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September 02, 2016

Phillies blow four-run lead, watch NL-worst Braves roll to victory

When you're holding a four-run lead after two innings against any team, especially the worst team in the National League, the last thing you want to do as an offense is to fail to add more to put them away in the middle innings.

When you're a veteran pitcher holding that early four-run lead, the last thing you want to do is give the opposition any sign of hope.

But the reeling Phillies, matched up against an Atlanta Braves team that can match them in ineptitude, and then some, did both of those things on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, when a generous group of 17,175, the largest crowd this week, arrived at the 13-year-old park and watched the team get blitzed by the Braves in an 8-4 defeat.

A four-run lead evaporated in the fifth inning when Matt Kemp jumped on a Jeremy Hellickson curveball and sent it 400-feet away for a game-tying three-run home run, his 27th of the season.

"I can’t make a mistake up in the zone like that with a 4-1 lead," Hellickson said. 

The night began with promise.

Ryan Howard ripped an RBI double in the first inning and new reserve catcher A.J. Ellis took advantage of his second straight start, drilling a three-run home run in the second. But in the fifth, Hellickson came undone as Atlanta erased the four-run deficit with one fell swoop of a half inning, a rally capped by Kemp's blast.

With the two probable 90-loss teams still tied entering the ninth, the Phillies summoned in closer Jeanmar Gomez. The veteran right-hander failed to retire any of the four batters he faced.

Freddie Freeman doubled to give Atlanta the lead and Kemp added a run-scoring single to chase Gomez and lead Atlanta to an 8-4 win over the Phillies. Backed early by a four-run lead, Phils pitchers watched Atlanta, with Major League Baseball's second-worst offense, score eight unanswered runs.

Gomez, who has racked up 34 saves in 38 chances this season, has struggled to record regular outs in the last three weeks. The veteran right-hander has an 11.57 ERA (nine earned runs in seven innings) in his last eight games.

During that run, Gomez has allowed 15 of the 30 batters he's faced to reach via walk or hit.

"I feel really good," Gomez said Friday night when asked if he was tiring as the season winds down. "The last two months I’ve felt really good. All my workouts were good. My velocity is the same and my pitches are moving."

The Phillies, owners of the worst offense in baseball, scored more runs in the first two innings of Friday's game than they managed in 27 innings of their three-game sweep at the hands of Washington earlier this week. It's what made the loss sting a little more for Hellickson.

"The guys give me a four-run lead, that’s got to stand," Hellickson said. "We have to win that game."

The Phillies have lost four in a row and eight of their last 10. They have lost 11 of 15 games since sweeping the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park three weeks ago.

The Phillies (60-74) are a season-worst 14 games under .500. They have to go 13-15 in their final 28 games to avoid losing 90 games for the second straight season. 

The Phils haven't lost 90 or more games in back-to-back seasons since 1996 and 1997, the last year under Jim Fregosi and first under Terry Francona

"That game boiled down to the one hanging curveball to Kemp," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Hellickson pitched relatively well but he made that bad pitch to Kemp and they came back from our four-run lead. That was a big part of the game, it changed the momentum in their favor and we never got it back."

 Freddy Galvis took advantage of the off day in the Phillies schedule to take his Bake McBride 'fro and turn it into a Bob Marley special.

Galvis’ new look did not hinder his play: the Gold Glove-caliber shortstop made a nifty dive, stop and throw to record an out in the second inning and collected his team-leading 24th double and scored in the bottom half of the inning.

 J.P. Crawford went 3-for-5 with a double and a run in Triple-A Lehigh Valley’s 7-0 win over Rochester on Friday, a victory that clinched an International League playoff spot for the IronPigs. It was Crawford’s first three-hit game since July 14, when the IronPigs returned from their All-Star break.

In the 36 games in between his three-hit games, from July 15 to Sept. 1, Crawford hit just .182 with two extra-base hits and a .292 OBP. Crawford, the Phillies top prospect and rated the third-best prospect in the game by Baseball America in July, snapped an 0-for-18 skid with a single in the first inning of Friday’s game at Rochester.

 • Ben Lively also pitched fairly well in that IronPigs game. (Apparently, he is on an innings limit as the 2016 winds down).

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