ATLANTA (AP) -- The Philadelphia Phillies' three-game sweep of Atlanta left the Braves fearing they could be on the verge of being left out of the NL East race.
Ryan Howard drove in two runs in the ninth inning with his third double of the game and the streaking Phillies beat Atlanta 6-3 on Sunday to complete the sweep.Howard finished 3-for-5 with four RBIs and the first three-double game of his career. The Phillies have won four straight and 12 of 14.It was 93 degrees -- and climbing -- for the first pitch, but Howard and the Phillies didn't seem to mind the heat. They're so hot, they fit right in."I like playing in hot weather," Howard said. "I know what it's like, growing up in St. Louis."The game was tied at 3 through eight innings, but the Phillies bullied Blaine Boyer for four hits and three runs in the ninth, including a single by Shane Victorino, who also had three hits, that drove in the go-ahead run.The Phillies boosted their road record to 18-13, best in the National League, and have won 15 of 19 overall. Before this stretch, the Phillies (39-26) were only two games above .500."We're playing some great ball," Howard said. "I think our best play is still ahead. It's just a feeling. Our pitchers are throwing well right now and we're getting timely hitting."The Phillies outscored the Braves 8-1 after the seventh inning in the series."We scored runs late in all three of the games," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "We outplayed them the back end of all three games."Philadelphia improved to 5-1 against the Braves and became the first visiting team to sweep a three-game series in Atlanta this season.The Braves played without Chipper Jones, who said he has a small tear of his right quadriceps and could miss one or two games at the Chicago Cubs this week.Atlanta (32-32) fell back to .500 and went from 3½ to 6½ games behind the Phillies in three days.The Braves, a miserable 7-21 on the road, begin a 10-day, 10-game road trip on Tuesday against another first-place team in Chicago."We just lost all three games to the division leaders ... and we're heading out on the road where we haven't exactly lit it up," Jones said. "So I don't know about anybody else, I'm worried. I don't want to come back from this road trip and be out of the race."Mark Teixeira hit a two-run homer, but the Braves missed Jones and his .420 batting average."Chipper's a difference-maker," manager Bobby Cox said. "You need him in the lineup. He can make a difference real quick."Chad Durbin (2-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the win and Brad Lidge earned his 17th save with a perfect ninth.Pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett singled with one out in the ninth off Boyer (1-4) and moved to second on Jimmy Rollins' single to right.Victorino drove in Bruntlett with a single to center and moved to second when Gregor Blanco's throw to the plate was up the first-base line.Boyer's intentional walk to Chase Utley loaded the bases, and Howard lined the next pitch from Boyer over left fielder Josh Anderson's head for a two-run double."We're a better offensive team in the late innings," Phillies starting pitcher Adam Eaton said. "When the game is on the line, our hitters get hot."The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the first on three hits, including Howard's run-scoring double to right off Jorge Campillo. Geoff Jenkins drove in the second run with a bases-loaded groundout.The lead didn't last long. With two outs in the bottom half, Yunel Escobar doubled and Mark Teixeira hit a homer to right off Eaton, who gave up eight hits and three runs in six innings.Victorino led off the third with a bunt single before stealing second and scoring on Howard's second double, this time an opposite-field shot to left."I got two doubles off the end of the bat," Howard said. "I'll take them any way I can get them -- seeing-eye singles, line drives, whatever."The Braves pulled even at 3 in the fourth. Omar Infante led off with a single, moved to third on Campillo's single and scored on Anderson's single up the middle.
The Phillies improved to 10-10 in day games, including four straight wins. ... Braves reliever Rafael Soriano was not available for the third straight day with a sore elbow. ... Anderson hit leadoff for the first time this season.