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Russian Relief Roulette: Phillies 3, Braves 2

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A tight game between NL East rivals went to the ninth inning tied at 2, with effective starters Joe Blanton and Jair Jurrjens both out of the game and setup men Mike Gonzalez and Ryan Madson already used. Both managers made risky, eminently second-guessable bullpen decisions. But while Atlanta's Bobby Cox and Rafael Soriano bit a bullet in the top of the ninth, Charlie Manuel and floundering closer Brad Lidge just barely managed to escape unharmed.

After lefty Gonzalez worked around a leadoff double in the top of the eighth and Madson set down the Braves in the bottom half, Cox called on right-hander Soriano to face the Phillies' 4-5-6 hitters in the ninth. Perhaps the future Hall of Fame manager was unaware of the nearly 500 point gap in Ryan Howard's OPS against righties (1.051) and lefties (.591). Maybe he thought Gonzalez was gassed after retiring Shane Victorino and Chase Utley with Ben Francisco on third and one out. Possibly it was a hunch. In any event, Howard crushed a Soriano offering into the left-centerfield seats, giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead. 

Madson had needed only six pitches to retire the heart of the Atlanta order in the eighth, but Manuel turned to Brad Lidge anyway--and very nearly paid for it with the game. Yunel Escobar started the home ninth with a rocket to the right-centerfield gap that Jayson Werth managed to run down. Adam LaRoche followed with a hard-hit single up the middle; Matt Diaz pinch-ran, and quickly notched his 20th career steal in 434 big-league games. But Lidge struck out Ryan Church on an eye-high fastball for the second out. Lidge then walked pinch-hitter Greg Norton, batting .138 for the year, to face Nate McLouth with the winning run on first. McLouth blasted another drive to the track in left... where it settled into the glove of Raul Ibanez, ending the game. 

Both winning a low-scoring game and beating the Braves for only the third time in ten tries this year are worth getting pumped about. But the question remains: if the Phillies are justified in demoting Jamie Moyer for poor performance, how long can they tolerate Lidge's high-wire act in the closer role?