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ATL@PHI: Worley pitches six frames of two-run ball

PHILADELPHIA -- The white lights on the right-field scoreboard reflected onto the warning track dirt. Barks from the bleachers projected toward the field, as fans dotted the seats of Citizens Bank Park and absorbed pelts of sideways rain. The previous 205 times the Phillies took the field here, including the postseason, there was hardly a seat to be had, but on this mild, windy night, the stadium looked as though Philadelphia was out of contention.

There was baseball on Tuesday night in South Philadelphia, as such sacrifices must be made when trying to play 25 games over the last 23 days of the regular season. And 30 minutes after a one-hour, 52-minute delay before the start of the game, the rain softened, and the Phillies inched closer to a fifth straight National League East title with a 6-3 victory over the Braves. The Phillies are the first team this season to reach 90 wins, and it's the franchise's record fourth straight 90-win season. They lead the NL East by 9 1/2 games, and their magic numbers are down to 14 (division title) and six (playoff berth).

"We had to wait a while," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Outside of that, any time you win, it's not a challenge. That kind of makes it much easier to swallow."

And everything keeps going down smoothly when starter Vance Worley is on the mound. Worley continued to make his case for NL Rookie of the Year, allowing two earned runs over six innings. The Phillies have won the last 14 games Worley has started, the longest streak for the club since it won a franchise-record 15 straight starts by Steve Carlton in 1972.

In addition, Worley's nine-game winning streak is the longest by a Phillies pitcher since Randy Wolf won nine straight from 2005 to 2006, and the Elias Sports Bureau reports that Worley is the first rookie pitcher whose team has won 14 consecutive starts since the Reds won 14 with Wayne Simpson in 1970.

"It is pretty wild," Worley said. "I don't really look into it, but I always hear them on TV [talking] about it, saying how crazy it is."

Worley, though, needed his offense to keep the streak alive after Atlanta tied the score in the sixth. Ryan Howard scored on a wild pitch, and Raul Ibanez hit an RBI double that was inches from clearing the wall in right-center. Ibanez then roped an RBI single to right in the seventh to give the Phillies a three-run lead.

"They basically got the win," Worley said. "I didn't do anything."

That's not entirely true. The key moment came in the top of the sixth, when Worley walked Freddie Freeman to load the bases with nobody out. Alex Gonzalez hit a sac fly to left that tied the score, but then Worley induced Jose Constanza to fly out to left and got pitcher Tim Hudson to hit a soft fly to center that was run down by Shane Victorino.

"I couldn't locate very well, and I tend to make things more difficult for myself," Worley said. "I always seem to figure it out and slow things down out there for myself and get myself out of jams."

Worley's success may create a conundrum of sorts for Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee when it comes time to decide the postseason rotation. Worley has a 2.61 ERA since June 18, his first start since being recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley after being sent down to get back on a starter's routine. Likewise, Roy Oswalt, who dealt with two bulging disks in his lower back, has a 3.82 ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list.

So, who's the No. 4 starter?

"I'd love to start, but they're going to do what they need to do as far as it's either going to be me or [Oswalt]," said Worley, who figures to be on the outside looking in for a starting role. "I don't have a problem pitching out of the 'pen."

The Phillies have outscored the Braves, 29-4, over their last three meetings and have a commanding division lead with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

"This is the team that we really need to beat, and we're coming out and playing to our potential," Worley said.

And there is little that anyone, including Mother Nature, can do about it.

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