One out away from prolonging their home dominance and moving a step closer to the top of the National League East standings, the Braves saw an evening filled with mistakes end in a manner that had to make them think this had actually been a road game.
By the time the Phillies had completed their 4-3, 10-inning victory at Turner Field on Friday night, it was tough to remember that Tim Hudson had pitched a gem that would have been sufficiently supported by Brian McCann's two-run homer.
Instead all of the evening's focus was on Johnson, who literally turned a sure victory into a bitter defeat. The second baseman's inability to squeeze Chris Coste's two-out, ninth-inning pop fly along the right-field line allowed the Phillies to tie the game and extend it long enough for Shane Victorino to provide the difference with a triple off Manny Acosta, whose third blown save of the week came because Rafael Soriano's elbow wouldn't allow him to pitch.
"It's just one of those things that doesn't happen," Johnson said. "It's not supposed to happen. It doesn't happen. That's all I can say. It's probably the worst feeling somebody can feel on a baseball field, outside of it being a playoff game. But in a way, this was our playoff game."
While there might have been a playoff-like intensity, the Braves didn't look anything like a playoff team with their comedy of errors. Still, with two outs and runners on second and third in the 10th inning, Yunel Escobar hit a single to center that easily scored Josh Anderson.
But Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who has seen the Braves account for two of the three runs he's surrendered in 26 appearances, avoided his first blown save of the season when plate umpire Alfonso Marquez called Blanco out as he attempted to slide in with the tying run.
As he quickly left his office, Braves manager Bobby Cox said he wasn't upset with the game-ending call. It seemed like his reason for bursting on the field to argue was a product of the fact that Marquez chose to stay on the field and exchange words with both first-base coach Glenn Hubbard and third-base coach Brian Snitker.
"It's a weird game sometimes," said Johnson, after seeing the Braves lose their 16th one-run game out of 20 they've played this year. "Sometimes it can be the freakish plays like the one to end the game tonight with the throw home. Or sometimes the deciding play can be something that is so routine, so easy."
With their fifth loss in their past 22 home games, the Braves fell one game further back of the front-running Phillies. They found out that they aren't immune to a multitude of late-inning mistakes, even at Turner Field. The mistakes extended beyond the fact that Coste's potential game-winning popup bounced off the heel of Johnson's glove.
"You can't try to give away a game as many times as we did tonight," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who enjoyed a two-hit game that raised his Major League-best batting average to .421.
Long before Johnson's error allowed pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett to score the tying run from second base, this seemed to be a game the Braves didn't deserve to win. They were in position to do so because Tim Hudson allowed just one earned run and five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
After McCann's homer gave the Braves the lead, Omar Infante ended Moyer's night with a one-out triple. But Infante was retired while trying to score after Blanco's suicide bunt attempt fell directly in front of the plate.
While that was simply a mistake that can be expected during a game, Escobar's seventh-inning baserunning blunder erased the benefit of the double play he'd turned in the top half of the inning. Escobar froze on Jeff Francoeur's one-out, bases-loaded liner to left, then attempted to tag up and race to the plate ahead of Pat Burrell's throw.
It wasn't close for Escobar, just like it wasn't close for Will Ohman, who drew a walk in the eighth during a pinch-hit appearance that was created because Cox wanted him to pitch against left-handed Ryan Howard to begin the ninth. Ohman's inexperience on the basepaths showed when he was thrown out attempting to move to second after Coste was unable to handle a Tom Gordon pitch.
It didn't look like Ohman would be needed to start the ninth inning. But after beginning to warm up in the bullpen, Soriano, who recorded a save on Wednesday night, sat down. Cox simply said he was unavailable. But there's certainly a possibility that the right-handed reliever, who spent most of the season's first two months on the disabled list, experienced more trouble with his elbow.
After Hudson's gem was ruined by Johnson's error and the two runs Acosta allowed in the 10th inning, the Braves actually made things interesting against Lidge, who entered the game having surrendered just two runs in his previous 25 appearances.
With limited choices, Cox turned to Acosta, who began the 10th inning by allowing a Chris Snelling double. Two batters later, Victorino tripled and put himself in position to score on a Chase Utley double.
This has been a rough week for Acosta, who has allowed six earned runs and six hits while recording just two outs in his two appearances this week. Still, he might be able to forget this stretch sooner than Johnson forgets this night.
Johnson confirmed this belief when he was asked if he could remember the last time he'd botched such a routine play.
"It's been a while," Johnson said. "The last time I can remember was 2002 [with Class A Myrtle Beach]. Those are the kinds of things that you remember."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less