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ATL@PHI: Gonzalez starts a double play to end fourth

PHILADELPHIA -- This certainly wasn't the way Derek Lowe wanted to end the season's first half. But as the Braves enter the All-Star break, they can feel good about their position in the National League East and encouraged by Dan Uggla's recent improvement.

After splitting a couple extra-inning games that were dominated by the pitchers, the Braves were unable to overcome the early-inning damage the Phillies produced against Lowe in Sunday afternoon's 14-1 loss at Citizens Bank Park.

"Sometimes you just have to say you got your butt beat, and that's what happened," Lowe said. "They pitched great and had 20 hits and 14 runs. You just have to give them all the credit."

Long after Lowe allowed four runs while surrendering 10 hits over six innings, the Phillies put this game out of reach by combining for 10 runs in the seventh and eighth innings against Cory Gearrin and Scott Proctor, who were asked to bear the punishment as the Braves rested their top relievers.

By the time the onslaught was complete, the Braves had surrendered a season-high 20 hits. This was the first time they had surrendered this total since the Phillies tallied 20 hits against them in this same park on Sept. 2, 2006.

"The only thing that bothers me a little bit is we can't play tomorrow," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Usually you come out of these games and you've got a game tomorrow. Now you've got to sit around and keep the bad taste in your mouth for another four days."

While the finale might not have possessed the same kind of drama produced during the first two games, it set the stage for what should be an exciting second half for both teams. With a pair of wins in this three-game series, the first-place Phillies enter the All-Star break leading the Braves by 3 1/2 games in the NL East.

"This was a big series for us to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "This was a real good series for us to win. It's going to help our team. I think it helps us probably more than it's going to hurt them, because I know their team and they'll look at it just like we would. They're going to come back in the second half and try to prove to us that they're better than we are. That's baseball, and it should be that way."

The Braves and Phillies have the NL's top two records and have split the first 12 games played against each other. With 15 wins in their past 20 games, the Braves own a five-game lead in the NL Wild Card standings.

"We know we can play with them," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "They're a great team and so are we."

Strengthening the credentials that earned him an All-Star selection, Hamels limited the Braves to one run and three hits over eight innings. The lone run he surrendered came after Uggla doubled to begin the second inning and scored on Julio Lugo's grounder.

While Uggla enters the break with a disappointing .186 batting average, he has recorded eight hits, including three doubles and three homers, in his past 21 at-bats.

"Cole Hamels was pretty tough and you almost got to play perfect when a guy is as hot as he's been," McCann said. "They just beat us."

As Hamels was cruising through his 116-pitch effort, Lowe was growing visibly frustrated. The 38-year-old surrendered each of his season-high 10 hits within the first four innings. This outing halted a two-game win streak for Lowe, who had gone winless in his previous nine starts.

Pitching in Philadelphia for the first time since he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning on May 6, Lowe surrendered at least two hits in each of the first four innings. He escaped the first inning unscathed with a double play and might have done the same in the second inning had he not surrendered the first of three double by John Mayberry Jr.

Michael Martinez's infield single sparked a two-run third inning that left Lowe visibly frustrated. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard extended the Phillies' lead to two runs with consecutive singles. The final run of the inning scored when Uggla was unable to handle Raul Ibanez's sharp double-play grounder when it bounced up and hit his stomach.

"I've been out there enough to know when you know a game is really going to start spiraling out of control," Lowe said. "I never felt like that."

Another Mayberry double to begin the fourth inning led to a run against Lowe, who finished the season's first half 4-6 with a 4.30 ERA. While a lack of run support plagued him, the Braves were hoping for more after watching him go 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA last September.

Still, as he and his teammates packed and prepared to go their separate ways for a few days, Lowe wasn't looking back on the past couple months -- he was looking forward to the battle the Braves and Phillies will continue to wage over the next few months.

"It should be fun the last couple months," Lowe said. "I don't think either team is going to go away." Comments