Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Phillies’ fans couldn’t help but feel the wind at their backs. The Phils had a four game lead in the division, and were sending Roy Halladay (20-10) to the mound throwing against Atlanta Braves’ rookie left-hander Mike Minor (3-2), who came into the game with a 5.84 ERA. Minor was not only facing the best pitcher in the National League and a lineup who can taste blood in the water approaching October baseball. He also had to face a Citizens Bank Park crowd with 45,000 the same Great White-like sense of smell.
Minor looked to be in control until the bottom of the third inning. After a Placido Polanco walk and a Chase Utley single, Ryan Howard lined out to right-center field to leave men on first and second base. Next up, Jayson Werth blasted a 3-1 low fast ball to the left field seats to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead. Minor was pulled from the game by Braves’ manager Bobby Cox after Raul Ibanez followed Werth with a double down the left field line. He left the game after only 2.1 innings and allowing three earned runs on seven hits. The Braves’ bullpen was able to keep them in the game, until the bottom of the sixth inning when Ibanez doubled home Howard and Werth to give the Phils’ a 5-2 lead at the time.
Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay coasted threw the first four innings, but ran into a little bit of trouble beginning in the top of the fifth. After an Alex Gonzalez double to lead off the inning, Rick Ankiel moved him to third base with a single to left field. Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske drove in Gonzalez with a ground out to second to make it a 3-1 ball game. In the top of the sixth inning, Braves third baseman Martin Prado led the inning with a single to right field. Catcher Brian McCann followed him with a double to right center, which moved Prado to third. First baseman Derek Lee hit a sacrifice fly to cut the Phils’ lead to 3-2. Halladay was tagged again in the top of the seventh by pinch hitter Freddie Freeman, who hit a solo homerun, his first in the majors. Halladay’s line: 7 innings, three earned runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out just three Braves’ batters. Setup man Ryan Madson came in to pitch another scoreless eigthh, and in the process lowered his ERA to 2.37 for the season. Closer Brad Lidge came in to pitch a scoreless ninth inning and pick up his 25 save of the year.
Since returning to 2008 World Series Championship form has been a theme over the past few weeks, let’s take a moment to recognize the job Madson has done this season. Going in to the playoffs that year, Madson emerged as one of the best setup men in the majors, and it seems he’s rekindling his mojo going into the 2010 postseason as well.
Halladay won his 20th game of the season tonight, and becomes the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Steve Carlton won 23 games in the 1982 season. Halladay also becomes the first 20 game winner in the National League this season.
With the win tonight, the Phillies will enter Wednesday night’s series finale with a 5 game lead in the NL East division over the Braves. The Phils’ will send Roy Oswalt (13-13) to the mound against Braves’ starter Tommy Hanson (10-11). Oswalt is 7-1 since coming to the Phillies from the Houston Astros, and hasn’t lost a game since July 30th versus the Washington Nationals.