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The Strike Zone

Dan Uggla's grand slam lifts Braves over Phillies in wild NL East affair

The oft-criticized Dan Uggla had a game to remember with two homers and a game-winning grand slam. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)Dan Uggla had a game to remember with two homers, including a game-winning grand slam. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

Heading into the eighth inning on Monday night, the Braves led the Phillies 2-1. Ervin Santana was in line for win after tossing six strong innings, allowing one run on four hits and two walks while striking out 11. B.J. Rosenberg, whom Ryne Sandberg said he wanted to avoid after he pitched on Saturday and Sunday, entered the game for the Phillies in the eighth. And, as if Sandberg knew something beforehand, that's when things got nutty.

Evan Gattis led off the inning with a home run, his second of the night, to put the Braves up 3-1. Dan Uggla followed with another bomb, giving the Braves a comfortable three-run lead. When Andrelton Simmons made it back-to-back-to-back, it was clear why Sandberg wanted to stay away from Rosenberg on Monday. It also appeared that the Braves, with their fantastic bullpen, would cruise to victory.

Then Luis Avilan took the mound for the Braves in the bottom of the eighth. He's Atlanta's go-to left-handed reliever, and with Tony Gwynn Jr., Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley due up for the Phillies, it was an easy call for Fredi Gonzalez. Gwynn got things started with a walk, and Rollins and Utley loaded the bases for Ryan Howard with consecutive singles. Avilan got Howard to strike out, but, with a four-run lead, Gonzalez left him in to face Byrd. He hit a two-run single, bringing the lead run to the plate in the form of Domonic Brown. While Brown has hit the ball well this year, he had yet to hit a homer after belting 27 last year. Not anymore.

Brown sent an Avilan offering soaring over the fence in right-centerfield to put the Phillies in front, 6-5. On most nights, that would mean Jonathan Papelbon would get the ball for the Phillies. But with Papelbon having pitched in all three games over the weekend,  Sandberg turned instead to left-hander Jake Diekman. It was almost too easy to predict what would happen next.

B.J. Upton walked, Freddie Freeman reached on an error, and Justin Upton walked, loading the bases for the Braves without the benefit of a hit. After a Gattis strikeout, Uggla walked to the plate. The last time he was in the box, which might as well have been 24 hours earlier given all that had changed in this game since then, he belted his first home run of the season to give the Braves a two-run lead. This one would ring just a bit louder.

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Craig Kimbrel was unavailable because of a sore shoulder, but the fireworks were over. David Carpenter pitched around a two-out walk to Rollins to earn the save and end what turned out to be a wild game in Philadelphia. After the teams combined for three runs in the first seven innings, they pounded out 12 more and five homers in the final two. Uggla, who came into the game hitting .195/.227/.244, was the hero. Yep, as always, it was just what everyone expected.

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