The Philadelphia Phillies have been showing their championship mettle of late, and are hoping their best pitcher from last year’s World Series run can discover his, too.
Philadelphia (65-48) had a taut 3-2 victory Friday, extending its winning streak to four games. Ryan Howard(notes) hit a go-ahead homer off Braves closer Rafael Soriano(notes) in the ninth inning to reward stellar defensive play by center fielder Shane Victorino(notes) - who made two tough catches to take away extra-base hits - and solid pitching by starter Joe Blanton(notes), who allowed one earned run in seven innings.
“You’re just trying to put the ball in play, get on base and let the guys behind you try and drive you in,” said Howard, who has had at least one RBI in five straight games. “We want to take care of business against the teams in our division. So I guess it could mean that much more right now, especially because of how the race is. We still have another month to play, so we want to handle the teams in our division as much as possible.”
It was the third win in 10 games versus Atlanta (60-55) for Philadelphia, which leads the NL East by 4 1/2 games over Florida and is six ahead of the Braves.
The Phillies now turn to Hamels (7-7, 4.77 ERA), the rotation’s linchpin who went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts en route to the 2008 World Series and NLCS MVP awards. That sort of success has eluded the left-hander in 2009, though, and he is trying to avoid losing a third consecutive start.
Hamels labored at home against Florida last Saturday, giving up four runs and five hits - including two home runs - with four walks in 5 1-3 innings of a 6-4 defeat.
“He had command problems,” manager Charlie Manuel said of Hamels, who has only one win in his last six road starts. “He can look real good at times, but it seems he has an inning or two that don’t go good for him.”
Mirroring his season, Hamels has been inconsistent versus the Braves this year, going 1-1 with an 8.10 ERA in two outings. His July 1 loss at Turner Field ended a four-start winning streak there and dropped him to 7-4 lifetime against Atlanta.
The Braves, who had a five-game winning streak end with Friday’s frustrating loss, will try to regroup behind Kenshin Kawakami(notes) (5-9, 4.12). The Japanese right-hander is 0-2 with a 3.68 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, but is coming off one of his best outings.
Kawakami threw a season-high 125 pitches last Saturday against the Dodgers, scattering four hits and three walks in seven scoreless innings of Atlanta’s 2-1, 10-inning victory.
“Kawakami was just outstanding,” manager Bobby Cox told the Braves’ official Web site about his pitcher, who struck out consecutive batters with the bases loaded to end the seventh to keep the game scoreless.
The right-hander won his only prior start versus the Phillies, allowing two runs in six innings of a 4-2 victory May 10 in Philadelphia. The Braves have provided only 14 runs of support in Kawkami’s 10 starts at home, where he is 2-4 despite a 3.28 ERA.