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Phillies reach 102 wins, KO Braves from playoffs

ATLANTA - The pitch from Braves righthander Scott Linebrink jammed Hunter Pence, broke his bat. The ball, spinning crazily, barely made it past the dirt on the right side of the infield.

ATLANTA - The pitch from Braves righthander Scott Linebrink jammed Hunter Pence, broke his bat. The ball, spinning crazily, barely made it past the dirt on the right side of the infield.

Such a small hit. Such a big impact.

Backup catcher Brian Schneider scored from third in the 13th inning and the Phillies held on to eliminate the Braves from playoff contention with a 4-3 win at Turner Field last night. And, with that, a string of questions were answered.

The Phillies will play the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS beginning Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. They set a franchise record with their 102nd win and manager Charlie Manuel passed Gene Mauch to become the winningest Phillies manager ever, at 646.

"Is it meaningful for me? Yeah, I like it," Manuel said with a laugh. "I remember when I was standing there and we had lost 10,000 games and some people acted like I was there for all of them. So I might let somebody else brag but I'll definitely stand there and enjoy it."

He added that finishing with one more win than the 1976 and 1977 Phillies was appropriate.

"That's fitting for this team," he said. "We've had a big season, but we've still got a lot of work to do."

The Phillies were 3-6 against the Cardinals this season; St. Louis figures to start lefthander Jaime Garcia in the opener.

"The Cardinals are a good team. They can hit. They're a challenge for us," Manuel said. "At the same time, at times they can be a little weak on defense. And they've got talent in their bullpen, big arms, but they can be inconsistent and that's been kind of a weakness so far. But they do have a lot of talent, so you never know when their bullpen can be really good.

"It's pretty even. We're going to have to play hard. If our pitchers can just pitch the way they've been pitching all year, we're going to get a chance to win the game. That's going to be the key for us."

The Braves, who came into September with an 8 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race, had the most to lose. They had a one-run lead going into the ninth but rookie of the year candidate Craig Kimbrel couldn't hold it.

Which is not to say that the Phillies, who had their postseason invitation validated a week and a half earlier, didn't have a couple of items left on their own to-do list.

Before embarking on their fifth straight playoff run, the Phillies wanted to regain some of the momentum they squandered with an eight-game losing streak in September.

Check. They finished the regular season with four straight wins.

They wanted to take one more look at Joe Blanton to determine if he deserves a spot on the playoff roster, a preposterous thought not that long ago.

Check. Blanton pitched pretty well. He gave up a run on two hits in his two innings. More impressive was the fact that he struck out four, didn't walk anybody and that 21 of his 29 pitches were for strikes.

The postseason roster doesn't have to be submitted until 10 a.m. on Saturday, so there were no announcements about his status. He didn't do anything to hurt his chances, put it that way.

They wanted to give probable Game 3 NLDS starter Cole Hamels a brief tuneup, but also a chance to get his 15th win of the season, tying a career high.

Check. Hamels didn't get the win, but he got his work in. He was used out of the bullpen because he would have been on short rest after rain in New York pushed back his last start. And if he had opened the game he would have needed to pitch at last five innings to qualify for the win.

Having him come into the game as a reliever was a clever way to limit his workload and still give him a chance. Instead, he pitched three innings, gave up a two-run homer to Dan Uggla and was on the hook for the loss until the Phillies tied the score in the top of the ninth.

They wanted to win to put Manuel atop the managerial list and the team at the top of the charts for victories in a season. Check and check.

The latter goals were the result of a hit that barely went 100 feet, but that's baseball.

With two outs in the 13th, Schneider was on third and Chase Utley on first when Pence beat out the squib hit.

"My main goal was to stay inside the ball so when you do get jammed you have a chance to find a hole," Pence said. "It's definitely one of those lucky hits but sometimes miracles can happen."

There has been a sense around town, if not in the Phillies clubhouse, that the regular season was little more than a 6-month prelude to the games that really mattered. It's never that easy - just ask the Boston Red Sox - but the curtain has finally fallen on that extended audition.

The marathon is over.

The sprint is about to begin.


The Phillies flew home last night and, after playing 33 games in 31 days, finally enjoyed a day in which they didn't have to go to the ballpark. They'll be back at work tomorrow with an afternoon workout at Citizens Bank Park to get ready for Game 1 of the NLDS on Saturday.