Prologue over, now Phils begin main event

Prologue over, now Phils begin main event

ATLANTA -- And now for what everybody has been waiting for since Cliff Lee slipped on his Phillies jersey in December.

The Phillies ended the best regular season in franchise history Wednesday with a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in 13 innings at Turner Field. It ended one the craziest nights in baseball, with four teams fighting for their postseason lives, including the Braves. The Phillies not only eliminated Atlanta from the postseason, they set franchise records with their 102nd regular-season victory and Charlie Manuel's 645th regular-season victory as their manager.

The victory set up the Phillies to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series, which begins Saturday with Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park.

"We've had a big season, but at the same time, we still have a lot of work to do," Manuel said. "Our ultimate goal is to go to the World Series and win, and I think we're sitting in a pretty good position. It's up to us to go get it."

It already felt like the postseason Wednesday. The Braves had to win to force a one-game playoff with the Cardinals to decide the NL Wild Card. Had the Braves won, they would have played the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Thursday. Instead, they blew the 8 1/2-game lead they held Sept. 1 and are headed home.

Atlanta had a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning, but Braves closer Craig Kimbrel blew his eighth save of the season as he loaded the bases with a single and two walks before Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Placido Polanco as the tying run.

The Phillies scored the winning run in the 13th when Hunter Pence hit a broken-bat single into shallow right field to score Brian Schneider, who had worked a one-out walk.

"I just got jammed," Pence said. "My main goal was to stay inside the ball, and if you do get jammed, hope it finds a hole or something. It was definitely one of those lucky hits, but sometimes, miracles can happen."

The Phillies used nine different pitchers in the finale, with Justin De Fratus earning his first big league win and David Herndon his first save.

Hard to believe the Phillies had lost eight consecutive games before finishing the season with four well-played victories.

"I think we just kind of let our guard down a little bit, and we had a lot of guys missing from our lineup," Brad Lidge said. "We can turn it on, but I think we turned it off in some games. We knew we had to get everybody back in there; we knew we had to start bearing down and start getting ready for the postseason. Our guys were able to get it going again. We got our full lineup back in there. Pitching's been great the whole time. We saw it was the time to start playing, and we did."

The Phillies honored Manuel in the clubhouse after the game. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Madson have been with Manuel since he managed his first game with the Phillies in 2005. They presented him an oversize bottle of champagne with his picture on it.

"It's awesome," Ryan Howard said. "Charlie is so deserving of it. He's been a great manager. He's just been a great person ever since I've ever been able to encounter him way back in the Minor Leagues. It's a happy moment for all of us, for him, and we got to have a little fun in helping him celebrate it."

Manuel said Tuesday after he tied Gene Mauch for the franchise record that he wanted sole possession of first place. Had the Phillies lost Wednesday, he would have had to wait until next April to set the mark.

It turns out he doesn't have to wait.

"I remember when we lost 10,000 games and some people acted like I was there for all 10,000," Manuel said. "Now that I'm the winningest manager, I might let someone else brag, but I'll definitely smile and take credit for it.

"I can't imagine the success that we've had. It was definitely a team thing. It came from the players that the organization put together. And the fans had a big hand in it because I think they affect how we play in Philadelphia. But I think the memories I'll have from it are what I'll cherish the most and the guys who helped me achieve it."

He hopes to create more memories in the postseason. It begins Saturday.

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