ATLANTA — The televisions in the Atlanta clubhouse had all been switched off. The Braves didn’t even bother hanging around to watch the team that’s been chasing them in the wild-card race.
All they cared about was another wrenching loss in their September swoon.
Atlanta squandered an early two-run lead against Cliff Lee as the playoff-bound Philadelphia Phillies rallied for their 100th win of the season, 4-2 over the Braves on Monday night.
“Everybody is upset that we lost the game, but we’ve still got another game tomorrow,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said, trying to stay upbeat even as his team collapses.
The Braves’ magic number to wn the NL wild card for the second year in a row dropped to two after the Houston Astros beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 in 10 innings. That means Atlanta can clinch tonight with a win and another Cardinals loss.
The Braves, who came into the night with a once-comfortable lead in the wild-card race shaved to a single game over St. Louis, lost their third in a row and seventh in the last 10. Their September record dropped to 9-16, sending a margin that had been 8½ games three weeks ago to the verge of being totally wiped out.
St. Louis needed a win at Houston to pull even with two games remaining., but were beaten when Angel Sanchez drove in the winning run for the Astros on a bunt.
However, before the game was over, the Braves began clearing out of the clubhouse, not even checking a score on their phones.
“This is a tough loss for me,” said rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman, who came up three times with a runner at second and failed to come through. “The last thing I want to do is watch another ballgame.”
Ditto for the senior member of the team, 39-year-old Chipper Jones.
Barely able to run on an ailing right knee, Jones homered in the first to get the Braves started quickly, but hit into an inning-ending double play in the eighth with the potential tying runs aboard.
He wasn’t paying attention to the charging Cardinals.
“I don’t really care about that,” Jones said. “I’ll find out what they did later on tonight or tomorrow. Right now, I’m just trying to flush this one and start focusing on Roy Oswalt,” who’ll start Tuesday for the Phillies.
Lee (17-8) pitched six strong innings, Jimmy Rollins homered and Raul Ibanez drove in two runs, leading the NL East champions past their division rivals to start the final series of the regular season.
They reached 100 wins for the third time in franchise history.
“A hundred looks better than 98,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “If I had my way, we’d win more than that. That’s — what would you say? — a benchmark.”
The Phillies sure didn’t go easy on the Braves, even though their trip to the playoffs was in the bag weeks ago.
“We went out there and played like we always do,” Manuel said. “I look at our guys, I think we’re ready to win right now.”
The Braves tried to rally at the end, but they couldn’t string together any hits.