By STEVE WILDMAN
Ryan Howard provided the power for the Phils' in their 5-4 win over Atlanta on Friday night (Courtesy AP)
Looking at the calendar, its easy to see that the Phillies will have a pretty good idea where they stand in the National League after the month of May. The Phillies came in to Atlanta for a three game series on Friday after a series in Florida versus the Marlins, and a home series versus the Braves earlier in the week. Their next four series feature opponents who either lead or are in second in their respective divisions. So if there ever was a character building stretch of games in the month of May, this would be it.
After Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco hit consecutive singles with one out, the Phillies turned back to the long ball in the top of the first, with Ryan Howard blasting a three run home run in the top of the first inning over the center field wall off of Braves’ starter Brandon Beachy.
The Braves got a run back in the bottom of the first, after a Cole Hamels’ error put runners on first and second with no outs. Third baseman Chipper Jones then hit a single to score Martin Prado to cut the Phils’ lead to 3-1 going into the second inning.
After Beachy left the game in the third inning due to an oblique strain, the Braves had to dig into their bullpen, which usually bodes well for the Phils. Reliever Cristhian Martinez had different ideas, however, retiring 12 straight Phillies’ batters to keep it a close game. Martinez even added a two run double in the bottom of the fifth off of Hamels to tie the game at 3-3. Hamels eventually gave up the lead altogether in the bottom of the sixth, throwing a wild pitch which scored Alex Gonzalez to give the Braves a 4-3 lead going in to the top of the seventh.
After Jimmy Rollins doubled with two outs, Victorino lined a single to center after it appeared he had struck out on a close pitch by reliever Eric O’Flaherty (1-2) to tie the game at 4-4. Then, the game got interesting…
J.C. Romero came in to relieve Hamels in the bottom of the seventh, and promptly gave up a double to lead off the inning to Prado. After a sacrifice by Nate McLouth which moved Prado to third, Jones was intentionally walked, and catcher Brian McCann was unintentionally walked to load the bases with one out. Recently called up reliever Michael Stutes came in to relieve Romero, and coaxed second baseman Dan Uggla to strike out swinging for the second out. Manager Charlie Manuel then called on lefty Antonio Bastardo to face rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman, who struck out swinging as well.
In the top of the eighth, Howard led off the inning with a double to right field. After Ben Francisco struck out, Raul “Mr. May” Ibanez hit a seeing-eye single to right field which scored Howard, giving the Phillies the 5-4 lead. Rookie Vance Worley, who spot started for Joe Blanton while he was on the disabled list, pitched a scoreless eighth inning to set up the save for Ryan Madson. Madson tip-toed through a Chipper Jones walk and a wild pitch to notch his sixth save of the season, and preserved the win for the Phillies.
The Phillies continue their gauntlet of a stretch tomorrow with Blanton (1-1) going against the rejuvenated Jair Jurrjens (4-0).
Notes: Victorino had been 0 for 9 against O’Flaherty before his single in the seventh; Victorino is also riding a 15-game hitting streak; the Phillies are 20-3 when they hit a home run during a game; after batting .161 in April, Ibanez is hitting .395 so far in the month of May