By Ethan Sands
ATLANTA — The Phillies were six outs away from taking the first game of a three-game series against the defending World Series champions on Friday, but the bullpen allowed six runs in the eighth inning in a 7-2 loss against the Braves at Truist Park.
With 18 regular-season games left, all of which are against divisional opponents, Philadelphia would be No. 5 seed if the postseason started now — and Atlanta would be the No. 4 seed. That would mean the two teams would square off in a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series at Truist Park. The Braves and Phillies play each other six more times over the next nine days, as both teams continue to gain valuable information ahead of a possible Wild Card matchup.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, they were reminded of how great the Braves’ lineup can be, especially when Ronald Acuña Jr. is at the top of his game. Acuña’s go-ahead homer fueled the six-run eighth inning in which Seranthony Domínguez squandered Ranger Suárez’s strong start.
Domínguez gave up five runs on three hits and two walks, and with every hit, the 36th sellout crowd of the season for the Braves erupted louder. Domínguez recorded only two outs before Nick Nelson came in to record the final out of the eighth, but not before allowing another run and two more hits.
Domínguez was making just his third appearance since coming off the IL on Sept. 11. He missed three weeks with right triceps tendinitis and made just one rehab appearance with Triple-A Lehigh Valley before returning to the Majors. The bump in the road “comes with the territory” of getting back into the groove of pitching in high-pressure situations, but Domínguez says he’s 100% physically.
“I wasn’t executing my pitches,” Domínguez said through interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “When I needed to throw a quality pitch, I couldn’t do it. First-pitch strikes were not there tonight, and I was falling behind in the count.”
The Phillies’ loss came on a night when both the Padres and Brewers won. The Phils hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the Padres for the second Wild Card spot and a three-game lead over the Brewers, who are currently on the oustide looking in. Even as time dwindles in the 2022 season, there’s a lot of baseball to be played to decide the ending.
“Just keep playing day to day, keep moving forward,” interim manager Rob Thomson said of his message to his players after the difficult loss. “I mean, we’ve lost a lot of tough games this year and we always come back. But we’ve won a lot of games, too. So just keep staying positive and keep moving forward. Tomorrow’s a new day, and we go get them.”
Suárez had one of his best starts of the season, spinning six innings and facing just five batters over the minimum. He allowed one run on two hits and three walks while fanning four batters.
“I thought he was great,” Thomson said. “The location of his pitches, throwing strikes — his fastball was good tonight. It was 93, 94 [mph] at times. And as I’ve always said, when he’s throwing strikes and locating his fastball, the other pitches play up.”
Suárez was in a pitchers’ duel against Braves ace Max Fried, but after not having a batter reach base through three innings, it took the Phillies one swing to get on the board first.
Kyle Schwarber clobbered yet another home run in the fourth inning — his second straight game with a homer — to give Philadelphia its first hit of the contest. The blast was his 39th of the season and 31st out of the leadoff spot, breaking Jimmy Rollins’ franchise record that he set in his 2007 NL MVP season.
The 39 home runs also mark a career high for Schwarber, who extended his National League lead in homers over Atlanta’s Austin Riley (36). Schwarber would be the first Phillie to win the NL home run title since Ryan Howard in 2008 (48).
“That’s a heck of a player to be up there with, so [that’s a] really cool thing,” Schwarber said about breaking Rollins’ record. “I think the cooler things will happen when I’m done playing the game. I think those [achievements] will settle in more. Right now, it’s just trying to win some baseball games.”