to the plate. He got Lucas Duda to pop out and then got Travis D’Arnaud to ground out.
 
At the plate
Cesar Hernandez extended his streak of reaching base safely to 29 consecutive contests when he walked to lead off the game.
 
After going over a month without a home run, Maikel Franco has now homered in three consecutive games.
 
Darin Ruf homered for the second consecutive game, demolishing a Rafael Montero offering to center in the fourth to score three runs.
 
Joseph had two RBIs on a single and a groundout to short.
 
In the field
Franco threw a potential around-the-horn double play ball into center field in the fifth, allowing the Mets’ first run to score.
 
Shortstop Freddy Galvis handled a rundown with Jose Reyes perfectly to complete a 3-6-1 double play in the fourth but also bobbled a ground ball in the fifth for an error.
 
Health check
Tyler Goeddel sat as he continues to recuperate from a concussion he suffered on Wednesday.
 
Up next
The Phillies will round out their four-game swing at Citi Field at 1:10 PM on Sunday. Jake Thompson (3-5, 5.62 ERA) will take the hill for the Phillies. The Mets will counter with Robert Gsellman (2-2, 3.13).
 
Thompson only struck out one batter and surrendered a three-run homer to Melky Cabrera in his last start against the White Sox on Tuesday but earned the win. Gsellman, thrust into the Mets’ rotation after a spate of injuries, has only pitched into the seventh inning of one his five starts this year, a 5-1 loss to the Phillies on Aug. 28.