PHILADELPHIA - If the Braves felt somewhat like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day on Monday night, there was more than one reason.
Besides spending the last eight days in Pennsylvania, they had watched their hitters repeatedly struggle to produce runs and a once-proud bullpen turn unreliable.
So, while the Veterans Stadium sound system didn't feature Sonny & Cher crooning I've Got You, Babe, the crowd of 22,264 was treated to Mike Lieberthal's three-run homer in the eighth, lifting the Philadelphia Phillies to a 5-2 win that left the Braves three up and five down on their Rust Belt tour.
"We needed this game," said Greg Maddux, who worked into the eighth, only to watch the bullpen squander a 2-1 lead. "We needed it to have, not a good road trip, but a respectable trip. It turned into a pretty bad trip."
The game turned on Bobby Cox's decision to leave reliever Mike Remlinger in following Bobby Abreu's eighth-inning single. Instead of calling on Kerry Ligtenberg to face Phils cleanup hitter Scott Rolen, he stayed with Remlinger and Rolen, 5-for-11 against the left-hander, singled in the game-tying run.
In came Ligtenberg and he got ahead of Lieberthal 1-and-2, then tried to go away with a fastball. But it drifted back across the plate and the Phils' catcher launched it over the left field wall.
"They weren't cheap," Cox said. "At least they hit them hard."
The Braves, who hit .235 on the trip, were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position Monday. They scored 11 runs in the last five games, five coming in one game.
The heart of Atlanta's lineup - Andres Galarraga, Brian Jordan, Javy Lopez and Reggie Sanders - hit a collective .172 in the eight games.
"We played some bad baseball," Jordan said. "Our hitters are really not hitting. We're glad to get out of here and get back to Atlanta."
A lineup that was leading the majors with a .327 average against left-handers and was 10-5 against lefty starters mustered very little against Phillies left-hander Randy Wolf. Rookie catcher Fernando Lunar had three of the club's five hits, but never reached the plate with a runner in scoring position. Chipper Jones got a first-inning single to increase his hitting streak to 17 games.
Lunar's first major league double led to a gift run in the second. He was on third and Andruw Jones on first with two out when Wolf tossed a pickoff throw over first baseman Pat Burrell's leap, allowing Lunar to trot home.
The Braves didn't touch Wolf again until the sixth, though Lunar singled with one out in the fifth. But he misinterpreted third base coach Ned Yost's sign and was running while Maddux squared to bunt, and was tagged out as he headed back to first.
Wolf, who has allowed 14 home runs, crept a little closer to Andy Ashby's team-leading total (16) when Quilvio Veras took him deep leading the sixth, the 12th straight start the left-hander has given up a long ball.
Maddux, who has victimized the Phillies (23-11) more than any other team in his career, with the exception of the Mets, nonetheless had not won at the Vet since 1996. After allowing a single and stolen base to leadoff man Doug Glanville in the first, he overwhelmed the Phils, retiring the next 14 batters, while his outfielders touched the ball just twice.
Maddux, who has given up only five earned runs in the last 20 innings he's pitched against the Phillies, struck out seven and allowed four hits. He walked three and hit one, but came away with a no-decision.
"I thought I didn't throw very well," Maddux said. "I made some mistakes, but I made some good pitches when I had to."
There was little the Phils could do with Maddux. Following Glanville's single in the first, they didn't advance another runner past first base until Desi Relaford took a pitch off his foot in the sixth and advanced to second on Wolf's bunt. He scored when Ron Gant bounced a pitch to the left side and beat shortstop Mark DeRosa's throw.
The Phils threatened Maddux in the seventh, loading the bases with one out on Rolen's walk, Burrell's double and an intentional walk to Mickey Morandini. But Maddux broke Relaford's bat in inducing a popup and pinch hitter Kevin Jordan ended the inning with a fly ball.
Maddux retired Glanville to start the bottom of the eighth, then walked Gant. Out he went and the game soon followed.
"I was done," Maddux said. "The seventh inning took more out of me than I thought."
Cue Sonny & Cher.