ATLANTA - By the time the stretch run arrives and the temperature dips back below sweltering, wins such as the one the Phillies pulled out of a certain orifice last night will be long forgotten.
But a stolen game in June counts the same as a stolen game in September, and at a stunned Turner Field, the Phillies pulled off perhaps their greatest heist of the season.
Down to their last out against a feisty Braves team that looked poised to pull within 2 1/2 games of the division lead, the Phillies tied the game on a dropped fly ball, setting off a ridiculous two-inning stretch that culminated with Shane Victorino throwing out Gregor Blanco at the plate in the 10th to end the game and preserve a 4-3 win that pushed them 11 games above .500 for the first time this season.
"The Force was with us tonight," said closer Brad Lidge, who recorded his 16th and most unconventional save of the season.
Some might call it the Force.
Others might call it Victorino.
It all started with two out in the ninth inning and the Phillies trailing, 2-1.
Lefthander Jamie Moyer had allowed only five hits in 5 1/3 innings - the Braves had scored their only two runs on a home run by Brian McCann in the sixth inning - but on a night when veteran righthander Tim Hudson stifled Charlie Manuel's lineup, it looked as if it would be enough.
In fact, it should have been enough. Still, leading, 2-1, in the ninth, reliever Blaine Boyer had quickly retired Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell.
But Boyer walked Geoff Jenkins, who was replaced by pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, then walked Pedro Feliz to push the tying run to second.
Nevertheless, the Braves appeared to have the game won as Chris Coste sent a pop fly to shallow right. It should have been the final out. Instead, the ball popped out of second baseman Kelly Johnson's glove, allowing Bruntlett to score from second and tie the game.
"It was the end of the game," Coste said. "I ran out of the box, give it the old college try, running just like, 'Oh I can't believe this game is going to be over.' "
Johnson recovered in time to throw Feliz out at the plate, but all the energy the Braves had appeared to accumulate evaporated.
Pinch-hitter Chris Snelling led off the 10th by lacing a 3-0 pitch to center for a double, and pinc-runner So Taguchi moved to third on Jimmy Rollins' sacrifice.
Victorino worked a 3-0 count, took a strike, then hit a long fly over rightfielder Jeff Francoeur's head for a triple that scored Taguchi.
Victorino then scored on Chase Utley's double.
The run proved crucial, as Lidge ran into trouble in the bottom half of the frame, allowing back-to-back singles by Josh Anderson and Blanco.
With men on second and third, Lidge struck out Greg Norton for the second out, bringing Yunel Escobar to the plate.
Escobar lined a pitch into centerfield, sending Anderson and Blanco dashing for home. Anderson scored easily. But Victorino came up throwing and delivered a strike to Coste, who moved from the right side of the plate to the left and tagged out Blanco just before his toe brushed home.
By far, Victorino was the hero.
The diminutive outfielder was the only batter in Manuel's lineup who had any degree of success against a Braves pitching staff that was led by another strong effort from Hudson.
After Victorino tripled in the first inning and scored on a groundout by Utley, Hudson shut the Phillies down. By the time he left the game with two outs in the eighth inning, he had allowed only five hits, working his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh.
"It's about winning, I think that's what the thrill of the game is," Victorino said. "It's exciting to win a game like this in a situation like this, where one unfortunate mistake by them was the game for us."
Games like these can sometimes make a difference in the pursuit of a division title, and as the Braves left the field after the play at the plate, they did so to a hearty chorus of boos from the home crowd. Manager Bobby Cox argued the call, but replays show Coste tagged Blanco's thigh just before his cleat hit the plate.
The Phillies will take it.
"If you want things to go good," Lidge said, "you need some of those 'Force be with you' moments." *