Late homer sinks the Phillies

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When the ball came down, the Phillies had lost. Andruw Jones follows through on his game-winning home run off Antonio Alfonsesca in the ninth inning. The game had begun as a pitcher's duel between Jon Lieber and Tim Hudson.

ATLANTA - Long after the game was over, long after Antonio Alfonseca shook his head and said "no" to reporters' requests for a postgame interview, the message board high above left field at Turner Field continued to rub it in.

Home run distance - 376 feet.

That's how far Andruw Jones hit Alfonseca's hanging slider in the bottom of the ninth inning. The ball landed several rows into the left-field seats, the fatal blow in the Phillies' 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves last night.

The Braves are 16-9. A quarter of their wins have come against the Phillies.

"We need to start beating them," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We've got to stay after them - hit, field and pitch. This game was there for us, but we didn't hit. They shut us down. We got nothing going."

The Phils had just four hits as Tim Hudson was masterful over eight innings. Lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez got the win in relief.

Alfonseca, who had pitched well during the first month, suffered his first loss as a Phillie when he allowed two base runners before hanging a 1-1 slider to Jones. While teammates, including starting pitcher Jon Lieber, offered insights about the difficult loss, Alfonseca channeled Jose Mesa and blew off reporters.

Meanwhile, over in the winning clubhouse, Jones, who had just one hit and six strikeouts in 11 previous at-bats against Alfonseca, basked in victory.

"I was looking for a breaking pitch, and he threw it," Jones said.

The loss gave the Phillies a final April record of 11-14, not the fast start they had hoped for but better than the last two Aprils, when they went 10-14.

"It could have been a whole lot worse," said Lieber, mindful that the Phils opened the season 4-11. "I'm proud of the way we battled back to get where we are."

Manuel left himself open to second-guessing when he removed Brett Myers after a scoreless eighth. Myers threw 19 pitches and allowed two hits in the inning. But he struck out two and made a good fielding play to strand two runners in scoring position.

"I thought about leaving him in," Manuel said. "But he had a strenuous eighth inning. If he had a smoother inning, he probably would have went back out there."

Myers has pitched six times out of the bullpen since his shift from the rotation.

Lieber negotiated his way around an uncharacteristic six walks and pitched solidly for the third time in as many starts. Only one of the two runs he allowed over seven innings was earned. He gave up seven hits, including a game-tying homer to Chipper Jones in the bottom of the sixth. The home run came on a 2-2 slider.

"Too good of a pitch," Lieber said. "I've got to locate it better."

Lieber was helped by three double plays but hurt by an outfield error by Pat Burrell in the fifth inning.

Hudson held the Phils hitless for the first 41/3 innings. His ERA after six starts stands at 1.40. The righthander pitched with a heavy heart a day after his friend and former Auburn University teammate Josh Hancock, a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, was killed in a car accident. Hancock spent time with the Phillies in 2003 and 2004.

Hudson received permission from the commissioner's office to have the initials JH sewn on his uniform top.

Defense hurt the Phils in the fifth inning as the Braves scored the first run of the game. Jeff Francoeur led off with a single. With one out, Willie Harris singled to left. Burrell misplayed the ball, allowing Francoeur to go to third and Harris to second. The Braves capitalized when Francoeur scored on Hudson's groundout.

The Phils struck back in the sixth. With one out, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino hit back-to-back singles, putting runners at the corners. Chase Utley followed with a sacrifice fly, knotting the score at 1-1. Ryan Howard then singled sharply to left, driving in Victorino to give the Phils a 2-1 lead.

The lead did not last long as Chipper Jones led off the bottom of the inning with his game-tying solo homer off Lieber. Three innings later, the other Jones won it for Atlanta.

Your thoughts, Mr. Alfonseca?


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury

at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.