ATLANTA (AP) — Baseball’s most potent group of sluggers finally got into the swing of things — maybe just in time to save the season for the Atlanta Braves.
Throw in a game-ending double play for the ages, courtesy of a remarkable catch by Michael Harris II and some astute positioning by Austin Riley, and suddenly this 104-win team has gone from down and out to showing a little postseason swagger.
Travis d’Arnaud and Riley hit two-run homers as the Braves, who were held without a hit into the sixth inning, rallied from a four-run deficit to stun the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4 Monday night, evening the NL Division Series at one win apiece.
“It was really emotional, especially the way we came back,” d’Arnaud said. “That was one of my favorite postseason games ever.”
D’Arnaud, who started at catcher over slumping Sean Murphy, gave the Braves hope with his shot into the left-field seats in the seventh, cutting Philadelphia’s lead to 4-3.
It was Atlanta’s first extra-base hit of the series.
Riley provided the second, driving a 3-2 pitch from Jeff Hoffman (0-1) into the Phillies bullpen with two outs in the eighth to put the Braves ahead for the first time in the best-of-five series. Ronald Acuña Jr. scored ahead of Riley after being plunked on the left arm by Hoffman’s first pitch coming in from the bullpen.
“I just have faith in those guys,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You know what? They give you a hard 27 (outs). … They’re never going to stop fighting in the batter’s box.”
It ended in equally stunning fashion. With Bryce Harper aboard, Nick Castellanos drove one to deep right-center, only to be robbed on a great leaping catch by Harris slamming into the fence.
“I knew off the bat it was going to be close to the fence,” Harris said. “I knew once I went back I wasn’t stopping. I was going to do anything I could to get a glove on it. If my body had to go down because of that, I would have done that.”
Harper had rounded second base when Harris made the grab. He backtracked desperately, and the throw back to the infield skidded past second baseman Ozzie Albies. But Riley alertly backed up the play and zipped a throw to first that completed the double play.
It was the first postseason game in baseball history to end on a double play involving an outfielder, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Just like that, the series is all tied up. Game 3 is Wednesday at Philadelphia.
“Every playoff win is exciting,” d’Arnaud said. “I think the way it ended was one of the most exciting endings to a game I’ve ever seen as far as a defensive standpoint. We got Money Mike making a crazy catch on the wall and us doubling up Harper to close it out.”
Phillies manager Rob Thomson talked about Harper’s baserunning blunder.
“Usually you don’t pass the base,” Thomson said. “You stay in front of it, make sure it’s not caught. But he thought the ball was clearly over his head, didn’t think he was going to catch it. And Harris made a heck of a play. Unbelievable.”
So did Riley, backing up on a play that he never could’ve expected to be involved in.
“It ended up just being right spot at the right time,” Riley said.
A.J. Minter (1-0) earned the win and Raisel Iglesias claimed his first save of this postseason.
With Zack Wheeler dominating a lineup that led the majors in runs and tied a big league record with 307 homers, the Phillies built a 4-0 lead. J.T. Realmuto hit a two-run homer in the third off Max Fried, sandwiched between Alec Bohm’s run-scoring single and Bryson Stott’s sacrifice fly.
Wheeler, who was born and raised not far from Truist Park, was one strike away from making it through the sixth without allowing a hit. But he walked Acuña after getting ahead 1-2 in the count, and Albies lined a single to right.
Acuña was holding up at third, but he took off for home when the throw back to the infield ricocheted off Trea Turner’s glove for the shortstop’s second error of the night.
Wheeler fanned the side in each of the first two innings, with the Braves making contact on just 12 of 26 strikes. Matt Olson was the lone baserunner, reaching when Turner bobbled a routine grounder to shortstop.
Through the first four innings, the home team didn’t even get one of the infield — unless you count the Hammer, Brush, Paint Can and Drill racing around the warning track as part of the Home Depot Tool Race.
Finally, on Atlanta’s 13th batter of the night, Marcell Ozuna lifted one to center field. It was caught by Johan Rojas, but that seemed like progress the way the Braves were struggling.
Atlanta was shut out 3-0 in Game 1 and started the series with 14 straight scoreless innings — its longest drought of the season — before finally breaking through with an assist from Turner’s glove.
Fried, who went on the injured list late in the season with a recurring blister issue, labored through four innings. He surrendered three runs and six hits and was lucky to leave the game trailing only 3-0.
Bryson Stott grounded out with the bases loaded to end the first, and the Phillies stranded two more runners in the fourth.
In all, the Phillies left 11 runners on base, but they still head back home in the same position as a year ago when they won the final two games of the NLDS at home to knock off the Braves.
“It’s a little disappointing, but hey, we’ve got home-field advantage now,” Thomson said, looking for a bright spot after the Phillies missed a chance to put a real stranglehold on this series. “And really, that’s what you’re looking for after these two games.”
STICKING WITH ZACK
Thomson went to his bullpen early in Game 1, lifting Ranger Suárez in the fourth inning even though he had allowed only one hit.
That strategy paid off when a half-dozen relievers combined with Suárez to complete a five-hit shutout.
This time, Thomson stuck with his starter a little too long, leaving in Wheeler for the seventh inning with a 4-1 lead.
D’Arnaud made Wheeler pay on his 92nd — and final — pitch, but the Phillies manager had no regrets.
“I wanted him to go back out, and he said he was fine,” Thomson said. “He still looked good, so I was all in.”
Aaron Nola, who pitched seven scoreless innings against Miami during the wild-card round, will go for the Phillies in Game 3. The right-hander made three appearance against the Braves during the regular season, posting a 3.50 ERA while failing to pick up a decision.
Atlanta has yet to name its starter for Game 3, though the Phillies are expecting to see either Bryce Elder or AJ Smith-Shawver, a 20-year-old rookie.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb