Phillies drop 2nd extra-inning heartbreaker to Braves in as many days originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The question seemed to catch Rob Thomson a little off guard. Before Wednesday night’s game against Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park, a reporter posed this: Have the Braves, who won their fifth consecutive division title in 2022 and currently have baseball’s best record, actually improved since last year?
The manager mulled it over. “The record’s better. So, I mean, you have to consider them better,” he responded.
“But we’re a little better, too.”
Thomson wasn’t about to concede any edge to the division rival and his team hasn’t, either. The first three games in this four-game series at Citizens Bank Park have resembled a saloon fight scene from an old-timey Western, with players figuratively tumbling over the bar, smashing tumblers and whiskey bottles, crashing through swinging doors.
The Braves were the last team standing Tuesday night, winning 7-6 in 10 innings. They’ve taken two of the first three encounters of the close kind. They can clinch the National League East again with a victory in Wednesday night’s series finale.
Just don’t expect the Phillies to admit that Atlanta is a superior team. Not after they came back from being down, 6-1, going into the seventh. Not after they made up a 4-run deficit in the final three innings of the first game of Monday’s doubleheader, only to lose in extra innings. Not even with Atlanta having won six of nine meetings so far this year.
Not – and this is the ace up their sleeves – after they upset the favored Braves in the Division Series last season.
“Two divisional teams. Two pretty good ballclubs that can score a lot of runs,” said shortstop Trea Turner, who continued his incredible turnaround with three more hits including his 11th home run in his last 13 games. “Can pitch and play defense and do a lot of things.
“It feels like we can compete with anybody and I think they feel the same way. We believe in ourselves.”
Somebody mentioned that many consider the Braves the favorites to win the World Series. “I don’t think that matters,” he said with a smile. “I don’t think that matters to anybody unless you’ve played a bet on something. We don’t care.”
Going into play on August 4, Turner was hitting .235. He’s now up to .272 and, almost unbelievably, has a shot at finishing with a 30-30 season. With 17 games left he has 26 homers and 27 stolen bases.
Phillies starter Zack Wheeler held the powerful Braves lineup in check until being tagged for a five-spot in the top of the fifth.
No. 9 hitter Michael Harris II started it off with a single and Ronald Acuna Jr. followed by blasting his 37th homer of the year deep to left-center. With one out Austin Riley singled, Matt Olson (who hit his franchise record-tying 51st homer of the season in the fourth) walked and Marcell Ozuna hit HR No. 34.
But, rounding the bases, Ozuna held out his arms and flapped them gently, mimicking a bird in flight. And that may have roused the Phillies, who got to work once Atlanta starter Max Fried departed.
“I think they were a little fired up,” Thomson said. “But that’s what he does on every home run he hits. Let the kids play. Isn’t that what they say?”
Whatever the reason, the Phillies came back once again. One in the seventh. Three in the eighth on a leadoff homer by Bryce Harper and a two-run shot by Bryson Stott.
Stott and centerfielder Brandon Marsh were out of the starting lineup Wednesday. Thomson said it was simply because Fried is tough on lefthanded hitters (.222 opponent batting average this season). He conceded, though, that Stott probably needed a day off since he was 4-for-25 (.160) with a .500 OPS in his last seven games.
Also, he was hitting .298 when a pitch from Giants closer Camilo Doval nailed him on the elbow on August 22. In his next 18 games, he batted .217. “I’ve been thinking about that, too,” the manager said before the game. “Anything like that, a foul ball off your lead foot, get hit in the hand, anything like that concerns me and always affects your swing, I think.”
But Stott pinch hit in the seventh, stayed in the game and then got the Phillies within a run with one swing.
They could have, maybe should have, won it in the ninth after Turner’s leadoff homer tied the score. Alec Bohm and Harper followed with singles, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. But J.T. Realmuto struck out and Nick Castellanos, who homered in the second, grounded into an inning ending double play.
For the game, the Phillies were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
The Braves won it against Craig Kimbrel. Ghost runner Forrest Wall with to third on a ground out. The Phillies were forced to pull the infield up. Eddie Rosario quickly got down 0-2 but stayed alive by fouling off four pitches before singling home what turned lout to be the winning run.
Just don’t expect the Phillies to give the Braves too much credit. In recapping his outing, Wheeler dissected each of the three homers he allowed. He mentioned Olson. He mentioned Ozuna. “And then I hung a curve ball to what’s his name? Ocuna?” he said dryly.
That would be Ronald Acuna Jr., the front runner to be voted this year’s NL Most Valuable Player.