Brandon Workman’s first pitch for his new team turned a 4-3 lead into a 5-4 deficit. An inning later, his 26th pitch, a hanging curveball, was smacked into left-center by Adam Duvall to give the Braves a 6-5 walkoff victory. Though the Phillies had rallied to tie the game in the ninth after Workman’s first misstep, it was all for naught, as the Braves beat them again and took the series.
For a very long while, this game was all Phillies, thanks to Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler. In the first inning, after Rhys Hoskins drew a one-out walk, Harper straight-up obliterated the first pitch he saw from Robbie Erlin, a sinker at the top edge of the zone, deep into the Atlanta evening. The ball traveled an estimated 470 feet, the second-longest homer hit so far this year, the second-longest of Harper’s career, and the sixth-longest given up by the Braves in the Statcast era. (Amusingly, numbers three through six on that latter list right now were all courtesy of Giancarlo Stanton.)
After that, Wheeler pretty much took over. Having accumulated just 12 strikeouts in his past four starts of the year, Wheeler struck out eight Braves during his seven innings of work. He issued zero walks, though he did end up hitting one batter. (More on that later.) In short, after Harper’s homer, not much of anything happened, for a while. Wheeler allowed his first hit with one out in the second, an infield single to Matt Adams. Erlin got into a bit of a mess in the third by allowing a single to Hoskins and walking Harper, but got out of it with a strikeout and an infield pop. A Freddie Freeman leadoff single went nowhere in the bottom of the fourth.
Erlin finished his outing with four innings of two-run ball, allowing two hits, two walks, and of course, the massive Harper blast. He struck out three. The first eight balls in play against him also went in the air, but he ended his outing with back-to-back groundouts.
Darren O’Day came on for the top of the fifth, and the Phillies extended their lead thanks to some defensive miscues by Atlanta. With two outs, Hoskins hit a routine grounder to third that Austin Riley misplayed by bringing his hands up too early. That was it for O’Day, as A.J. Minter emerged from the bullpen to face Harper. Unfortunately, the combination of Hoskins stealing second, moving to third on a wild pitch, a walk to Harper, and J.T. Realmuto smash through the infield made it 3-0 Phillies. Minter struck out Phil Gosselin to end the inning, but Wheeler just rolled over the Braves again, shutting them down in the bottom of the fifth after Riley’s leadoff single.
Grant Dayton came on and threw a perfect top of the sixth, but Wheeler was still cruising, retiring the top of Atlanta’s order for a third time on 14 pitches. With one out in the seventh, Andrew McCutchen, who had hit two easy fly balls and then nearly homered off O’Day in the fifth, connected off Dayton for a solo shot into the left-field corner. At that point, it was 4-0 Phillies, and with Wheeler in command thus far, things were looking pretty grim for the home team.
But, not to worry. After Wheeler plunked Duvall to lead off the seventh, Riley made up for his earlier miscue in a huge way, getting the Braves on the board:
Not quite 470 feet (426), but two runs is two runs, and the deficit was cut in half. Tyler Flowers connected for a two-out double later in the frame, bringing up Ender Inciarte as the tying run, but Wheeler struck the latter out to end his night.
The Phillies had a busy but ultimately fruitless top of the eighth against Shane Greene. Realmuto hit a single off Dansby Swanson’s glove to start the inning, but was later thrown out on a steal attempt of second because he momentarily popped off the bag. (Thanks, replay review.) Greene then promptly issued a two-out walk, but got a pop-out from Didi Gregorius to keep it a 4-2 game. Which, now that the Philadelphia relief corps had entered the equation, was not a score that lasted a particularly long time.
Hector Neris, the nominal closer for the Phillies prior to their bullpen-bolstering trades yesterday, came on and promptly melted down. On his first pitch, Swanson singled on a liner through the shift. Freddie Freeman then walked on four pitches that were nowhere near (and two strikes). That brought up Marcell Ozuna, who fell behind 1-2 before shooting a sinker at the knees into right field, scoring Swanson and moving Freeman to third. Just like that, all of that Wheeler success was nearly erased. Neris got Duvall to fly out to shallow left, keeping the game 4-3 momentarily, but then gave way to the most high-profile of Philadelphia’s bullpen moves to date — Brandon Workman, he of the 2.1 fWAR last year with the Red Sox.
Let’s just say, well, that move did not work out, courtesy of Matt Adams:
Starting Adams in lieu of Cristian Pache, forcing Ozuna to left field, was a bit of a headscratcher when the lineup was released. Well, time and Brian Snitker make fools of us all, apparently. (Alternatively: men plan, Snitker laughs.) In any case, that huge blow turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead with room for much more, even though it only had a .270 hit probability. (Thanks Adam Haseley and playing Adams to pull in the outfield!)
The Braves, though did not actually get more. Riley hit the next pitch to third, allowing Segura to cut down pinch-runner Charlie Culberson at the plate. Workman struck out Johan Camargo to send the game to the ninth with his team now trailing by one.
So, it was up to Mark Melancon to preserve the suddenly-gained one-run lead. He didn’t, with shades of 2019 Luke Jackson-type issues. Pinch-hitter Neil Walker started the inning with a bouncer just past a diving Riley for a leadoff single (.190 hit probability). Roman Quinn followed with a successful bunt, in that he actually beat it out. After Melancon got McCutchen to fly out for the first out, he plunked Hoskins, loading the bags with just one out. Up next, of course, was Harper.
On the plus side, Melancon got Harper to hit a routine fly to left, where it was easily caught by Cristian Pache, who had come in as a defensive replacement for Ozuna. On the minus side, Walker was able to just barely beat Pache’s throw home, scoring the tying run. Melancon bounced back to strike out Realmuto, but the Braves would now have to walk it off if they were going to win this game.
Walk it off they did, but the bottom of the ninth was plenty weird before then. No simple clean game-ending homers here. With Workman still in the game, Flowers knocked a leadoff single, and was replaced as a pinch-runner by Alex Jackson (?). Inciarte tried to bunt Flowers over, but missed the pitch the first time, later took a strike to make it 2-2, and struck out on a curve in the dirt. Not to worry: Swanson singled down the left-field line, sending Jackson to third and advancing to second on the play. The Phillies did the obvious thing, intentionally walking Freeman to bring up Pache, but Brian Snitker smelled blood in the water. He pinch-hit Travis d’Arnaud for the rookie.
The game did not end right there, though it could have. d’Arnaud grounded to short, which turned into a forceout at home. However, in surreal, perfect-for-2020 fashion, the home plate umpire ruled that Realmuto’s foot came off the plate as he received the throw, and therefore that Jackson was safe at home as the winning run. In some kind of even more bizarre alternate universe, game-ending plays can’t be challenged, and the Braves walk off right then and there. That, however, is not this universe — a brief replay review confirmed that no, Realmuto did not make a colossal blunder, and Jackson was rightfully ruled to be forced out at home. That was only a temporary reprieve for the Phillies, though. With two outs and a 2-1 count, Adam Duvall ended the game:
The world may be figuratively (and literally, stay safe out there, TCers in California and the Mountain West) on fire, but Braves baseball is still pretty fun, and tonight was a great example of why. They torched the Philadelphia bullpen once again, improving to 16-11 on the season. They’ll go for the sweep on Sunday Night Baseball tomorrow.