Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Braves tripped up

Philadelphia Phillies fans from Mars hate the Atlanta Braves more than ever now after one of their own got taken out.

The Phillies may have won Monday night to stretch their winning streak to eight games and take a four-game lead in the division. Cole Hamels may have continued his second-half brilliance. Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz may now be one of the most beloved catchers in all of baseball for his barrage of clutch hits.

But the night belonged to Braves left fielder Matt Diaz. The hot corner was moved back about 200 feet, as Diaz made a sensational diving catch in the first inning, and then caused a nutty Philadelphia fan covered from head to toe in a red, skin-tight outfit to take a dive in the seventh.

The Golden Rule for players when fans run onto the field is to steer clear, lest they run with violent motives in their head. Diaz chose to ignore the rule and took matters into his own hands, running up on the guy from behind taking him out with a nudge and a trip. He could see the taser-less security guards weren't going to catch up to the fan, and really, where could he have hidden a weapon in that get-up?

Jayson Werth and Brian McCann laughed in appreciation of Diaz's fearless act after watching from home plate, and Philadelphia fans in the left field seats gave him a standing ovation. During the heat of a postseason race, it was a perfect gesture of solidarity and sportsmanship. Fans and players alike can't stand when some fool further delays a game so many people already call too slow. It disrupts the flow of the action and breaks the players' concentration. All they can do in a situation like that to express their contempt is stand and stare at the offender with their hands on their hips. Diaz finally decided to utilize his hips in another way, and more power to him.

Diaz also collected one of the six hits allowed by Hamels in a game that could've easily ended in a 3-1 win for the Braves, rather than 3-1 the other way. With a runner on in the top of the seventh inning, Martin Prado missed a towering three-run homer by about a foot down the left field line. Hamels got him to ground into a double play - one of the three on the night - on the very next pitch to end the threat. Errors by Jason Heyward and McCann led to two unearned runs for Philadelphia in the fifth. Those proved to be the difference.

The Phillies stayed true to their formula of looking lost at the plate against a rookie. The momentum of scoring at least five runs in each of their last four games couldn't help them against the untested arm of Brandon Beachy, who was called up to make his major league debut after a sore knee made Jair Jurrjens a late scratch. Beachy surrendered only an RBI double to Ruiz before the mistake-prone fifth inning led to his exit.

The Atlanta bullpen, which boasts the second-best ERA in the majors (3.02) behind San Diego, pitched 3 2/3 innings of one-hit ball. The Braves' bullpen is their big advantage over the Phillies, but they hope the relievers won't be needed as much over the next two games of the series.

The Philly offense has failed to score more than three runs in 16 of Hamels' 31 starts this season, but he has won his last four and though the numbers weren't on their side tonight, the Phillies won their eighth straight. They also won their 90th game and with 11 left to play this season, it's the quickest they've done so since 1993. It's got to be hard not to imagine the glory of yet another division title as the reality of that comes more into focus with each passing day.

In the meantime, the Phillies will gear up for the second game of the series, tip their hat to Diaz and ban all Martian landings in Citizens Bank Park through the rest of the year.

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