ATLANTA — Is there any team the Braves would rather not see this time of year than the Phillies?
The Phillies entered Game 1 at Truist Park on Saturday night and took Game 1 just as they did a year ago in the NLDS, holding off the Warriors’ Spencer Strider’s best shot and going 3-0. Win, seize the momentum.
Just like that, Atlanta no longer has home field advantage. If the series goes to five games, each team would play two more games at home, and even better for the Phillies, they could use Zach Huey for the remaining four games. Le and Aaron Nola’s three games.
The Phillies won Game 1 of all six postseason games last year, consistently dominating in series that entered as underdogs.
The pressure was squarely on the Braves, who won 104 games and tied the major league record with 307 home runs. They haven’t played meaningful baseball in months, aside from trying to hold on to a huge lead against the Dodgers at home throughout the National League playoffs. Warriors head coach Brian Snitker made a change this week by having his team play intrasquad games in front of fans to better prepare after the long break.
The Phillies eliminated the Braves last year and have a tough time playing them in 2023. Atlanta won the regular season series 8-5, but five of those games were decided in the eighth inning or later.
Some teams may be intimidated by the offensive firepower Atlanta possesses. Not from Philadelphia.
“We’re hungry and excited for this series because it’s the next chapter in our journey to get a ring,” Nick Castellanos said two hours before Game 1. “I think right now, the way we feel about each other, we honestly look forward to playing anyone. It happens to be the Warriors.”
The Warriors were not shut out in 125 games. They were scoreless only twice during the regular season, on April 19 and May 12.
Ranger Suarez held the attention of the crowd early as he suppressed Atlanta’s attack. He retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, and the lone runner was quickly removed in an attempt to steal second on JT Realmuto.
Suarez’s changeup and curveball worked, and he used two corner kicks. The Braves took six shots against him, but all were hit.
“He had a tough journey. He always had our backs,” Snitker said before the game.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson went to the bullpen early, turning to Jeff Hoffman with two on and two out in the fourth inning. Hoffman walked Marcell Ozuna to load the bases but struck out left-hander Michael Harris II, ending the Braves’ threat.
Some may have been surprised by Suarez’s quick hook, but Thomson said he will take a few days off between Games 1 and 2 and Games 2 and 3 to be proactive. The Phillies believe they have as many as eight high-leverage relievers in Craig, including Kimbrel, Jose Alvarado, Hoffman, Seranthony Dominguez, Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm, Orion Kerkering and Cristopher Sanchez, in addition to Soto and Sanchez. All others were used.
Dominguez put a runner on the corner in the bottom of the fifth, putting the Braves on top and giving the Phillies a one-run lead. In a huge spot, he hit the inside corner, struck out MVP front-runner Ronald Acuña Jr., then hit a 99 mph fastball up the middle to Austin Riley ( Austin Riley challenged with an inning-ending punch. This 10-pitch sequence might end up being the most important of the series. The game hung in the balance with only the batter the Braves wanted at the plate.
Kecklin, who reached Double-A three weeks ago, went 1-2-3 on just eight pitches in the seventh inning. It didn’t take long for him to gain Thomson’s full confidence.
Matt Strahm pitched a scoreless eighth. The Braves loaded the bases with their first two players, but Strahm induced Matt Olson to fly out and Ozzie Albies hit a rocket short ball that Trae Turner caught on a diving Opportunity to start a doubleheader at the end of the inning. Turner also stole two bases in his first three postseason games as a Phillie, going 5-for-11 with two doubles and four steals.
The Phillies’ first-round win over Strider was unearned. He walked Bryce Harper with one out in the top of the fourth and fumbled a throw on a catch attempt that put Harper in scoring position. Bryson Stott, MLB’s leader with 82 doubles this season, drove in the first run of the game on an 0-2 count. Strider’s opponents were 13-for-136 (.096) and 0-2 with 86 strikeouts.
Two innings later, Harper hit his first home run of the postseason on the first pitch of a pitched Strider slider into the right-field seats, further silencing the crowd of 43,689 at Truist Park. The largest audience ever.
Sean Murphy added an insurance run on a catcher’s interference call to Realmuto in the eighth inning, with two outs and a two-run homer. After the ruling was reviewed, disgruntled Braves fans threw trash into the outfield, delaying the game for several minutes.
The Phillies seemed to be peaking at the right time. They played two of their best games of the season, sent the Marlins home in the wild-card round, and given the difficulty, what followed might have been the most impressive win of 2023.
They are two wins away from making the NLCS for the second consecutive year. The Phillies and Braves have Sunday off before resuming Monday night for Game 2 of the series. Nola starts against left-hander Max Fried, who missed the last two regular-season starts with a blister on his left index finger, a situation Atlanta will keep a close eye on.