Braves fall to Phils; magic number stays two
Conrad's error leads to Philadelphia's five-run sixth inning
ATLANTA -- Brandon Beachy once again proved unwilling to seem satisfied after producing yet another start that could have softened the blow of Jair Jurrjens' recent absence.
But the Braves' rookie hurler might have at least willingly accepted deserved credit had Brooks Conrad not committed a fatal sixth-inning flaw that provided the reminder that Chipper Jones and Martin Prado are no longer around to play third base.
Conrad's ill-advised decision not to attempt to record an easy out at first base was compounded by the errant throw that followed and extended the sixth-inning long enough for Jimmy Rollins to greet Mike Dunn with a decisive grand slam that carried the Phillies to an 11-5 win over the Braves on Friday night at Turner Field.
"There's no excuse for that," Conrad said. "I was just trying to get the easy out that way. There's no excuses. I let the team down today and I feel terrible. I feel awful."
Had Conrad fielded Carlos Ruiz's two-out grounder and simply thrown to first base, the Braves likely would have come to bat in the sixth with the game tied at 2 and in good position to record the one victory they need to at least clinch a tie in the National League Wild Card race.
Instead, Conrad made an errant throw that pulled Omar Infante too far to the right of the second-base bag. After inducing the ground ball he was seeking from Ruiz, Peter Moylan issued a go-ahead bases-loaded walk to Domonic Brown and then handed the ball to Dunn, who saw Rollins drill a first-pitch fastball just over the left-center-field wall.
"Other than the record, the games don't technically mean much," Rollins said. "But we know we still have to keep it going because in a couple days the real fun starts and wins and losses count."
Having already secured the NL's best record and a fourth consecutive division title, the Phillies know where they'll be when the playoffs begin next week. The Braves still find themselves in the driver's seat in the NL Wild Card race. But their margin for error against the Padres has been reduced with just two games remaining.
The Braves' magic number to clinch the Wild Card rests at two. That number would decrease with any Atlanta win or loss by San Diego, which beat San Francisco, 6-4, on Friday night.
While the Phillies provided indication that they will protect the integrity of the game by competing without a defined cause, they won't be attempting to handicap the Braves with Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt this weekend. They'll send Vance Worley to the mound to make his second career start Saturday afternoon. The Braves will counter with Tommy Hanson.
"We didn't play well tonight," Braves first baseman Derrek Lee said. "We made some mental mistakes and they took advantage of it. We just have to play better the next two days."
Lee's season-high five-RBI performance accounted for all the damage the Braves produced in the opener, which had the makings to be a nail-biter and then suddenly evolved into a lopsided loss. The veteran first baseman delivered a two-out RBI double to give Atlanta a first-inning lead and delivered a two-out game-tying single in the fifth.
By the time Lee delivered a two-out three-run double of Mike Zagurski in the ninth, the Phillies had padded their lead with a four-run eighth that was aided by yet another miscue committed by Conrad. The 30-year-old rookie had spent the previous two games sparking the offense and looking like a capable replacement for Prado, who was lost for the season Monday when he suffered a left hip pointer and tore his left oblique muscle.
"We're just going to have to come back and bounce back tomorrow," Conrad said. "But right now, I feel terrible."
Conrad's inability to catch Chase Utley's wind-blown foul ball allowed the Phillies to tally three of their four eighth-inning runs. But his most costly error was undoubtedly committed in the sixth, when he didn't account for the fact that Infante was playing deep with two outs and runners on first and second base.
"With two outs you always go to first and we just made a bad decision," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Omar couldn't get there. Nobody's fault. We need to win a game tomorrow."
Showing the determination that was displayed when he made his surprising debut in place of an injured Jurrjens on Sept. 20 in Philadelphia, Beachy allowed four runs (two earned) and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He completed the first three innings in rather impressive fashion and rebounded after allowing four singles in the Phils' two-run fourth inning.
Considering that he was simply keeping his arm strong while participating in the Braves' intructional league two weeks ago, Beachy should find some satisfaction in the fact that he hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his first three starts.
But the 24-year-old undrafted rookie right-hander exited this start choosing to criticize the misplaced changeup that Carlos Ruiz delivered to right-center field to cap the two-run fourth. Nor did he allow himself to savor the well-deserved standing ovation when he exited with runners at first and second and two outs in the sixth.
Conrad committed the fatal flaw in the sixth. But the inning might have evolved much different had center fielder Nate McLouth not hesitated before allowing Jayson Werth's one-out double to soar just beyond his outstretched glove.
"I left two guys on base," Beachy said. "I wasn't walking off with the lead like I wanted to. It was nice, but it wasn't the ideal situation."
Atlanta now finds itself in a situation that doesn't seem as ideal as it was before this misfortune-filled sixth inning evolved.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.