After snapping that nine-game skid with 5-4, 10-inning win over the Phillies at Turner Field on Tuesday night, the Braves found themselves celebrating the fact that Martin Prado had given manager Bobby Cox no choice but to make him his everyday second baseman.
"He's too hot to take out," Cox said after Prado capped his career-best performance with a walk-off single off Chan Ho Park.
As Prado's game-ender sailed over John Mayberry Jr.'s head in left field, Matt Diaz raced toward the plate with the winning run and the Braves celebrated the end of a nine-game skid that had started last year after the Phillies took advantage of Kelly Johnson's two-out, ninth-inning error in shallow right field.
"That's good to get that off our backs," said Cox, whose team is just four games behind front-running Philadelphia in the National League East race.
"I would have labeled this game, if we'd have lost it, as devastating," said Chipper Jones, who contributed a key fifth-inning single and teamed with Prado to turn a 10th-inning double play that minimized the Phillies' hopes of prolonging their dominance in Atlanta.
With Johnson hitting just .125 this month and .194 over his past 37 games, the only thing keeping Prado from emerging from the platoon at second base was the sore left groin that plagued him most of the 2008 season. But given the rare opportunity to start at second base against a right-handed pitcher, Prado began his offensive assault against Phillies starter Joe Blanton and ended it against Park, whose 10th-inning troubles began when Diaz directed a one-out single to left field.
After hustling to third base on Gregor Blanco's single, Diaz found himself trotting to the plate when Prado ended his career-best, four-hit, four-RBI performance by hitting Park's 2-2 fastball easily out of the reach of a drawn-in Mayberry.
"The last month, I left like 20-something guys on base," Prado said. "Most of the times I had guys on base, there were outs. I put so much pressure on myself to get that run in. That's not the way you should think. Tonight, for some reason, I had a better idea and a plan in my mind how to do it."
Prado, who entered the game with just four hits in his previous 27 at-bats with runners in scoring position, proved to be clutch throughout this series opener. His game-tying RBI single in the third rewarded Blanco's leadoff triple, and his leadoff homer accounted for the first of the two fifth-inning runs that gave the Braves their first lead.
But Prado's most important contribution was the one that gave him the opportunity to be the focal point of the walk-off celebration. His game-tying, two-out, eighth-inning RBI double off Ryan Madson erased the lead the Phils had gained with consecutive two-out solo homers off Mike Gonzalez in the top half of the inning.
"It seems like every time [Prado] plays, he does something to help us win," said Braves starter Derek Lowe. "Whether it's offensively or defensively or getting a bunt down. Today, he carried us."
After retiring Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth to begin the eighth, Gonzalez hung a 2-2 slider that Mayberry drilled over the center-field wall for a game-tying homer. Two pitches later, Feliz drilled a 1-0 fastball over the left-field wall and gave the Phillies what proved to be a short-lived lead.
Gonzalez, who had limited right-handed hitters to a .205 batting average in his previous 38 appearances this year, squandered the lead that would have allowed Lowe to end his three-game losing streak.
Lowe, who was 0-3 with a 12.34 ERA in his previous three starts, allowed two runs and seven hits over six innings. His damage was limited to Howard's two-out, third-inning double and the two-out, fifth-inning homer he surrendered to Chase Utley, just after being hit on the left side of his backside with a Shane Victorino line drive.
"The difference in this game tonight and those games we beat them last year?" Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Last year, we made the plays. We got the hits. Tonight, they made the plays and got the hits when they really needed them."
While providing further proof that they are in the thick of the tightly bunched NL East race, the Braves fed off the contributions of Prado, who has finally been given the everyday role that he's been working hard all year to earn.
"This is one of those games that I wish I could have the same feeling every day," Prado said. "Since I play once in a while, it's hard for me to stay focused. Tonight, I just went out there and did my best. It was good for the team. I'm proud we won the game."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less