Dying Phillies on life support after feeble offensive showing in Atlanta originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The biggest series that the Phillies have played in a decade got off to a promising start Tuesday night when Odubel Herrera and Jean Segura led off the top of the first inning with a pair of singles against Atlanta Braves starter Charlie Morton.
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Not so fast.
Just as quickly as the Phillies built that early threat, it was gone. Bryce Harper grounded into a fielder's choice, J.T. Realmuto struck out and Brad Miller grounded out.
It was that kind of night for the Phillies. The kind of night they've had way too many times this season and it came at the worst possible time.
After those two hits to open the game, the Phils had just one more the rest of the night as they began a do-or-die series against the first-place Braves with a 2-1 loss in Atlanta.
The Phillies were two outs away from being shut out in a second straight game. Didi Gregorius drove home an unearned run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to make it a one-run game and snap a string of 20 straight scoreless innings for the Phillies' offense.
The loss moved the Phillies (81-76) closer to a 10th straight season without making the playoffs. They are 3½ games behind the Braves with just five to play. The Braves' magic number for winning their fourth straight NL East title is three.
Phillies ace Zack Wheeler pitched a tremendous ballgame with seven innings of two-run ball and seven strikeouts.
Morton, the Braves' 37-year-old right-hander, was just a little better. He delivered seven scoreless innings, held the Phils to three hits and struck out 10.
Two of Morton's strikeouts came against Bryce Harper, the Phillies' MVP candidate.
Herrera and Segura were the only Phillies with hits and all were singles. Herrera had two of them.
The Braves entered the game scoring 4.92 runs per game, seventh-best in the majors. Wheeler did an excellent job keeping that offense in check, except for one inning.
After opening the game with two straight 1-2-3 innings, Wheeler allowed a leadoff double to Travis d'Arnaud in the bottom of the third. Dansby Swanson then singled and moved up on a two-strike bunt by Morton. Jorge Soler then jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Wheeler and lined it to left for the only two runs of the game.
That was all the support that Morton and the Braves' bullpen needed.
Luke Jackson pitched a scoreless eighth and lefty Will Smith survived a leadoff walk to Harper and an error by left fielder Eddie Rosario in the ninth to earn the save. Smith struck out Freddy Galvis with runners on the corners to end it.
With their season on life support, the Phillies will send Aaron Nola to the mound in the second game of the series Wednesday night. Lefty Max Fried will pitch for Atlanta.
A Braves win would put them in position to eliminate the Phillies on Thursday night.