ATLANTA - In years past, a three-game sweep over a Braves team that entered the weekend with a staggering .724 winning percentage at home would have been cause for a Hotlanta-sized celebration inside the Phillies' clubhouse.
Loud music, boisterous joking, maybe some ice-cream cake - that kind of thing.
But there was none of that yesterday. Instead, players scurried around the clubhouse packing their duffel bags, shaking hands with the visiting clubhouse attendants, and then slipping out to their bus and a subsequent flight to Florida.
Almost as notable as the Phillies' three-game sweep of the Braves, capped yesterday by a 6-3 win, was the businesslike nature with which it was received.
"I think our best ball is still ahead," said Ryan Howard, whose two-run double capped off a three-run ninth inning in which the Phillies broke a 3-3 tie and surged to a late victory.
Certainly, Howard brings some degree of bias to the situation, but it can be noted that the numbers "1993" and "2008" appear to have some relevance for the first time this season. Yesterday's performance, which featured a go-ahead single by Shane Victorino with one out in the ninth followed by Howard's double off the base of the leftfield wall, put the Phillies on pace to finish with their most wins since Jim Fregosi and his merry band of misfits reached the World Series a decade and a half ago.
Their 39-26 record - 13 games over .500 and 3 1/2 games ahead of Florida in the National League East - is tied for their best mark through 65 games since 1993. In the strike-shortened 1995 season, the Phillies also started 39-26, but won just 30 more games to finish a disappointing 69-75.
But this year's club thinks it has too much talent for a similar fall. The Phillies are on pace to finish the season with 97 wins, which just so happens to be the same number they won in 1993.
Particularly impressive was the way in which the Phillies dispatched the Braves, using a flurry of late runs to frustrate a divisional opponent that entered the series 3 1/2 games out of first place.
The game was tied heading into the ninth, as both teams took turns putting runners on base and then letting them stagnate in the thick Georgia heat. (The Phillies left nine runners on base; the Braves left 10.) Howard, who finished 3-for-5 with four RBI, drove in the Phillies' first run with a double in the first, while Chase Utley later scored on a groundout by Geoff Jenkins.
The Braves, meanwhile, jumped on two misplaced pitches by Adam Eaton in the bottom of the frame, as Yunel Escobar tagged a breaking ball over the heart of the plate for a double and then scored when Mark Teixeira drove a high fastball into the centerfield seats for a two-run home run that tied the game.
But Eaton allowed just one more run, giving up eight hits and two walks in six innings pitched for his fourth straight quality start (at least six innings and no more than three earned runs).
"Our offense is going to take care of us," said Eaton, who is part of a starting staff that leads the National League with 389 innings pitched. "We're kind of taking care of each other right now."
After Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings of relief, the Phillies had an opportunity to pull off yet another late-game victory over the Braves. The ninth inning started off innocently enough, with Chris Coste fouling out to Teixeira near the seats on the first-base side. But pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett singled through the right side of the infield and Jimmy Rollins knocked a base hit to right-center to put men on first and second with one out.
That set the stage for more heroics by Victorino, who hit a go-ahead triple in the 10th inning on Friday night and then threw out the would-be game-tying run at the plate to seal the victory.
After falling behind 0-2, Victorino knocked a fastball into centerfield that scored Bruntlett from second. Howard then followed it up with his third double of the game, and closer Brad Lidge pitched a perfect ninth for his 17th save.
The Phillies have now defeated the Braves, a team many expected to be their toughest division rival, five out of six times this season. In doing so, they have scored 19 of their 32 runs in their final four innings, including 10 of 16 in the weekend's sweep at Turner Field. (The Phillies also swept the Braves late last May in Atlanta.)
"We scored runs late in all three of the games," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'd say we kind of outplayed them at the back end of all three games."
Now that Atlanta has been knocked down to 6 1/2 games out of first, the Phillies have an opportunity to put some distance between them and second-place Florida, where they play tomorrow.
"We won today," said Victorino, who finished 3-for-5 with three runs scored and raised his average to .291. "Tomorrow's tomorrow."
Phillies draft pick
is the grandson - not the son, as reported in Saturday's
- of former Phillies pitching coach
. . .
has 17 saves, one behind Chicago's
for the NL lead . . . Catcher
started in place of
and went 1-for-4, making him 7-for-15 against the Braves this season. *