ATLANTA - The Phillies figured they needed to be perfect to beat the team tied for the National League's best record.
They were anything but. The signs pointed at catastrophe.
Starter Cole Hamels gave up three runs in the first inning. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both got picked off first base in the eighth; Rollins, ahead of scorching hot Aaron Rowand; Utley, with MVP Ryan Howard at the plate. The Phillies produced nothing after their first two hitters of the game reached base. Chipper Jones hit his ninth and 10th homers, passing Rollins for the league lead. Manager Charlie Manuel got ejected for the first time this season.
Not a winning formula against a team that had beaten you four times in four games, the root of your 11-14 April.
Except, on a balmy, barmy Georgia night, the Phillies won, 6-4.
"I'm surprised," Manuel said. "Usually, we get beat when we play like that."
"If you sat me down and told me all that was going to happen I'd have said we'd be getting our butt kicked," said catcher Rod Barajas.
Especially by the Braves, because the Braves hadn't just beaten the Phillies; they had deflated them.
Their first two wins over the Phils were extra-innings victories in Philadelphia. Monday's came thanks to a walk-off, three-run homer by Andruw Jones.
It looked like the deflation would continue but the Phillies erased Hamels' 3-0 deficit by rocking Mark Redman (0-4) for four runs in the second inning, which Redman left with two outs.
Not only did Hamels hang, he thrived: 7 1/3 innings, six strikeouts, 105 pitches.
"He's very past his years," Barajas said of the 23-year-old lefty who logged his 29th start last night. "He easily could have put his head down."
"It was tough to play against 10 people: Nine of them and one of yourself," Hamels said.
Hamels relaxed. He listened to Barajas and pitching coach Rich Dubee between the first and second innings and raised his head high.
"At this point last year, I'd have probably pitched 2 1/3 innings and given up six or seven runs," Hamels said.
At this point last year Hamels (3-1) was preparing for his second of three Triple A starts. He was shaken at several points last night, especially after walking the first two hitters he saw in the fifth. Dubee visited him and asked:
"Are you on anything?"
The tension broken, Hamels got a doubleplay ball and a strikeout and lasted into the eighth, until Chipper Jones' second homer chased him with one out. By then, most of the madness had subsided.
Rowand's second hit of the game, off Oscar Villarreal, scored Jayson Werth in the third. Barajas, who reached in all five plate appearances, added a solo homer in the seventh off Peter Moylan for a 6-3 lead, welcome cushion for Hamels.
Brett Myers got the last two outs of the eighth. Tom Gordon collected his fifth save in eight chances with a perfect ninth.
Overall, it was not a logical chain of events, but the Phillies were grateful for the outcome, however it came.
After Wes Helms' double led off the second, Werth's single followed, and Barajas got the key hit of the four-run inning - without touching the ball with his bat.
With no outs he clipped catcher Brian McCann's glove on a swing and was awarded first base on catcher's interference, loading the bases. One out later McCann failed to catch a low pitch to Rollins, allowing the first run to score. He left the game with a bruised left ring finger. Brayan Pena replaced him.
"As a catcher, you have more [empathy] for a guy in that situation," Barajas said.
Rollins' subsequent groundout scored another run, as did Rowand's single, tying it at 3. After Utley singled and Howard walked and reloaded the bases, Redman walked Pat Burrell to make it 4-3. It was Redman's last pitch of the night.
But the oddness continued.
Down by a run, the Braves ran themselves out of a scoring chance in the bottom of the second when Edgar Renteria sharply lined a two-out single to leftfield. Craig Wilson, on second, had no chance of scoring on Burrell . . . but Renteria rounded first and got involved in a rundown. Wilson eventually broke for home and got run down himself.
There was more.
Matt Diaz fouled off an 0-2 pitch with two out in the sixth. Home plate umpire Joe West ruled that Barajas caught it, thereby making it strike three. As the grounds crew took the field to groom it and the Phillies walked off, Diaz protested and demanded that West look at the ball, now in Barajas' glove en route to the Phillies' dugout.
West called Barajas back, looked at the ball, saw dirt, and ruled it an uncaught foul ball. By then, the grounds crew had the replacement bases on the dirt and was dragging the dirt to smooth it. West sent them back to the rightfield corner gate and ordered the Phils back onto the field.
Diaz grounded out to third.
Six outs later Rollins got caught stealing - sort of - for the first time since June 21, a stretch of 23 straight thefts. He was picked off in the eighth by lefthander Steve Coyler, who employs a very liberal pickoff move that the Phillies contend is a balk. Coyler later got Utley to end the inning.
West tossed Manuel for arguing the non-balk call on the Rollins play. Manuel's patience had been tried plenty to that point. Manuel was steamed about Diaz' at-bat being extended - both misjudgments, Manuel later admitted.
"I lost my head. I know you're not supposed to argue balks," Manuel said a bit abashed. "I lost two arguments. I saw a scuff on the [Diaz'] ball and I had to turn around and walk back. I agreed with him."
Manuel was plenty agreeable after such a messy win. *