ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves took another wrenching loss in their September swoon, squandering an early two-run lead against Cliff Lee as the playoff-bound Philadelphia Phillies rallied for a 4-2 victory Monday night.
Lee (17-8) pitched six strong innings, Jimmy Rollins homered and Raul Ibanez drove in two runs, leading the NL East champions past their division rivals to start the final series of the regular season.
The Braves, who came into the night with a once-comfortable lead in the wild-card race shaved to a single game over St. Louis, lost their third in a row and seventh in the last 10 games. Their September record dropped to 9-16, sending a margin that had been 8 1/2 games three weeks ago to the verge of being totally wiped out.
St. Louis needed a win at Houston to pull even with two games remaining.
The Braves tried to rally at the end, but they couldn’t string together any hits – a familiar theme for a team that has scored only three runs in the last three games. Brad Lidge gave up a walk and a single in the eighth, but Chipper Jones grounded into an inning-ending double play that sent many in the announced crowd of 42,597 heading for the exits.
In the ninth, Dan Uggla lined one to left off Ryan Madson that got under the glove of a diving Ibanez. Uggla pulled up at second with a double and that’s where he stayed. Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann struck out swinging before pinch-hitter Jason Heyward grounded out to first to end it. Madson earned his 32nd save.
Atlanta jumped out early on Lee, making his final tuneup before the playoffs. Jones drove his 18th homer into the left-field seats in the first, then Matt Diaz and Alex Gonzalez had back-to-back doubles in the second.
The Braves had not led a game in three days, but they didn’t fare any better playing out front.
In the fourth, Philadelphia broke through against 21-year-old rookie Randall Delgado, making just his seventh big league start. Hunter Pence got it started with a one-out single. Ryan Howard lined another hit to right-center and Shane Victorino walked to loaded the bases. Delgado made a bid to escape the jam, retiring Ibanez on a foul popup, but Placido Polanco followed with a sharp single up the middle to bring home Pence.
The slow-running Howard had to stop at third, and Carlos Ruiz flied out to center with the Braves still leading 2-1. It didn’t last long. Rollins tied it in the fifth, lining his 15th homer over the right-field fence.
Delgado was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom half, having surrendered five hits. The Phillies pulled ahead against the Atlanta bullpen.
With one out in the sixth, Shane Victorino yanked one down the right-field line off Cristhian Martinez (1-3) and sped all the way to third for a triple, just beating the relay throw. Eric O’Flaherty took over for Martinez, and the Braves pulled in the infield looking to cut off the go-ahead run. But Ibanez grounded one sharply past diving first baseman Freeman, and Victorino trotted home to make it 3-2.
Ibanez added another run-scoring hit in the eighth off Jonny Venters.
Lee looked shaky in the beginning, giving up four extra-base hits to the first eight Atlanta hitters. But he settled down after that, retiring the next 12 in a row.
Jones ended Lee’s dominance with one out in the sixth, lining one to the gap in left-center that hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double. But, showing the desperation of a struggling team, Uggla struck out on three pitches – the last one hopping in front of the plate – and Freeman hit a soft liner to shortstop Rollins.
After saying Lee would probably throw about 70 pitches in his final tuneup for the playoffs, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel allowed the left-hander to stay in for 92. He gave up five hits and struck out six.
NOTES: The Braves activated LHP George Sherrill from the 15-day disabled list. He had been out since Aug. 27 with elbow inflammation. … Atlanta confirmed RHP Peter Moylan will need surgery on his rotator cuff and labrum. But Moylan tweeted that it is more of a cleanup than a complete repair, cutting his rehab time to six months.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)