This was a game when R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball moved late and erratically, which means a good day for him and a tough one for catcher Kurt Suzuki.
That led to an assortment of walks, wild pitches and passed balls on Sunday but it also meant Dickey was tough for the Phillies to hit. He was effective over seven innings but the Braves continued their recent trend of struggling to convert scoring chances and lost 2-1 on Freddy Galvis’ RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Braves (48-55) suffered their fourth straight loss and seventh in their last eight games. They are 0-6 this season in Philadelphia and get one more shot to win here with Monday’s series finale.
The Phillies (38-64) have the worst record in baseball. The Braves were 45-45 and on the fringes of the NL wild-card race after sweeping the Diamondbacks two weeks ago but they are quickly fading out of the picture.
“Apparently a lot of us are not in a good place offensively,” Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte said. “We haven’t been able to execute in the right situations. It’s a little frustrating. Especially you come to this series here and you think you are going to win every game and we already lost three of four.”
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Ty Kelly beat the Braves on Saturday with a game-winning single in the 11th inning against Rex Brothers. The next day Brothers gave up a lead-off double to Andrew Knapp in the ninth before Akeel Morris walked Kelly, gave up a bunt single to Cesar Hernandez and surrendered the game-winning hit to Galvis.
Braves hitters have been good at producing with runners in scoring position this season. Their .274 batting average in those situations entering Sunday ranked fourth-best in the NL but they haven’t been able to convert those chances lately.
The Braves went 1-for-14 with RISP during the loss Saturday, 1-for-8 on Sunday and are 8-for-54 (.148) over their last eight games.
“We are in a stretch here where we are having a hard time piercing the gap and we are leaving guys on,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You go through times like this. We’ve been through this before and we always seemed to come back, and we will. We’ll grind our way through. We’ll keep fighting and we’ll bounce back. It’s tough and it’s hard to go through it but you’ve just got to stay the course.”
Dickey limited the Phillies to six hits (all singles) with eight strikeouts and three walks over seven innings. It’s the second time in 21 starts that Dickey pitched as many as seven innings with no earned runs allowed.
Dickey was docked for four wild pitches. Suzuki had two passed balls, including one that scored Odubel Herrera in the fourth inning, the only run Dickey allowed. That knuckleball tailed late up and away from Suzuki.
Dickey said peppering the strike zone with fastballs was key to setting up his signature pitch.
“I kept them guessing them a few times,” Dickey said. “I had good, late movement. I had a swing-and-miss knuckleball today. I kept trying to attack the zone. (Suzuki) did a good job back there with a really good knuckleball. There were a couple that no one is going to catch. They just break too violently.”
The Braves had to work to push across the tying run against reliever Luis Garcia in the eighth inning.
Danny Santana led off with a single, went to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Inciarte’s sacrifice bunt. Brandon Phillips followed with a ground ball to second baseman Cesar Hernandez, whose throw to the plate was wide as Santana scored.
The run ended Garcia’s career-long scoring streak at 21 2/3 innings. The Braves loaded the bases when Matt Adams singled and Garcia intentionally walked Nick Markakis after Phillips stole third. Suzuki hit into a fielder’s choice for the third out.
The Braves had another good scoring chance in the seventh, when Matt Adams led off with a single and Nick Markakis followed with another. Suzuki hit a fly out to the warning track that allowed both runners to advance. But Phillies starter Vince Velasquez ended the threat by striking out Johan Camargo and Sean Rodriguez.
“We’ve just got to find a way to generate more runs, that’s all,” Dickey said.
A Braves scoring opportunity in the first inning evaporated when third-base coach Ron Washington misled Inciarte on the base paths. With two outs and two base runners, Markakis hit a ground ball to the right of shortstop Galvis as Inciarte advanced from second to third. Washington immediately waved Inciarte home, apparently believing Galvis couldn’t get to the ball—but he did.
Once Washington saw Galvis had the ball, he pointed at the third-base bag to stop Inciarte. But Inciarte had his head down sprinting for home, where Galvis’ throw beat him by several feet.
That was the third out instead of leaving the bases loaded for Suzuki.
“The way I saw ‘Wash’ he was sending me home,” Inciarte said. “That is a tough situation there to see if he’s going to hold me or send me because (Galvis) kind of picked the ball late and I had nothing else to do.”