By Rob Maaddi
Needing a sweep to have a realistic chance to challenge for the division title, the Atlanta Braves lost three straight to the Phillies.
At least there’s the wild-card race.
Pinch-hitter Ross Gload hit an RBI single with one out in the bottom of the ninth and Philadelphia beat the Braves 3-2 on Wednesday night to complete a three-game sweep and extend their lead in the NL East to 10½ games.
Second-place Atlanta still should reach the postseason barring a late collapse. The Braves are 6½ games ahead of St. Louis in the wild-card race.
“Well, we’re fighting for the wild card right now, and we just have to find a way to win some ballgames,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Veteran Chipper Jones isn’t discouraged despite the Braves’ first sweep of three games or more this season.
“We cannot walk away from this thinking we played bad baseball,” he said. “The last two nights, we’ve played pretty well, and tonight, they just found a way to beat us in a really good ballgame.”
The major league-leading Phillies (91-48) reduced their magic number to 12 for clinching their fifth straight division title. They are 43 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
It may be a costly win for the Phillies because five-time All-Star Chase Utley left the game for precautionary reasons for a possible concussion, two innings after he was hit in the helmet by a pitch from Eric O’Flaherty.
Utley had headaches and won’t play at least the next two games in Milwaukee.
Raul Ibanez drew a one-out walk off Peter Moylan (1-1) in the ninth. Carlos Ruiz followed with a single to left. Gload then ripped a hard grounder down the right-field line to score Ibanez.
Ryan Madson (4-2) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the win after Roy Oswalt tossed seven strong innings.
The Phillies are cruising toward October in a season when only a World Series title would be considered a success. They need 11 wins in the last 23 games to set a season franchise record.
Down 2-1, the Phillies rallied against All-Star Jonny Venters in the eighth. Pinch-hitter John Mayberry Jr. led off with a single. He moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on Placido Polanco’s two-out single to right.
Oswalt took a no-hitter into the sixth. He gave up two runs and four hits. The righty had seven strikeouts and a season-high four walks.
Braves starter Brandon Beachy allowed one run and two hits, striking out seven in 5 2-3 innings. He set the franchise’s rookie season record with 142 strikeouts.
“That’s pretty neat. But I’d rather have the win,” Beachy said.
The Braves took their first lead of the series on pinch-hitter Freddie Freeman’s bad-hop RBI single in the seventh. Jason Heyward led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice. Freeman followed with a grounder up the middle that hit the grass cutout and took a high hop over second baseman Utley’s head.
Oswalt didn’t allow a hit until Michael Bourn led off the sixth with a double to left-center. One out later, Bourn scored on Jones’ single up the middle to tie it at 1.
Ibanez gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead when he ripped a homer to deep right-center, his 18th of the season and 250th in his career.
The Phillies learned before the game they were denied their protest for a fan interference call in a 5-4, 14-inning loss to the Florida Marlins on Sunday.
They were on the opposite side of a controversial call this time.
Polanco hit a looping fly to right field with two outs and a runner on first in the sixth. Right fielder Heyward dived and caught the ball on a short-hop. But first base umpire CB Bucknor ruled he made the catch and the Braves ran off the field. Polanco immediately argued and manager Charlie Manuel came out. Bucknor conferred with the other umpires and Polanco was ruled safe.
Gonzalez argued and was ejected. O’Flaherty replaced Beachy and hit Utley to load the bases. Ryan Howard struck out to end the inning.