PHILADELPHIA -- With the most important road trip to date being filled with oddities, it was only fitting that it would be one that would see the Braves to move both one step closer to first place and one step back in the National East race.

When the Braves get back to Atlanta in the wee hours of Monday morning, they'll still be thinking about how close they were to completing a perfect road trip and how much better they'd be feeling if they'd have converted the potential fifth-inning double-play grounder that doomed them in Sunday night's 5-3 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

"Actually when the play happened, I was kind of excited because I thought we had a double play and then find out nobody was out," said Braves starter Buddy Carlyle of the unsuccessful double-play attempt that set the stage for Ryan Howard to deliver his decisive three-run homer -- one that was considered a "joke" by more than one frustrated Atlanta player.

"It was a little fly ball," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Howard's opposite-field homer. "It goes out here and Cincinnati. Maybe Houston [with] the short porch. But if we get the call ... "

Actually the Braves could have benefited from two calls that went against them on the Tadahito Iguchi grounder that had twin-killing written all over it before second baseman Martin Prado made a flip to Yunel Escobar, who was late getting to the bag and consequently missed while making his throw to first base.

Second-base umpire Brian Runge chose not to give Escobar the usual "in the neighborhood" luxury when he missed the second base bag while making his throw toward first base. Then first-base umpire Bruce Froeming ruled Iguchi beat the throw to first base.

"I was surprised [Runge] called him safe," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "But I was happy about it."

Although he argued with Runge when the calls were made, Cox said Escobar definitely missed the bag and that the throw to first resulted in a tie. His short controlled argument with Runge didn't result in him passing John McGraw to gain sole possession of first place on Major League Baseball's all-time ejections list.

"You don't see it called," Cox said of Runge's ruling. "But it wasn't one of those routine balls. [Escobar] thought Prado was going to take it. But the ball came up on [Prado] then he recovered. [Escobar] missed the bag, but [Phillies shortstop Jimmy] Rollins missed the bag, too, on his double play."

The fact that Rollins might have missed the bag on a fourth-inning double play had little bearing on why the Braves split this six-game road trip against the Mets and Phillies. During Wednesday's loss in New York, they were unable to at least tie the game after loading the bases with nobody out in the ninth against Mets closer Billy Wagner.

Then, during Friday night's loss to Philadelphia, Atlanta blew a four-run, first-inning lead and saw the game decided on Escobar's throwing error. Consequently, they now find themselves in third place, a half-game behind the Phillies and trailing the front-running Mets by 3 1/2 games -- one game closer than they were when the trip began.

"It would have been nice to go 4-2," said Jeff Francoeur, who increased his NL-best outfield assist total with two strong throws to the plate that retired runners attempting to score against Carlyle, who lost for just the second time in nine starts.

After issuing a pair of walks that helped the Phillies score a run in the first inning, Carlyle gained better control and didn't issue another free pass until issuing a four-pitch one against Jimmy Rollins to begin the fateful fifth. Iguchi followed with the grounder that the inexperienced Prado decided to flip to his unsuspecting rookie shortstop. One batter later, Howard used the friendly home confines to collect his 33rd homer of the season.

"When he hit it, I honestly thought it was going to be an out, but it still went 15 rows deep," said Carlyle, who was charged with four runs -- three earned -- and six hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Howard's homer made a winner out of Jamie Moyer, who encountered a two-run deficit before recording his first out. But after surrendering Chipper Jones' first-inning two-run single, the 44-year-old southpaw didn't allow another hit until Francoeur singled with two outs in the sixth.

Francoeur's single gave the Braves runners at first and second and also set the stage for Moyer to escape the jam with one of the three strikeouts he recorded on the evening against Andruw Jones, who finished with four hits in 28 at-bats on this road trip.

Prado, who has six hits in 12 career at-bats against Moyer, tripled home a run in the seventh to cut the Braves' deficit to one. But the Phillies tallied another run in the bottom half of the inning off Peter Moylan and saw their bullpen register four strikeouts in 2 2/3 perfect innings.

"Their bullpen did a great job and Moyer kept us off balance," Francoeur said. "But it comes back to we've got to get key hits and I think I've reiterated that at this ballpark, any ball can go out of the ballpark. That's just what kind of happened to us tonight and it took the steam out of us."