Braves 4, Phillies 1

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ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Braves are closing in on another division title.

They owe a big thanks to Jorge Sosa.

A little-known journeyman before this season, Sosa has been a major contributor to the Braves’ playoff drive. On Tuesday night, he pitched 6 2-3 shutout innings for his 13th win to lead Atlanta to a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

“He’s been a godsend,” Chipper Jones said.

The Braves reduced their magic number to six for winning a 14th straight division title. The Phillies lost ground on two fronts, falling six games behind Atlanta in the NL East and two games behind Houston in the wild-card race. The Astros beat Pittsburgh 7-4.

“These are like playoff games,” Phillies third baseman David Bell said. “Every game, every pitch, is so important now.”

Sosa (13-3), acquired from Tampa Bay during spring training in a seemingly minor deal for infielder Nick Green, has bolstered a rotation that was weakened by injuries to Mike Hampton and John Thomson.

The right-hander won for the fifth time in six starts, solidifying a spot in Atlanta’s possible postseason rotation. True to his nickname—teammates call him “Houdini”—Sosa overcame a career-high six walks.

“He’s confident that he can always get himself out of it,” Jones said, breaking into a smile, “and we’re starting to come around.”

Sosa, who entered this season with a career record of 11-26, surrendered two hits before giving way to Macay McBride.

McBride struck out Jason Michaels to end a seventh-inning threat, Chris Reitsma pitched a scoreless eighth, and Kyle Farnsworth allowed a run-scoring single to Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the ninth. The Phillies had only three hits.

“I thank this organization for giving me the opportunity to win 13 games,” Sosa said through an interpreter. “I can’t say anything bad about the Devil Rays, but it’s great to be here with a winning organization. I’m learning a lot from the veterans.”

Sosa lowered his ERA to 2.45 and has as many wins this year as Tim Hudson, the Braves’ big acquisition last offseason. Sosa is only one behind the team’s top winner, All-Star John Smoltz.

Rafael Furcal had three hits, scored twice, drove in a run and picked up his career-high 43rd stolen base.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Furcal said. “I just try to go play the game and try to steal as many bases as I can.”

Andruw Jones added to his NL lead with his 126th RBI, while Chipper Jones came on as a pinch hitter in the sixth to draw a walk with the bases loaded; he was a little late getting to the park because his wife delivered the couple’s third child about 2 1/2 hours before the game.

“Mama’s doing good, baby’s doing good,” Jones said. “I’m just glad they’re healthy and we got it out of the way early enough in the day so I could make it down here in time to help out.”

Sosa didn’t allow a hit until Bell’s one-out single in the fifth and went on to beat the Phillies for the second time in six days, following up a 6-4 win in Philadelphia last week.

Sosa pitched out of a major jam in the sixth. Kenny Lofton doubled with one out, and walks to Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu loaded the bases.

But Pat Burrell took a called third strike, and Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche ended the threat with a nifty grab along the line, running to the bag himself to retire Ryan Howard.

Sosa dodged more trouble in the seventh. With one on, Rollins hit a towering drive down the right-field line, but the ball hooked right of the pole by about 3 feet—just missing a tying two-run homer.

Rollins walked on the next pitch, Sosa’s season-high 115th of the night. It was his last, as manager Bobby Cox called in McBride. Sosa walked off the mound to a standing ovation, twirling his hat to the crowd.

“He just makes pitches when he has to,” Braves catcher Johnny Estrada said. “He gets himself into trouble, but he’s got a slider that seems invisible to hitters.”

McBride struck out pinch-hitter Michaels on a disputed checked swing, and the Braves doubled their lead with two runs in the bottom half.

Cory Lidle (11-11) lasted 5 2-3 innings, giving up five hits and two runs. He also was making his second straight start against the same opponent, having picked up the win in a 12-4 rout of the Braves last week.

The Phillies complained several times about umpire Joe Brinkman’s liberal strike zone, but manager Charlie Manuel said that wasn’t the real problem.

“We didn’t hit,” he said. “The umpires didn’t beat us.”


Sosa, who started the season in the bullpen, improved to 10-3 in 18 starts. … Furcal tied Otis Nixon’s Atlanta record for most stolen bases in a season. … Lidle lost to the Braves for the first time in five career decisions. … The Phillies took no chances with MVP candidate Andruw Jones, walking him twice intentionally. … Sosa had walked five in a game five times, most recently on Aug. 5, 2004, while pitching for Tampa Bay against Oakland.

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