THE BALL WAS slicing and Jayson Werth was sprinting and the whole time Raul Ibanez was engaging in a series of heartfelt conversations with the Man Upstairs.
“I said about 14 prayers running down to first,” Ibanez admitted later. “You’d be surprised at the things that run through your head when you are hoping that ball stays fair.”
Those prayers were answered with a mighty roar, one that began in the leftfield corner, where his eighth-inning double landed on the chalk line, and quickly spread throughout Citizens Bank Park. By the time Ibanez reached second, Werth was sliding into home and the Phillies were on their way to 1-0 victory and a series sweep of the reeling Braves.
“I saw the ball bounce off the wall,” Werth said. “I was scoring after that.”
Ibanez’ slicing, two-out hit off of Atlanta lefty Jonny Venters was the decisive moment in the Phillies’ 10th straight victory, and it might prove to be the same in their quest for a fourth straight National League East title. Eleven days ago, they were tied atop the division. But last night, after another dominant effort from righthander Roy Oswalt and a third straight save from Brad Lidge, the Phillies (92-61) held a six-game lead with nine games to play and were tied with the Yankees and Twins for the major league lead in wins.
They can clinch the division as early as Saturday, although that would require winning tomorrow and Saturday against the Mets and having the Braves lose their next two games against the Nationals.