ATLANTA — Ryan Howard decided he wanted to join his Phillies teammates for the final series of the season against the Braves. There wasn't much to see in the opener.
Rookie Tyler Cloyd (2-7) continued his September struggles by giving up seven runs in one-plus inning and the Phillies lost for the seventh time in eight games, 7-1.
Howard, who has been rehabbing his injured left knee in Clearwater, Fla., said it was important to him to finish the season with his teammates, even if he couldn't play.
"I just wanted to watch and cheer these guys on the rest of the way and hopefully try to end things on a good note and head into 2014 on a high," Howard said.
Cloyd had given up 17 runs in 13 innings in his previous three September starts, and the right-hander did not see a turnaround against the Braves. Cloyd gave up seven runs on eight hits and did not retire any of the first four batters in the second inning before being pulled.
"It was just bad. I wasn't executing any pitches and they were hitting the ball hard," Cloyd said. "I wouldn't say nothing was working, but everything was where they could hit it."
The decisive first began with Jason Heyward's home run on Cloyd's first pitch of the night. Elliot Johnson followed with a single, and Freddie Freeman doubled him home. Gattis then hit an RBI single, and scored on Chris Johnson's double. Jordan Schafer brought in the final run of the inning with an RBI single.
Gattis ended Cloyd's night with a two-run double in the second that scored Heyward and Elliot Johnson.
"Cloyd had a hard time with his first-pitch strikes and also had trouble with two strikes," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "They were still able to barrel balls up pretty good and before you know it, it was 7-0."
Jimmy Rollins went 3 for 4 for the Phillies. Heyward was the offensive star for the Braves with a career-high five hits, including three doubles in addition to his leadoff home run.
The win pulled the Braves even with the idle Cardinals at 94-65 for the best record in the National League with three games to play. The Braves won the season-series against the Cardinals and would win the NL's No. 1 seed if the teams finish tied.
"It is a big spot," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We'll try to win tomorrow and keep guys healthy at the same time."
Braves catcher Bryan McCann left the game in the second inning with an adductor strain. Gonzalez said he thinks McCann will be OK and wanted to avoid having something small get worse.
After scoring just three runs in a three-game series loss to the Brewers, the Braves entered Thursday averaging 3.3 runs per game in September. They surpassed that in just six batters against the Phillies when Chris Johnson doubled home Evan Gattis to give the Braves a 4-0 lead in the first.
Braves rookie David Hale (1-0) picked up his first win in his second career start, going six innings while giving up one run and striking out five. The right-hander allowed six base runners in the first three innings, but settled down after that and cruised to the win. In two starts since getting called up from Triple-A, Hale has given up one run in 11 innings.
"It is amazing, especially to (get my first win) at home," said Hale, who grew up in nearby Marietta. "I was a little more relaxed, but still nervous. I just kept the ball down and it turned out all right."
Notes: Injured Braves starter Brandon Beachy had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Thursday. Gonzalez said Beachy should be ready to return by the first couple of weeks of spring training. ... Gonzalez is still undecided on his fourth starter for the upcoming NLDS. He is choosing between Freddy Garcia and Paul Malhom. Gonzalez thought both pitchers pitched well this week and said it will be a tough decision. ... The Phillies will turn to Cliff Lee tonight to oppose Kris Medlen, the Braves likely starter for Game 1 of the NLDS. ... The Braves have matched their 94 wins from 2012, when they earned a wild card spot.