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Bullpen ready to move on from disaster


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ATLANTA -- It was hard to watch the seventh-inning meltdown the Braves experienced at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon, and it was equally difficult to explain how they managed to blow a seven-run lead during a three-out span that didn't include an extra-base hit.

After watching four relievers combine to issue five walks -- four with the bases loaded -- hit a batter, surrender four singles and allow the Phillies to construct an eight-run inning that led to their 12-11 victory, Braves manager Bobby Cox said that he'd never seen anything like it.

Atlanta outfielder Matt Diaz said that he hoped he'd never have to witness anything like it again. But while it assumed its own form of ugly, Wednesday's seventh inning also proved to be all too familiar to a Braves bullpen that has recently repeatedly self-destructed in the City of Brotherly Love.

"Last year we came back on those same guys and their bullpen a couple times when they had some large leads," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "I think they know what park they're pitching in. They know what our hitters are capable of. When they get a big lead, there's definitely no lead that's safe in here."

Since the ballpark opened in 2004, Cox has repeatedly delivered a similar message. But over the course of the past two seasons, he has experienced three late-inning Philadelphia nightmares that have proven to be difficult to swallow.

The Braves have actually won five of the past nine games that they've played in Philly. This might be encouraging if not for the fact that that three of the four losses have occurred during games in which they held at least a five-run lead in the fifth inning or beyond. During the other loss, they were tied before surrendering a four-run eighth inning.

"You get a five- or six-run lead and it's like a two-run lead the way the ballpark plays," Cox said. "It's a hitter's park from the word go. But you can't catch walks."

During a span of 20 pitches in Wednesday's seventh inning, Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer and Jorge Campillo combined to issue four walks with the bases loaded.

Greg Maddux issued a total of five bases-loaded walks in 5,001 1/3 career innings. During the 1993, '98 and 2003 seasons, the Braves' pitching staff combined to issue just five bases-loaded walks.

"That was the worst inning that I've seen," said Boyer, who threw just one of his nine pitches for strikes and issued bases-loaded walks to the only two batters that he faced.

Unfortunately for Boyer, he's recently seen his fair share of bad innings against the Phillies. The right-handed reliever has allowed at least one run during each of his past nine appearances against the defending World Series champs. Statistically, this has equated to an 0-3 record and an 18.41 ERA.

While compiling a 21.00 ERA during his past four appearances at Citizens Bank Park, Boyer has completed three innings and allowed seven earned runs.

"The thing that is good is that we came [to Philadelphia] to win two out of three games, and we did that," Jeff Francoeur said. "But when you've got a chance to really put it to them ... that's the frustrating part."

With a seven-run lead, the Braves were nine outs away from beginning their season with a three-game road sweep of the defending champs. But the enhanced sense of confidence they seemed destined to carry back to Atlanta was erased in a 54-pitch inning, during which their pitchers missed the strike zone 27 times.

In comparison, while limiting the Phillies to two baserunners in eight innings on Sunday night, Derek Lowe missed the strike zone with just 31 of his 97 pitches.

It took Eric O'Flaherty just four pitches to record the first out of the forgettable seventh inning. But 47 more pitches would be thrown before Ryan Howard accounted for the second out with his go-ahead one-out groundout against Campillo, who actually recorded the inning's final two outs in a span of four pitches.

"Everybody has to throw strikes," Cox said. "You can't throw balls when you have a seven-run lead."

O'Flaherty completed 1 1/3 scoreless innings during Tuesday's victory and appeared ready to find more success while pitching for the first time this year on back-to-back days. But after getting ahead of Howard with an 0-2 count, he hit the first baseman with a pitch.

With runners on first and second and a seven-run lead, it appeared Moylan was presented with the prime situation to make his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament surgery on May 8. But the sidearming reliever said that he allowed the emotions to get the best of him during an outing in which his fastball hovered around 89 mph.

Moylan's struggles forced Boyer to endure another forgettable Philly experience and give way to Campillo, who is best suited to be utilized as a long reliever. With the bases loaded, one out and a two-run lead, the soft-tossing right-hander didn't exactly make his season debut in a situation where he'd ideally be most effective.

Had they simply found the strike zone during that eventful seventh inning, the Braves would have returned to Atlanta with a great sense of optimism. But now they find themselves in a position where they'll once again have to return to Philadelphia, knowing all too well that yet another late-inning nightmare could be in their future.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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I'm sorry, but an MLB pitcher has to know how to pitch strikes...I know some guys have bad days, but some guys in that pen scare the shi* out of me every time they come up there...I am very optimistic that Moylan, Soriano, and Gonzalez return to their dominant form and we would have a killer 1-2-3....

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Im not worried about Moylan hes already coming back earlier than expected from his surgery and he said after the game he looked at some video and noticed that his mechanics were off and that was why he was struggling so he should be fine the next time he takes the mound

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