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Braves snap skid against Phillies

Braves snap skid against Phillies

ATLANTA -- Every miraculous run needs a starting point and often includes the emergence of an unexpected hero. While far too early to bestow heroic status upon Lance Cormier, the right-hander has at least provided much-needed hope for a Braves bunch that is seeking to end the regular season in near-perfect style.

While the scars are still present, it doesn't do the Braves any good to sulk about the frustrations the Mets dealt while sweeping through Atlanta this past weekend. Instead, they can only remain optimistic that Monday afternoon's 5-1 series-opening win over the Phillies at Turner Field was the start of an essential long winning streak.

"There's no more time to waste," Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "There's no more looking toward the future. It's now. We have to win now. Today was a good step."

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If the Braves are going to erase the sizeable deficits they face in both the National League East and NL Wild Card races, they'll need to take many more similar steps without the interruption of a stumble. In order to realize the necessary winning streak, they'll need production from the back end of their rotation, which has recently been strengthened by Cormier, who limited the Phillies to one earned run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"Cormier was unbelievable," said Brian McCann, who delivered the decisive two-run, fourth-inning double. "He kept them off balance all day long. He threw strikes and worked down in the zone. You can't say enough about his performance today."

Had McCann not delivered the decisive, bases-loaded two-run double off Jamie Moyer in the fifth inning, Cormier may not have been able to enjoy winning a second consecutive start for the first time in his career. Considering they had gone 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position during this past weekend's series, the double into the right-field corner was a welcome sight for the Braves.

"We made progress today," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team won for just the fourth time in 13 games. "We got some timely back-to-back hits, which we didn't have the whole [Mets] series. We had good pitching again. We held them out of the [bullpen]."

With Peter Moylan needing just one pitch to escape a sixth-inning jam he inherited from Cormier and Rafael Soriano concluding things with a perfect ninth inning, the Braves assured themselves of moving to within 5 1/2 games of the lead in the Wild Card race.

Entering their series-opening showdown in Arizona on Monday, the Padres and Diamondbacks were tied for the lead in both the NL West and Wild Card race. With the certainty that one would lose, the Braves know they're at least one step closer in that crowded chase.

"You have to still think we have a chance to make it," said McCann, who also helped gain an insurance run by beginning a two-out sixth-inning rally with a single off Moyer. "It's been done before. We just have to get hot at the right time. I think we have the club to do it. Now we just have to go out and do it."

Moyer, who had won his previous two starts against the Braves this year, allowed four earned runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. The 44-year-old southpaw initially found trouble in the fourth inning, when Jeff Francoeur and Andruw Jones followed Teixeira's leadoff walk with a pair of singles.

While losing nine of their previous 12 games, the Braves had hit just .248 with runners in scoring position and .214 (3-for-14) with the bases loaded. Thus, they can only hope McCann's decisive double at least puts an end to that alarming trend.

"I've been missing a lot of pitches lately and I was happy to not miss one in that situation," said McCann, who entered this three-game series with just three hits in his previous 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The season-long alarming trend for the Braves has been the fact that all starters not named Smoltz or Hudson have proven to be a liability. Braves starting pitchers have been credited with just eight wins in the past 25 games. Providing some encouragement is the fact that of those victories have been earned by Cormier, who has seemingly regained the arm strength he lost when he suffered a right shoulder injury at the end of Spring Training. Along with the heater, he once again has the knee-buckling curveball that helped him register five strikeouts -- four of which were called -- against the Phillies.

"He had a lot of pitches today," Cox said of Cormier, who threw 59 of his 99 pitches for strikes. "But I thought he had good quality stuff. He had a good curveball today. He kept the left-handers off balance and right-handers as well. He did a real good job."

Cormier, who has at least pitched into the sixth inning in three of his past four starts, surrendered a Chase Utley double that was followed by Pat Burrell's fourth-inning RBI single. But four pitches later, the Braves right-hander escaped the inning by getting Ryan Howard to ground into a double play.

"I'm just going out there and trying to do the best that I can," Cormier said. "We need as many wins as we can get down the stretch. Every good outing from every pitcher is needed. I was fortunate enough today to get a good outing and put us back on track."

While the Braves are far from being out of the woods, they once again at least can hope these next four weeks can prove to be both memorable and miraculous.

"It's a step," McCann said. "It's a step that moves us one step closer to making the playoffs. We have to start taking one game at a time and winning."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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