The Homer-happy Phillies beat the Braves at their own game with an impressive victory

By | September 19, 2023

The Homer-happy Phillies beat the Braves at their own game in an impressive win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

ATLANTA – The Phillies played a home derby against the best team in baseball Monday night, using longballs from five different players and six sharp innings from ace Zack Wheeler to beat the Braves, 7-1.

Wheeler gave up a home run to the second batter he faced, Ozzie Albies, then was flawless the rest of the way with a fastball that averaged 96 mph and even better command. It was a great rebound outing after allowing six runs and three homers to these same Braves last Tuesday at home. Monday’s series opener was the Braves’ quietest offensive game since May 12, the only other time this season they’ve been held to a three-hit streak or worse.

“You want to, kind of, after the last outing, show them, ‘Hey, you still have to deal with me,’” he said. “The mental aspect, for them and for me, is just getting back on track. They know I’m still me, I guess you could say.”

Wheeler retired the Braves in order three times in his six innings. He is 12-6 with a 3.63 ERA in 30 starts. He is scheduled to hit two more in the regular season, both against the Mets. The latter could be an abbreviated start if the Phillies have clinched the top wild-card spot by then.

The Phils (82-68) lead the Diamondbacks by 3 1/2 games for the fourth seed, who comes with home-field advantage into the wild-card round. They also own the tiebreaker over the Diamondbacks, who lead 4 1/2 games with 12 left to play. The magic number for the Phillies to clinch the first wild card spot is 9.

Rookie center fielder Johan Rojas was the first of the visiting team to go deep. He hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the second inning to provide a lead that lasted the rest of the way. The first home run of his major league career was hit by a position player, so this was his first “real” home run. He was a major difference-maker in the field and a spark plug who maintained his place at the bottom of the league, hitting .300 with a .344 on-base percentage in 133 plate appearances.

“Moments like this, not only give us confidence, but it creates chemistry in the clubhouse,” Rojas said. “Seranthony (Dominguez) was joking with me a little while ago saying, ‘Finally, you finally hit a homer with a real pitcher.’ It’s the little things like that that are really good for the group.

“Overall, I feel pretty good here in the big leagues. I’m giving 100%, it’s always about the best effort you’ll see from me. I’m enjoying this moment as much as I can. I feel like, we’re all family here. we see each other as a family. I’ve always wanted to be here and I’m enjoying every second.”

Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and Nick Castellanos hit solo homers in the third, fourth and sixth innings. Harper’s was a thing of beauty, a simple swing on a pitch off the plate that he took the other way.

Three batters after Castellanos’ homer, Kyle Schwarber hit by far the hardest of all, homering 483 feet into right field. He had the second-longest home run in Truist Park’s seven-year history, trailing only Ronald Acuña Jr.’s 495 feet.

“Heck, I would have taken it if it had gone to the front,” he said. “It was a good day offensively for all of us. Home runs are home runs, but I felt like the at-bats were pretty good.”

Schwarber has 45 home runs, Trea Turner 26, Castellanos 25, JT Realmuto 19, Harper 18, Alec Bohm 17 and Bryson Stott 15. The Braves are the only team since the All-Star break with more homers than the Phillies.

“We swung the bats pretty well against everybody,” manager Rob Thomson said. “What’s really encouraging is that we kept the times down. Wheeler did a great job. That’s what you have to do.”

The Braves have won six straight division titles and celebrated their most recent on the Phillies’ home field just last week. Despite how dominant the Braves have been, the Phillies are 39-43 against them since 2019, a winning percentage of .476. Over the same span, the rest of MLB is 249-401 against Atlanta, a winning percentage of .383. If the Phils had the same success rate as the rest of the league, they would have lost eight more games to the Braves than in that five-year period.

The Phillies are not intimidated by the Braves, the same way the Marlins are not afraid of the Phils. They could find themselves in Atlanta in three weeks because the Braves would be the NLDS opponent if the Phillies make it past the wild card round.

After losing five of seven games at Citizens Bank Park last week, the Phillies have won three of four to begin a six-game road trip. They look to win the series on Tuesday night. Cristopher Sanchez will start and will be carried on the shoulders of Michael Lorenzen. Ace Spencer Strider goes for Atlanta.

“Every time we meet these guys,” Schwarber said, “we always have the feeling that it’s going to be a duel.”

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