The Braves took off from Atlanta on Wednesday for their longest road trip of the season, but a coast-to-coast jaunt couldn’t possibly take them as far as they’ve come the past 3 1/2 weeks.
The Phillies were just the point of reference.
Since the last time the Braves played at Philadelphia, the Braves have gone 18-4, with a three-game sweep of the Phillies at Turner Field as their exclamation point. The Braves beat the Phillies 2-1 on Wednesday to very nearly come full circle.
The Braves have gone from losing nine consecutive games in April to taking an eight-game winning streak, their longest in seven years, to Los Angeles. The Braves have a 2 1/2-game lead on the Phillies in the National League East.
“We have been playing good baseball,” said Braves closer Billy Wagner, who saved the past two games. “I know everybody likes to say that we haven’t played the upper echelons and you catch teams in a down period, but that’s the key to it, getting lucky. That’s part of it.”
The Braves caught the Phillies without infielder Jimmy Rollins or Placido Polanco, playing uninspired offense and mired in a stretch of 11 losses in 15 games.
But the Braves commanded this series, from their first-inning thunder (and three-run leads) in each of the first two games to a final at-bat victory Wednesday.
Omar Infante singled to score Nate McLouth in the eighth inning, a hit that supplied the Braves with their 10th victory in their last at-bat this season. Infante is the eighth Brave to provide such a hit.
Chipper Jones had to leave the game with a sore right ring finger, which had bothered him for much of a 2-for-10 series. Infante went 2-for-2 in his place, including the game-winning hit.
“Fortunately for us, my timing is impeccable,” Jones said with a wry grin. “And Omar Infante put on a show. It was good to see.”
Infante worked from an 0-2 count against reliever Jose Contreras to send a 3-2 split-finger fastball over Chase Utley’s reach at second and break a 1-1 tie. He made the Phillies pay for a leadoff walk to McLouth.
“I knew he was going to make it difficult on me to make contact,” said Infante, with teammate Jair Jurrjens translating. “I just tried to shorten my swing and make contact with the ball.”
The Braves got eight strong innings from Derek Lowe on a muggy day. He threw 119 pitches, allowed six hits and struck out seven.
Lowe has made a big turnaround of his own in the past 3 1/2 weeks. Since giving up a season-high seven runs to the Phillies on May 7, he has revamped his approach, going inside more to hitters. Since then Lowe has gone 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA.
“That was kind of the light-bulb game for me to say, ‘I can’t keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing over the last X amount of months,’” Lowe said. “Sometimes you’ve got to really fall on your face to change, and I was definitely there.”
The Phillies scored their only run on four consecutive singles in the third inning, including one by pitcher Kyle Kendrick who pulled back from a bunt attempt to swing away and a bunt single by Wilson Valdez. But Lowe got Utley to bounce into a double play to end the threat.
“It was a huge play and kept the momentum with us even though they scored,” Lowe said. “That’s what confidence does. You don’t worry about results. You stay with the game plan. A month ago, it definitely would have been a different inning. ... We’re starting to see better results.”
Now all they have to do is take it on the road. They’ll open an 11-game trip Thursday against the Dodgers, who have matched the Braves by going 23-8 since April 30.