ATLANTA - The Phillies lost in devastating fashion to the Braves, 9-8, in Friday night's series opener.
The Phils had a 7-2 lead going in the bottom of the seventh but the bullpen gave up six runs in the final three frames to turn what was once a comfortable lead into a gut-wrenching loss.
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Hector Neris blew the save, his first of the season, on Brian McCann's two-strike, two-out, two-run walk-off hit.
The loss drops the Phillies to 38-31 and 2½ games behind the Braves in the NL East. These teams meet 15 more times over the season's final 93 games. The Phils have no other choice than to lick their wounds and try to rebound Saturday night.
Nick Pivetta came one out shy of giving the Phillies seven innings, exiting with a career-high 116 pitches after walking Dansby Swanson with two outs and a man on second. Manager Gabe Kapler paid Pivetta a visit before Swanson stepped to the plate but opted to leave his 26-year-old right-hander in the game given the way Pivetta had handled Swanson three times earlier in the night.
After that walk, Vince Velasquez allowed one of the inherited runners to score on a Freddie Freeman single, but Pivetta otherwise avoided damage throughout the night. The other three runs he allowed all came on leadoff solo home runs from Josh Donaldson, Freeman and Brian McCann.
Pivetta had only one 1-2-3 inning all night - in the first - but did a decent job of rebounding from the homers and scattering the eight hits he allowed.
Since returning from the minors, Pivetta has a 2.08 ERA in 21⅔ innings with two walks and 21 strikeouts.
Bryce Harper doesn't know how to hit cheap home runs. When he connects, the ball goes a long, long, long way.
Harper's third-inning home run off of Max Fried went 431 feet to right-center. Of Harper's 12 home runs this season, six have come against lefties, six against righties. The homers have traveled an average of 418.4 feet, fifth-farthest in the majors among the 110 players with double-digit home runs, behind Ronald Acuña Jr., Charlie Blackmon, Joey Gallo and Michael Chavis.
The Phillies went with a new-look lineup on Friday, batting Harper second in between leadoff man Jean Segura and three-hole hitter J.T. Realmuto. It worked, so expect to see it again Saturday.
Why run on Realmuto?
J.T. Realmuto threw a seed to nail Austin Riley for an inning-ending, strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play in the fourth. Of the 45 runners who have tried to steal against Realmuto, 23 have been successful and 22 have been caught.
That's by far the best mark in the majors. No other catcher has nabbed even 15 base stealers.
The Phillies still have not decided who will start Sunday afternoon but it could be Cole Irvin.
Tomorrow night at 7:20, it's Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.58) vs. lefty Sean Newcomb. It will be Newcomb's first start since April 13. His last 16 appearances came in relief.
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