Braves-Phillies: Players Make Cox a Genius By Completing Sweep

James HulkaAnalyst IJuly 3, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 11: Outfielder Matt Diaz #23 of the Atlanta Braves walks against the Washington Nationals April 11, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Matt Diaz came through with the go-ahead RBI double in the eighth inning as the Braves completed the sweep of the Phillies Thursday night, 5-2.

Timely hits were hard to come by, as only three of the 17 half-innings featured runs scored.

Casey Kotchman was sitting on a fastball and drilled a 1-0 offering from JA Happ deep into the right field seats for a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.

Javier Vazquez was pitching another stellar game, but was pulled after Greg Dobbs drilled an outside fastball over the head of Gregor Blanco in center with one out and two on in the fifth, as Chase Utley scored from second.

Peter Moylan came on and was able to get both batters he faced out in the sixth inning, but Pedro Feliz's soft grounder was enough to score Jayson Werth from third, tying the score at 2-2.

Moylan got the first two out in the top of the seventh, then was relieved by Eric O'Flaherty following a double by Shane Victorino. O'Flaherty did his job by getting the only hitter he faced, Utley, to fly out to center to end the inning.

From the seventh inning on, it was a chess match that Bobby Cox seemed destined to win.

After Kotchman singled to start the bottom of the seventh, he pinch-ran the faster Kelly Johnson for Kotchman. Pinch-hitter Diory Hernandez laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt to move Johnson to second. A swinging bunt by Gregor Blanco moved Johnson to third before a patient Martin Prado drew a walk.

However, Chipper Jones didn't square up a fastball that had the plate, and left runners stranded on first and third.

Cox brought in Mike Gonzalez to start the eighth in a tie game. He used the park to his advantage as Ryan Howard flew out to the warning track in right center—a home run at Citizens Bank Park.

After surrendering a walk to Werth, he struck out pinch-hitter John Mayberry, who couldn't check his swing for the second out.

With Pedro Feliz up, Werth took off for second, and made it to third as Brian McCann airmailed the throw off the glove of Kelly Johnson (now at second base) into center field.

With the count 2-2, Gonzalez threw a fastball too high for McCann to catch for a wild pitch.

McCann quickly raced to the backstop, got an accurate throw to Gonzalez at home to tag Werth out on the left shoulder attempting a head first slide at home plate to end the inning.

McCann atoned for his throwing error by leading off the bottom of the eighth with a single to left-center. Cox sent in the speedy Jair Jurrjens to pinch run for McCann, and soon found himself at second after another well-executed sacrifice bunt, this one by Yunel Escobar.

Matt Diaz blasted the first pitch he saw, a low-inside fastball over the glove of Victorino in center to score Jurrjens easily from second with an RBI double, despite Victorino's vain attempt to fool Jurrjens into thinking he could catch Diaz's rocket.

With the struggling Jeff Francoeur up next, who'd already struck out earlier in the game with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, Cox pressed the button again, and sent Garret Anderson up to pinch-hit.

After falling behind 1-2 facing Ryan Madson, Anderson managed to foul off a few pitches and stay alive and gave Diaz a chance to successfully steal third base. 

Madson made a mistake on a 1-2 pitch that Anderson hit to deep right center. The park wasn't big enough to hold this one, as his drive cleared the wall by a few feet, going maybe 10 feet farther than the fly ball that Howard hit that was caught by Francoeur in the top of the inning.

In reality, the Braves didn't need the home run there, as even if caught, the fly ball was deep enough to score Diaz from third and extend the Braves' lead to 4-2.

What the home run did was really wake up the crowd and the bench, who were just buzzing a bit after Diaz had given the Braves the lead a few pitches earlier.

For Anderson, it was a clutch hit, and his first career pinch-hit home run.

Rafael Soriano came on in the ninth and set the Phillies down in order. Martin Prado, who moved from second base to first when Johnson pinch-ran for Kotchman, made a great catch over the tarp in foul territory on a Matt Stairs pop-up to end the game.

Diaz's three hits and go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning were the keys. Anderson's home run was clutch and gave the Braves a bigger cushion heading into the ninth and let the Braves finish off the sweep in style.

Cox's moves this game all worked out—and they worked all series.

Martin Prado is an excellent fit at second base and in the No. 2 spot in the order, especially as Johnson's struggles at the plate haven't ended. It also balances out the lineup, giving the Braves a less lefty-dominant batting order.

The move allows Escobar a few more RBI chances by sliding him down to fifth or sixth in the order. Kotchman has enough plate discipline to hit just about anywhere from second to eighth, and it's rare to see the power he showed on his fourth inning home run to right. He got all of it.

When Nate McLouth returns to the lineup, hopefully this weekend or early next week, it will make the Braves a more formidable group. Braves fans also hope that in two or three weeks, the return of Omar Infante from the DL will further improve the Braves' offensive production.

If I'm Cox, I'm seriously considering having an outfield of Infante-McLouth-Diaz, at least a few days a week, and cutting into Francoeur's playing time.

But, for this series, and this day, Cox showed exactly why he's won 2,300 some games in the majors. He pushed all the right buttons with the bullpen, his lineup, and his late-game substitutions.

The Braves finished the key 10-game homestand against the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies at 6-4.

If the Braves can match that record over the next 10 games on their final first half road-trip (three at Washington, three at Chicago, four at Colorado) the Braves will be right at .500 heading to the All-Star Break.

Despite being two games under .500 right now and in fourth place in the NL, the Braves sit just two games back of both Florida and Philadelphia, and one game back of the Mets, who face the Phillies this weekend.

The Braves seem to have the edge in all three pitching match-ups this weekend against the Nationals. If the Braves can somehow extend their now four-game winning streak to six games or longer, they'll have to really like their chances after the All-Star break.

Friday, July 3: Kenshin Kawakami (4-6, 4.25) vs. Ross Detwiler (0-4, 5.24)

Saturday, July 4: Tommy Hanson (4-0, 2.48) vs. John Lannan (5-5, 3.45)

Sunday, July 5: Derek Lowe (7-6, 4.44) vs. Scott Olsen (1-4, 6.56).


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