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Braves beat Phillies, move closer to NL wild card spot

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Associated Press
9/23/2012 5:06:08 PM
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PHILADELPHIA -- Tim Hudson pitched Atlanta to the brink of a playoff spot.

The Braves are set to answer how they'd respond to their 2011 collapse with a celebration at Turner Field.

Hudson tossed two-hit ball over 7 1-3 innings to help the Atlanta Braves inch closer to the post-season with a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.

Hudson (16-6) struck out four and allowed one unearned run to send the Braves back to Atlanta with a shot at winning at least an NL wild-card berth.

A year after a historic September collapse, the Braves are again close to a post-season spot. They can clinch during a six-game homestand that opens Tuesday.

The win over Cliff Lee (6-8) reduced Atlanta's magic number for securing an NL wild-card playoff spot to two.

"It's a good feeling," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We're in a good spot to, at the very least, make the playoffs. We're not going to quit anything."

The Braves learned the hard way the crushing disappointment of blowing a big September lead. The Braves were up 8 1/2 games through Sept. 5 last year, but went 9-18 down the stretch and were overtaken by St. Louis on the final day of the season.

The Braves can almost work the final week of this season on setting their playoff rotation.

"I have one or two more starts before, hopefully, we get into the playoffs and it really starts counting," Hudson said.

David Ross hit a solo homer and Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for his 39th save.

The Braves had to listen to questions all season about how they would turn the page on their poor ending to 2011.

Looks as if they can put the champagne on ice.

The Braves have won seven of nine and 14 of their past 20 overall.

Hudson was on top of his game, allowing a single in the third and one in the fifth. His only mistake came in the sixth. Jimmy Rollins worked a leadoff walk, advanced to second on Hudson's errant pickoff attempt. Rollins scored on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly.

Hudson, who also doubled, has won at least 16 games in each of his past three seasons.

"I was able to come in and beat a great pitcher today," Hudson said.

Lee struck out 11 in eight strong innings, but lost for the first time since Aug. 11. Lee hadn't allowed more than a run in each of his past five starts and only one of his two runs allowed Sunday was earned.

The Phillies are likely to miss the post-season for the first time since 2006.

"We've put ourselves in a position we don't want to be in," Lee said. "You can't do anything about it now."

The five-time defending NL East champions had won four in a row and 12 of 15 to get in the wild-card race, only to lose two straight to the Braves.

Manager Charlie Manuel had said the Phillies had a "heartbeat" in the playoff chase. But their chances are about over.

"The noose is getting tighter, but we're still there," Manuel said.

Ross gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the second when his eighth homer of the year went over the wall in centre.

The Braves loaded the bases against Lee in the third, getting one runner aboard when Lee bobbled a grounder, and Uggla's sacrifice fly made it 2-1.

While the Braves handled the constant questioning about their meltdown with class, it's clear how much earning a spot in this year's field would mean.

Considering last season's collapse, securing any playoff spot is quite the accomplishment. It would have been the biggest September meltdown in baseball history except that Boston blew a nine-game lead during the same month.

Forget about it now. The Braves, who are off Monday, will soon have a reason to again enjoy the post-season.

"We were able to scrap and get just enough to win," Hudson said.

Notes: Lee had a double-digit strikeout game for the 23rd time in his career. ... The Braves (88-65) are 23 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 9, 2011. ... Lee has pitched at least six innings and not issued more than one walk in 15 consecutive starts, a record in the modern era. Christy Mathewson (1908) and Gregg Maddux (1997) did it in 14. ... Ross' eight homers are his most since he hit 17 with Cincinnati in 2007.

Tim Hudson (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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