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Howard's HR powers Phillies past Braves
Atlanta Braves center fielder Mark Kotsay (11) watches a three-run home run off the bat of Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard go into the crowd in the third inning Wednesday in Atlanta. - photo by The Associated Press

ATLANTA — No first baseman in the major leagues has more errors than Ryan Howard’s nine, and that worries Charlie Manuel.

No player in the National League can match Howard’s 71 RBIs, and that makes Manuel feel better.

Howard hit a three-run homer before his two errors in the ninth inning gave Philadelphia a scare, Pat Burrell added his second homer of the series and the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves 7-3 on Wednesday night.

The Phillies improved to 5-0 in Atlanta this season and 7-1 overall in the season series.

Howard provided a display of both extremes of his 2008 season. He was 1-for-4 and is hitting only .219, but his homer in the third inning was a reminder he is hitting .333 with runners in scoring position and leading the league in RBIs.

His two fielding errors in the ninth inning gave him nine for the season, three shy of his 2007 total, and helped the Braves load the bases before Brad Lidge struck out Mark Teixeira to end the game.

Is Howard’s defense a concern?

“Yeah, a little bit, yeah,” Manuel said, adding Howard was a strong defensive player in the minor leagues.

“He had good range and a good arm,” Manuel said. “In the last year he’s had trouble throwing the ball and lately he’s had trouble fielding the ball.”

Manuel said Howard’s bottom line was positive.

“He hit a three-run home run,” Manuel said. “He still hasn’t given the runs back yet. ... Until we find somebody (else) driving in 71, we might have to overlook it.”

he Braves (40-45) fell a season-worst five games under .500 with their second straight loss in the series, despite homers from Chipper Jones and Ruben Gotay.

“It’s a rough time around here right now,” Jones said. “A lot of guys struggling, especially with runners on base. No one’s excluded. It’s not just one guy.”

Pinch-hitter Greg Norton hit a one-out single in the ninth and moved to second when Howard couldn’t snag Gregor Blanco’s sharp grounder for an error.

With two outs, Howard couldn’t handle a grounder from Jones for his second error, loading the bases.
Howard said he was “not really” worried about the errors.

“I just botched a couple of balls,” Howard said. “It happens. You can look at it however you want to look at it. The first one was hit pretty hard. I welcome anybody to go out and stand in front of that one.”

Teixeira lined a long line drive foul to right before striking out to end the game.

Jones, playing his second game after missing eight straight starts with a strained right quadriceps, hit his 17th homer off J.C. Romero in the eighth, cutting the Phillies’ lead to 5-3.

The Phillies answered with two runs in the ninth. Jimmy Rollins’ triple drove in Eric Bruntlett, and Chase Utley added a run-scoring single.

Burrell hit a homer Tuesday night to give the Phillies three players with 20 or more homers before the All-Star break for the first time in team history. Burrell added his 21st homer in the fifth inning Wednesday night after Howard’s three-run shot, also his 21st, gave the Phillies a 4-0 lead in the third.

“He’s strong,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Howard. “He hit that with one hand.”

The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the second on back-to-back doubles to left by Pedro Feliz and Chris Coste. Rollins led off the third with a single and stole second. Jorge Campillo walked Utley, setting up Howard’s homer to left-center.

“That was the pitch of the game for me,” Campillo said of the curveball he left over the plate. “He’s a very, very strong guy.”

Utley tops the Phillies’ 20-homer club with 23.

Adam Eaton (3-6) matched his season high with five walks but gave up only five hits and two runs in five innings for his first win in five starts.

Campillo (3-3) gave up a season-high five runs on eight hits, including two homers, in five innings. He walked two with no strikeouts.

Gotay, hitting for Campillo, led off the bottom of the fifth with his second homer.

The Braves loaded the bases against Eaton with no outs in the sixth. Teixeira led off with a double. Brian McCann walked and Kelly Johnson singled to right, knocking Eaton out of the game.

Slumping Jeff Francoeur, who struck out in each of his first two at-bats, hit a double-play grounder off reliever Chad Durbin to drive in Teixeira. Durbin struck out Mark Kotsay to end the inning, stranding McCann on third base.

Francoeur added a third strikeout with a runner on second in the eighth to drop his batting average to .236.

Notes: RHP Brett Myers, making his first minor league start for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, gave up five hits and three runs in five innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday night. He walked two and struck out six while throwing 100 pitches one day after he agreed to the minor league assignment. ... RHP Clay Condrey, who missed the first two games of the series to be with his wife while she delivered a baby, plans to return to the Phillies on Thursday. ... Gotay’s homer was the first of his career as a pinch-hitter.

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