NEW YORK - Not every player on a team spinning its wheels is willing to accept a trade to the bright-lights, big-city atmosphere of a contender. Detroit's Johnny Damon, just this year, turned thumbs down on going back to Boston.
Derrek Lee sees it differently. He could have vetoed the move that sent him from the Cubs to the Braves before the deadline. But why?
"This is the best part of baseball," he said after his game-changing, seventh-inning grand slam lifted Atlanta to a 6-3 win over the Mets yesterday at Citi Field, keeping the Braves three games behind the Phillies in the NL East with a pivotal faceoff on tap beginning tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
"It's no secret these are big games. We need them all. This is the fun part, playing in games that when you do something, it's really meaningful," he said. His shot into the upper deck in left came with two outs and a full count, snapping a 2-2 tie.
The upcoming stakes are pretty obvious. A Phillies sweep would all but snuff Atlanta's hopes of winning the division. A Braves sweep would put them in a dead heat with a team that has been as hot as anybody this month, with nine games to go . . . and the last three of the regular season at Turner Field.
Catcher Brian McCann laughed when asked if he expected a playoff atmosphere the next three nights.
"In Philly, it's a playoff atmosphere in April," he said. "So I expect it to be like it is every time we play there. We know going in what we need to do."
At the same time, he conceded there will be a little something extra in the air this time. "We know what we're getting ourselves into," he said. "We've all been there. [The fans] are going to be cheering from the first pitch. So we've got to be ready and I think we will be."
McCann is fully aware that the Phillies rearranged their rotation to be sure that Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt would face the Braves. It's the first time the teams have met since the Phillies added Oswalt.
"This is what you play for," he said. "You play the game for these moments. This is what you train hard for in the offseason. This is why you go to spring training and all the hours you put into baseball, is to be in a playoff-type atmosphere and to make it to the postseason."
He said the Braves haven't conceded the division and started to focus on the wild-card race even though, at the moment, that appears to be the more likely way of playing beyond the end of the regular season.
"We want to just keep playing good baseball," he said. "I don't think we're worrying about too much. We had a team meeting the other day and we talked about not looking at the scoreboard and handling what we can handle. We did that here in New York and now it's time to move on."
Coming into Citi Field, the Braves had lost eight of their previous 13 and were 9-15 on the road since the All-Star break. That's why righting the ship before playing the Phillies loomed so large.
"These are the games that in the last week-and-a-half were getting away from us," McCann said. "And we all answered the bell. Now we turn the page and move on."
Move on to Philadelphia for a series that's big for the Phillies. And even bigger for the Braves.