PHILADELPHIA -- Life has not been easy for the Braves as they have navigated their way through the first week of the regular season's final month. Their once-proud rotation has been weakened by injuries, and their airtight bullpen has cost them twice in a span of six days.
All seemed right for the Braves when they handed Jonny Venters a one-run lead in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game at Citizens Bank Park. One of the team's primary formulas of success has involved Venters giving closer Craig Kimbrel an opportunity to notch a save.
This proved to be one of those rare nights when Kimbrel never had the chance to follow Venters.
After tying the score off Venters in the eighth inning, the Phillies completed a 3-2 comeback win over the Braves with pinch-hitter Ross Gload's RBI single off Peter Moylan, who was making just his second appearance since undergoing back surgery in May.
"Those are the guys you want to have out there," manager Fredi Gonzalez said after watching his team fall to 61-4 in games they'd led after the seventh inning.
Moylan issued a one-out walk to Raul Ibanez, then watched as Carlos Ruiz sneaked a single under Chipper Jones' outstretched glove. Inserted as a pinch-hitter, the left-handed-hitting Gload sent his game-winning single down the first-base line, just out of Freddie Freeman's reach.
After allowing a run in each of the final two innings, the Braves were swept in a series consisting of at least three games for the first time this season, and they are now 10 1/2 games behind the Phillies in the National League East. More important, with their seventh loss in their past 10 games, the Braves saw their once-comfortable lead over the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race shrink to 6 1/2 games.
After playing a doubleheader with the Mets in New York on Thursday, the Braves will travel to St. Louis to play a three-game weekend series against the Cardinals.
"You can't argue with the way we've played the last two nights," Jones said. "We left it all out there and just got beat late. September is not the ideal time to be going through a swoon, but here we are. The only way we're going to get out of it is to play just a hair better."
After being held hitless through the first five innings by Roy Oswalt, the Braves tied the score in the sixth inning on Jones' one-out RBI single and took the lead in the seventh on another one-out single, this one by Freeman. And once Eric O'Flaherty escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth and worked a scoreless seventh, the Braves felt good giving Venters a chance to improve upon the 1.39 ERA he recorded through his first 74 appearances.
Venters allowed a leadoff single to John Mayberry Jr., who advanced to second on Wilson Valdez's sacrifice bunt. After Shane Victorino struck out, Placido Polanco reached across the plate to swat an opposite-field RBI single that tied the score. Jason Heyward had a chance to prevent Mayberry from scoring, but his throw sailed up the third-base line.
Gonzalez and Jones both made a point of saying that Polanco hit a good pitch, but Venters did not agree. He was upset that he did not bury the pitch after catcher Brian McCann had visited the mound to remind him Polanco would attempt to go the other way.
Venters has allowed a run in just eight of his 75 appearances this year, but three of those eight occurrences have come within his past five appearances.
"I didn't make a pitch, and he made me pay for it," Venters said. "[Starter] Brandon [Beachy] threw the ball well tonight, and we scratched a run out in the seventh to get the lead. For me to come in and give that up, there was no excuse. I didn't do my job, and I didn't make pitches."
Michael Bourn ended Oswalt's no-hit bid with a sixth-inning leadoff single that put him in position to score on Jones' game-tying single. Heyward notched one of his two singles to open the seventh, and later scored when Freeman chopped a single through the middle of the infield.
Proving up to the challenge of matching a top-flight pitcher in a playoff atmosphere, Beachy limited the Phillies to two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings. The only hit he surrendered through the first five innings was Ibanez's two-out homer in the second inning.
Beachy struck out Victorino in his first two at-bats, then issued him a four-pitch walk in the sixth. Polanco followed with a controversial single that put runners at the corners.
"I would have liked to have made it a lot farther in the game, and I would have liked to have not given up that home run," said Beachy, who is winless in six career starts against the Phillies. "Games like this, that one run could be the difference."
First-base umpire C.B. Bucknor ruling that Heyward caught Polanco's sinking liner was overruled after the crew conferred. Replays show that the ball was trapped.
After manager Fredi Gonzalez argued the reversal and was given his fourth ejection of the season, O'Flaherty entered and hit Chase Utley in the helmet with a first-pitch fastball. With the bases loaded, O'Flaherty ended the inning with a strikeout of Ryan Howard.
Utley would later be pulled with the game with a possible concussion, and will meet with doctors on Thursday.
"You can't walk away from it thinking you played bad or you gave it to them, nothing like that," Jones said. "They just beat us in a really good ballgame. You kind of think, once it gets to be 2-2, because they have the last at-bat, they're going to break through. We'll take our spanking and try to win a doubleheader tomorrow in New York."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.