ATLANTA -- Cole Hamels lingered in the on-deck circle as the Phillies batted in the eighth inning Monday night. Cesar Hernandez popped from the dugout, instructed Hamels to retreat, and that is when a mediocre team remembered its shortcomings.
Jonathan Papelbon blew a save with 28 ninth-inning pitches. Domonic Brown committed one of the more embarrassing defensive blunders possible in the 10th inning. The lineup stranded at least one runner on base in every inning from the eighth to the 12th.
And still, the Phillies outlasted a first-place Atlanta team that is teeming with flaws. A 6-1 Phillies win required 13 innings, a Freddie Freeman error, and an implosion by reliever David Hale. The Phillies batted around for five runs in the 13th. Even Antonio Bastardo drew a walk.
It should have never reached extras at Turner Field. The bottom of Atlanta's lineup found two holes in the ninth with weak grounders. Andrelton Simmons blooped one over Chase Utley's head to tie the game. Papelbon, who appeared 25 times since he last blew a save attempt, was not blessed with luck. Nonetheless, Hamels' seven scoreless innings were erased.
The next three innings were a competition to see which team could fail more. Atlanta stranded the potential winning run in scoring position in the ninth and 10th innings. Young baseball players, avert your eyes.
These Phillies are 51/2 games back even though they are eight games under .500. Either Atlanta or Washington is geared for an eventual run. Maybe the youthful Marlins stay afloat long enough to strike. Until one of those scenarios happens, the Phillies will maintain faith because of the division's weakness.
They are three games worse than they were through 68 games last season. But the Phillies were 61/2 back then. And they were nine games back in 2012 at this point. Those seasons, of course, ended without October baseball in Philadelphia.
Monday could have ended as a Phillies loss in the ninth or 10th inning. Brown's gaffe, somehow, did not cost the Phillies. He was the only person in the stadium who thought Freddie Freeman had smashed a game-winning home run. But Freeman raced around the bases for a triple unbeknownst to Brown, who jumped into the wall and missed the ball.
There was no rational explanation. But Justin De Fratus pitched around it.
The Braves are crestfallen by their own hitting issues. They entered Monday ranked 27th in baseball with 3.68 runs per game. Their .306 on-base percentage matched that of the Phillies.
Their No. 2 hitter, B.J. Upton, has a .586 OPS in 190 games since joining Atlanta. He signed a five-year, $75 million contract before the 2013 season. Dan Uggla is relegated to the bench with a .165 batting average. Tommy La Stella, his 25-year-old replacement, needed just 16 games to surpass Uggla in hits. But he is unproven beyond that small sample.
Chris Johnson has not yet recaptured his sweet stroke from a season ago. Jason Heyward is still prone to prolonged slumps. Even Freeman, Atlanta's most reliable hitter, batted just .189 in June's first two weeks.
It was a favorable charge for Hamels, who maintained the slimmest margin for seven innings. Hamels has not permitted a run in 232/3 consecutive innings, the second-longest streak of his career. His ERA is 2.78, and there are no signs of distress from his wintertime shoulder ailment.
His greatest escape came in the seventh inning. Atlanta loaded the bases. Evan Gattis singled. Justin Upton doubled. Johnson took a cutter to the knee. There were no outs.
La Stella lined one right at third baseman Reid Brignac, who was positioned where the grass turned to dirt. That was sheer luck. Then Simmons bounced a cutter to second base for a textbook 4-6-3 double play to submit another scoreless frame. That was skill. The Phillies, however, cannot use Hamels in every inning of every night.
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