Rookie Wood stifles Phils as Braves win 10th straight
Lefty allows one run over six; Atlanta stretches NL East lead to 12 1/2
PHILADELPHIA -- Add Alex Wood's emergence as the latest of the many things that have gone right for the Braves as they have proven perfect for more than a week and legitimized themselves as one of Major League Baseball's elite teams.
Less than 24 hours after learning one of his close friends had slipped into a coma after a canoeing accident, Wood took the mound at Citizens Bank Park and was undaunted by the fact that he was opposing Cliff Lee amidst the added attention of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.
With Wood surrendering just two hits over six strong innings and B.J. Upton providing encouragement with a pair of hits, the Braves notched a 4-1 victory over the Phillies and matched their season-best 10-game winning streak.
"We're playing relaxed," Upton said. "That is a big part of this game. When you can play relaxed, you can go out there and just have fun doing it. That's kind of what is going on right now."
When this season began, it appeared this six-game road trip would impact the National League East standings. But the Braves have temporarily removed any lingering drama surrounding this race. They buried the Phillies' hopes this weekend and head to Washington aiming to increase their 12 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals.
While making the Phillies the ninth different NL club they have swept this season, the Braves halted the road woes that have haunted them most of the year. They entered the weekend having lost 30 of the previous 49 games played outside of Atlanta.
"We're playing good baseball right now," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I know coming into this road trip we haven't been playing good baseball on the road. But we had good pitching, got some good hitting and played some good defense."
All three of these facets were on display as the Braves concluded the three-game set in Philadelphia by forcing Cliff Lee to throw 95 pitches while matching a season-short five innings. Each of the four runs surrendered by Lee came courtesy of clutch two-out hits by Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton.
The offensive contributions were more than enough for Wood, who had the comfort of throwing each of his 98 pitches with the advantage he gained courtesy of the two-run single Johnson sent through the infield's right side in the first. Along with owning an NL-best .346 batting average, Johnson has hit .400 (14-for-35) with two outs and runners in scoring position.
"We wanted to take advantage," Johnson said. "You don't get many of those opportunities against a guy like [Lee]. So I was just trying to battle with it. I was trying to make good contact. He had me with two strikes. I was trying to use the whole field and got one through there."
Atlanta's two-run fourth began rather inauspiciously when B.J. Upton rounded the bases on what was initially ruled a home run. It was reversed to a double after umpires reviewed the video of the play and determined a fan had interfered with the ball before it cleared the right-center field wall. But the negative effect of the reversal was erased when Heyward drove Upton in with a single and then scored when Justin Upton extended his season-best hitting streak to nine games.
As B.J. Upton drove the ball to the opposite field and laced a single up the middle in the third, he benefited from the time he spent with Braves veteran hitting guru Lee Elia during his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett this week. When he came off the disabled list on Saturday hitting just .177, he said he simply wanted to focus on being a contributing figure for the remainder of the season.
"I'm not trying to do too much," B.J. Upton said. "I'll try to chip in when I can. Obviously, you'd like it to be more than it has been. But whether it's defensively, offensively or on the basepaths, anywhere I can help us to win."
The only run Wood surrendered came after a replay review reversed Carlos Ruiz's home run to a double to begin the second. Ruiz advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on one of the 11 ground-ball outs recorded by Wood.
When injuries forced Wood to make rushed preparations before each of his first two big league starts, he encountered the struggles expected from a pitcher who played at the University of Georgia just a year ago. But in his past two outings, he has showed why the Braves were so intent to take him out of their bullpen and send him to Triple-A Gwinnett to stretch his arm out just before the break.
Wood has allowed just one run in his past 10 2/3 consecutive innings since allowing a two-run second-inning home run to Colorado's Nolan Arenado on Tuesday.
"I felt real comfortable out there. I was excited," Wood said. "I didn't want to be the one to lose the streak for us. I just wanted to go out there and compete and keep us in it."
While Wood was certainly pleased with his effort, it was obvious his postgame thoughts were focused on his injured friend, whose initials rested on the side of Wood's hat during this gem.
"It's hard not to think about him," Wood said. "But tonight was definitely for him and his family."