ATLANTA - The game reeked of character.
One starter, the Braves' Tim Hudson, pitched with a heavy heart, mourning the death of his grandmother, Vera Mickle, and college teammate Josh Hancock, the Cardinals reliever who died in a car crash early Sunday.
The other starter, Jon Lieber, pitched with a chip on his shoulder, still bitter at having begun the season in the bullpen, the victim of the Phillies' roster roulette.
They each allowed two runs, but it was not about them.
It was about hitting and fielding - one hit, specifically, and one fielding error.
The hit: Andruw Jones' hack at a hanging slider from reliever Antonio Alfonseca with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Jones pulled it into the leftfield seats, a three-run, walkoff homer in the Braves' 5-2 win over the Phillies.
"I think these games build character," said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. "How do you respond?"
If so, the Braves have built the Phillies plenty of character this season. They now have four wins in four games against the Phillies, having swept the season-opening series in Philadelphia. Two of those games took extra innings.
This one was just as dramatic, thanks mostly to Hudson, the National League's best pitcher, and Lieber, arguably the Phillies' best starter.
Hudson held the Phillies hitless until centerfielder Aaron Rowand, fresh off a 16-game hitting streak, singled with one out in the fifth.
Rowand left in the top of the seventh due to a knot in his back, residue from wrenching the back to knock down Edgar Renteria's sinking liner in the fourth inning.
"It just kept tightening up," Rowand said. "I'll take some muscle relaxants tonight, be out there tomorrow."
Usually steady leftfielder Pat Burrell failed to handle Willie Harris' one-out single when it skipped on the grass and bounced off the heel of his glove in the fifth inning. That allowed Jeff Francoeur to move from first to third. Francoeur scored on Hudson's groundout, and after Lieber got Renteria to finish the inning, the run was ruled unearned.
"Can't happen. It's an error," Burrell said. "I field that ball cleanly, get it back in, it's first and second, Hudson probably bunts, that's two outs. Can't happen. Games like this, every base counts. If I field it cleanly, who knows what happens?"
Well, if the Phillies held the lead - converted starter Brett Myers pitched a scoreless eighth - then closer Tom Gordon, not Alfonseca, would have come in for the ninth inning.
Manager Charlie Manuel considered letting Myers remain in the game for the ninth, but Myers, having pitched briefly Sunday and long on Friday, allowed two hits and needed 19 pitches to get out of the eighth last night. Had he thrown, say, 10 pitches in the eighth, he would have gotten the ninth, Manuel said.
Hudson, who entered the game with a 1.22 earned run average - best in the league - needed just 94 pitches to last eight innings. With Hancock's initials stitched on his jersey and with Mickle's drawn in the dirt on the mound and scrawled on his cleats, Hudson was even more focused than usual. He allowed just four hits.
"He might have had a little extra tonight," Howard said.
Howard needed a little extra. He grounded out against lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez (1-0), who replaced injured closer Bob Wickman and was perfect in the ninth. Howard now is hitting .143 (4-for-28) with 14 strikeouts and seven walks against lefties.
The Phillies got their two runs off Hudson in the sixth. Jimmy Rollins singled with one out, moved to third on Shane Victorino's single and scored on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly.
Then, with Howard up, Victorino stole second – an unthinkable strategy during Howard's hot second half last season. Back then, Howard wasn't hitting .213, his average during that at-bat.
Howard briefly looked like his old self, slashing a two-out single to left that scored Victorino and gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Howard was happy to get a pitch to hit in that situation.
"Because of how things have been going this year, teams are going to take that chance again," Howard said.
Chipper Jones tied the game at 2-2 with a leadoff homer in the sixth, his eighth home run of the season.
It could have been much worse.
Lieber was banished to the bullpen in spring training because the Phillies had six starters and did not trade him as expected. He began the last two seasons as the club's No. 1 starter, and he has pitched like it.
He went seven innings last night but he walked six, the most in his career. He walked leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson three times - as many walks as he had allowed in his four other outings combined. Lieber had walked one in the two starts since he returned to the rotation from the bullpen.
The walks were the main reason it took him 109 pitches to get through seven innings.
"I was just brutal," said Lieber, who has allowed just three earned runs in his three starts since replacing Myers in the rotation. "The defense picked me up. I was very lucky not to get hit hard."
Alfonseca was not so lucky. Manuel went with him because Alfonseca had allowed just two runs in his 12 outings, only one of which came in a meaningful spot. He also had held lefties to a .118 average, but he gave up a single to Johnson, a lefty hitter, got a groundout, walked switch-hitter Chipper Jones and walked off with everyone else thanks to Andruw's righthanded hack.
In the tradition of former Phillies closer Jose Mesa, a character who virtually was never accountable after a blown save or a loss, Alfonseca refused to comment after the game.
Ryan Howard, who sat Sunday to stay away from Dontrelle Willis, dropped to 4-for-28 vs. lefties with 14 strikeouts with his groundout last night against reliever Mike Gonzalez. The Phillies face lefties tonight and tomorrow . . . Former No. 1 starter Brett Myers pitched a scoreless eighth inning. It was the first time he ever pitched in back-to-back games. He moved to the bullpen April 18. *