After waiting nearly five years to return to the postseason, the Braves and manager Bobby Cox will have to wait at least one more day. And if they play like they did in the sixth inning Friday, they might have to wait longer than that.
Jimmy Rollins' grand slam punctuated a five-run sloppy sixth that started the Philadelphia Phillies rolling toward an 11-5 win to open a big season-ending series before a sellout crowd of 51,139 at Turner Field.
The Braves entered with a magic number of two to clinch the National League wild card over San Diego, meaning any combination of Braves wins and Padres losses totaling two would secure a postseason berth for Cox's team.
At the end of the night they still need the same , only the Braves had one fewer day to get it done. San Diego won at San Francisco in a series opener later Friday, cutting the Braves' wild-card lead to one game with two days left in the season.
There was no magic for the Braves on Friday, other than Derrek Lee's three two-out hits to drive in all of the Braves' runs. His bases-loaded double in the ninth made the score only slightly less one-sided.
"We didn't play well tonight," Lee said. "We made some mistakes, they took advantage of it. We just have to play better the next two days."
If the Padres (89-71) were to split their last two games against San Francisco (91-69), the Braves (90-70) would need one win in against Philadelphia to take the wild card. If the Braves were swept by Philly in that scenario, they'd have to play San Diego in a playoff game Monday in Atlanta to determine the wild card.
If the Braves, Giants and Padres all had 91 wins after Sunday's regular-season finales -- if the Braves won one of their final two games and the Padres sweep the Giants -- the two West teams would play one game Monday to decide the division title, and the loser of that would then fly to Atlanta for a one-game playoff Tuesday to determine the wild card.
It can get confusing. But for the Braves, the focus must be on simply winning in the final weekend of the regular season. TV sets that hang from the ceiling of the Braves' clubhouse, usually tuned to other ballgames of interest, were conspicuously turned off after Friday's loss.
Lee's pair of two-out RBI singles in the first and fifth innings had the Braves tied with the Phillies at 2-all through five innings of solid pitching from Atlanta rookie Brandon Beachy in his third start. But the bottom fell out in the sixth, when the Braves made mistakes and the Phillies capitalized.
They scored all five runs in the inning after a two-out throwing error by third baseman Brooks Conrad, on Carlos Ruiz' grounder off reliever Peter Moylan. Conrad could've thrown to first to get Ruiz, a slow catcher.
But he threw to second -- to the surprise of second baseman Omar Infante, who wasn't at second in time for the throw from Conrad. The throw was behind the base, pulling Infante further away to make the catch.
"We messed up in the infield," Cox said. "We did the job – Moylan came in and got the ground ball. There's two outs, and we're playing deep at second and over to first a little bit. With two outs you always go to first. We just made a bad decision. Omar couldn't get there."
Conrad was making his third start since third baseman Martin Prado sustained a season-ending torn oblique muscle. As great as Conrad felt after getting an important triple in Tuesday's win against Florida and a key three-run homer Wednesday against the Marlins, he was down after Friday's loss.
“No excuses,"he said. "I let the team down today, I feel terrible. I feel awful. That’s the best way I can put it. I just feel terrible I let the team down. I let Bobby down. I’ll just have to come back and bounce back tomorrow. But right now I feel terrible.”
Conrad said he tried to go to second base for the shorter throw. He quickly realized it was a mistake.
"Yeah, I probably should have gone to first," he said. "Omar was over there in the hole and he had a long way to go. He wasn't quite over there when I looked over. Just wasn't a fluid play."
That loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Dominic Brown, who ran the count full before drawing a walk from Moylan that put the Phillies ahead 3-2.
Rookie left-hander Mike Dunn replaced Moylan and Rollins drove Dunn's first pitch to the left-field bleachers for his third career grand slam -- and a 7-2 lead.
The Giants tacked on four runs late against Cristhian Martinez and rookie Mike Minor, a starter making his first major league relief appearance.
The ugly sixth inning spoiled what had been a solid performance by Beachy (0-2), who was charged with four runs (two earned) and seven hits in 5-2/3 innings.
"Beachy pitched an unbelievably great game," Cox gushed. "Even the two runs he gave up, nothing hit hard. One ball [was hit hard]. I thought he did an outstanding job."
"All three games, he's pitched really well. Can't pitch much better. He gave up nothing hard, just some groundball base hits. One outfield base hit."
Among the hits off Beachy was Jayson Werth's one-out double in the sixth that sailed over the head of center fielder Nate McLouth, who didn't get a good read on it. That was the first hit of the inning.
Beachy then intentonally walked Raul Ibanez before striking out Greg Dobbs for the third consecutive time. That's when Cox brought in Moylan to replace Beachy, who received a boisterous standing ovation from the largest crowd at Turner Field since opening day.
Beach was asked if that was an emotional moment for him, walking off to such thunderous applause.
"No," he said. "I mean, I left two guys on base. I wasn't walking off with the lead like I wanted to. It was nice, but not the ideal situation I wanted to be walking off the mound to."
Friday's loss stopped any momentum the Braves gained during a three-game sweep of Florida to start this season-ending homestand. Still, they are in good position to clinch their first postseason berth since 2005, with two games apiece remaining for the Braves and Padres.
"It was a setback tonight, for sure," Conrad said. "I mean, we came out positive. It'll be the same way tomorrow, we'll come out confident and positive. But obviously tonight, I feel real bad about it. But you have to get over that quick and come back tomorrow."
Since the Phillies already clinched the East title, 20-game winner Roy Halladay skipped his regular turn Friday (and Roy Oswalt will skip his Saturday). Halladay is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA against the Braves this season.
The Braves instead faced Kyle Kendrick, who had been 3-6 with a 5.81 ERA in his past nine starts.
While no Halladay, facing Kendrick has never been a holiday for the Braves. Kendrick limited them to five hits and two runs in five innings and improved to 5-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) against them.
That's his best record against any team he's faced more than four times, and it includes a 3-0 record and 2.23 ERA in seven games at Turner Field.
The Braves jumped to a 1-0 lead on Lee's opposite-field double in the first inning, the first run they scored in an opening inning since Sept. 11.
After the Phillies scored two runs in the fourth on four singles off Beachy, the Braves tied the game in the fifth when Lee hit a sharp single to left. Melky Cabrera then popped out with two runners on to end the inning.