PHILADELPHIA - Slowly but relentlessly, Atlanta has been prying the Phillies' fingers loose from their hold on the lead in the NL East, and the Braves' method has been strikingly similar to that of the guys in red pinstripes - pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
So far this season, Atlanta's bullpen has been the envy of the league, and with the lively left arms of young Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, it seems tailor made to magnify the Phillies' need for a productive righthanded hitter, especially in the late innings.
The Phillies found themselves in this late-inning danger zone Friday at Citizens Bank Park after Roy Halladay and Braves starter Brandon Beachy each left his team in position to win, leaving the final outcome in the hands of the bullpens.
Advantage Atlanta, right?
Not on this night, when the Phillies made certain the Braves would not overtake them before the all-star break. Raul Ibanez ended a long evening by pounding a walk-off home run in the 10th inning for a 3-2 win.
The victory raised the Phillies lead to 3 1/2 games over the Braves, who had won nine of their previous 10 games. The Phillies bullpen was flawless as Michael Stutes, Antonio Bastardo, and Juan Perez each tossed a perfect inning.
Perez, who struck out all three Braves in the top of the 10th, got the win.
The Phillies saw O'Flaherty in the seventh and Venters in the eighth and were still standing because of their two rookie relievers, who have propped up a bullpen severely depleted by injuries. Stutes and Bastardo were their equal as the game - the start of which was delayed 1 hour, 54 minutes because of rain - lurched into extra innings.
By the 10th inning, Atlanta had emptied its bullpen of lefties, and Ibanez took advantage of the more vulnerable Scott Proctor, ripping a 2-0 pitch into the right-field seats.
The win was the 600th for manager Charlie Manuel with the Phillies.
Halladay struck out seven and walked none in yet another solid performance. He seemed to have some difficulty gripping the ball in the second inning and showed a brief lack of command as Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman began the inning with singles. A passed ball by Carlos Ruiz enabled Jones to score on Freeman's hit, and, after Freeman moved into scoring position on a wild pitch by
Halladay, the righthander asked for a new resin bag, and that's when he got a grip on matters.
But Halladay threw 31 pitches in the inning, and by the end of the seventh he'd thrown 116 pitches and was pulled for Michael Stutes with the score tied, 2-2.
A sacrifice fly by Wilson Valdez pulled the Phillies even at 1 in their half of the second, but a bit of indecision by Valdez helped Atlanta regain the lead in the fourth. Braves were on second and third with one out when Dan Uggla hit a grounder down the third base line that Valdez backhanded. Valdez looked to try to get Brian McCann trying to score, and appeared to have time to make a play, but instead threw to first. His throw was late to get Uggla and it was 2-1 Atlanta.
Again, the Phillies quickly responded as Ruiz lined his fourth homer in the fourth, barely clearing the 334-foot sign down the left field line.
The Phillies are 10-0 in Halladay's last 10 starts. During that streak, Halladay is 7-0.