One strike away from prolonging the frustration they've endured over the past few weeks, the Braves completed a wacky and improbable comeback that allowed them to claim a 9-8 win over the Phillies at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon.
"It was just one of those games where it was like, 'Here we go again,'" said Chipper Jones, who was part of the celebratory mob that rushed the infield after a sliding Yunel Escobar crossed the plate on Matt Diaz's walk-off three-run double with two outs.
"That's the most exciting game of the year for me, just from the standpoint that things have been going bad," said Jeff Francoeur, who sparked the three-run ninth with a two-out infield single off shell-shocked Phillies closer Brett Myers.
Having lost 10 of their previous 14 games and in search of a miraculous run they can only hope would allow entry into the postseason, the Braves could have folded their tents when the Phillies built a five-run second-inning lead off Tim Hudson. They had another opportunity to do so when a three-run seventh against Oscar Villarreal provided an 8-2 deficit.
But like during their four-run eighth against Tom Gordon, the Braves simply were never ready to die. After retiring the first two batters in the ninth, Myers' two-run cushion seemed pretty secure. But when Martin Prado followed Francoeur's single with one of his own on a 1-2 pitch that he bounced off the plate, there was a feeling the ball was finally bouncing Atlanta's way.
After Myers loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk to Yunel Escobar, Diaz connected on an 0-1 pitch that sent Chris Roberson, who was positioned in shallow right field, racing. When the ball skipped off Roberson's glove, Escobar began the dash that would bring a sense of euphoria to a Braves team that had seemed destined to encounter yet another dismal conclusion.
"This is the kind of win I think we've been needing for a long time," said Hudson, who allowed five earned runs and a season-high 11 hits in five innings.
When it's just your fifth win in 15 games, there's no need to get picky about the style of win. But as Hudson learned while he and his A's teammates enjoyed their 20-game winning streak in 2002, these walk-off victories can certainly prove to be contagious.
Trailing the crowded National League Wild Card race by 5 1/2 games and facing a 7 1/2-game deficit in the NL East, the Braves obviously are in need of any sort of contagious reaction that might produce at least a similar winning streak.
"It's been done," said Diaz, who entered the game in the seventh inning as part of a double switch that removed Andruw Jones from the game. "We've just put ourselves in a situation where we need to be the next team to do it if we hope to play into October."
When Hudson, who has gone winless in three starts since having won nine straight decisions, surrendered four singles in Philadelphia's three-run first and then saw three extra-base hits account for just two more runs in the second inning, the Braves seemed destined to begin this homestand with five losses in six games.
But Willie Harris' second homer of the season began a two-run sixth that chased Phillies rookie starter Kyle Kendrick and began the methodical comeback. Jones capped the sixth inning with an RBI double and then began the eventful eighth inning with his second two-bagger of the afternoon.
Three consecutive one-out singles chased Gordon and prompted the entry of Myers, who issued a run-producing wild pitch before promptly yielding the first of two walks to Escobar that would load the bases. Diaz followed this one in the eighth with a 60-foot RBI single that died in the infield grass.
Entering the game, the Braves had gotten just five hits in their previous 24 at-bats with the bases loaded. Diaz ended up having two hits in this situation during the final two innings of this thriller.
Of course, the second hit will be the more memorable one for the Braves, who, at least for a few moments, celebrated on the field as if they'd just clinched something.
"You don't get a chance to do that every day," Jones said. "You saw a lot of frustration being let out when that last ball dropped and Escobar slid across home plate. Guys were just saying, 'Finally something went our way and we can go home, as lousy as we played today, and feel good about things.'"
Looking back, Jones admits the Braves probably shouldn't have won a game in which they were held scoreless through five innings and surrendered 17 hits. But those eight hits they managed to tally in the final two innings at least prevented a sense of hopelessness that surely would have followed them into this weekend's series against the Nationals.
"As a team, you start feeling hopeless, too," Francoeur said. "But hopefully the fans will realize we're out there playing hard. Whether we're seven games back with seven to go or seven games back with one to go, we're going to play hard."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.