ATLANTA (AP) — This is Bryce Harper’s favorite time of year.
Ranger Suárez and a parade of hard-throwing Philadelphia relievers are enjoying themselves, too.
Harper hit his 12th career postseason homer, Suárez and a half-dozen teammates combined on a five-hitter, and the Phillies stifled baseball’s most prolific offense for a 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Saturday night.
In a playoff rematch between division rivals, the 104-win Braves find themselves in exactly the same position as a year ago: trailing the Phillies after the opener at Truist Park.
“This team, to a man, has this innate toughness to them,” Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said. “They’re really resilient, and they just keep fighting. So it’s a great combination of talent and makeup that we have on this club.”
In 2022, the Phillies knocked off the Braves 3-1 on the way to an improbable World Series appearance. Now, they’re up again heading to Game 2 of the best-of-five series Monday night in Atlanta.
As usual, Harper was right in the middle of things. He reached base in all four at-bats and gave the Phillies some breathing room with a liner into the right-field seats off 20-game winner Spencer Strider in the sixth inning.
“This is his time of year,” Thomson said. “This is where he kind of shines.”
The Braves’ offense had been shining all season, tying the major league record with 307 homers while averaging more than 5.8 runs per game.
They came up empty to start the postseason, enduring their first shutout since May 12 — and their first all season at Truist Park. They became the first team to lead the majors in runs and get shut out in their postseason opener since the 2001 Mariners.
“I think it was more their pitching than our hitting,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Wild-card series hero Bryson Stott broke a scoreless tie with a run-scoring single in the fourth, driving in Harper with an unearned run after a wild pickoff throw by Strider.
Harper padded the lead all by himself by going deep off Spencer, who is 8-0 with 1.90 ERA against the Phillies in the regular season but dropped to 0-2 against them in the postseason.
“Strider, man, he’s one of the best in the game,” Harper said. “You know he’s going to come at you and throw his best at you. So just trying to get a pitch over and was able to get the slider up and do some damage.”
Strider went seven innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with eight strikeouts.
The mood turned ugly in the eighth when the Phillies tacked on their final run courtesy of catcher interference against Sean Murphy. J.T. Realmuto fouled off a pitch with the bases loaded, but his bat barely nicked Murphy’s mitt to force in a run.
After the call was reviewed and upheld, there was a brief delay when a handful of fans threw trash on the field.
Snitker and Murphy had no complaints about the call, and the Braves manager ripped the fans who littered the outfield.
“There’s no excuse for that,” Snitker said. “It’s scary because those water bottles, when they come, they’re like grenades. It could really seriously injure one of our players.”
Many in the crowd of 43,689 — the largest turnout in Truist Park’s seven-year history — headed for the exits after Trea Turner’s diving stop on Ozzie Albies’ sharp grounder turned into an inning-ending double play in the bottom half of the inning.
Suárez allowed just one hit in 3 2/3 innings. Still, with an off day between the first and second games, the Phillies quickly turned to their bullpen at the first sign of trouble.
Suárez walked slowly off the mound, clearly upset at being lifted so quickly, but Thomson said the lefty calmed down when he explained Philadelphia’s strategy.
“He’s a competitor, and he wants to stay in, and he knew how well he was pitching,” Thomson said. “I get it. I’m OK with him being disappointed.”
Jeff Hoffman escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth by striking out Michael Harris II to earn the win. Seranthony Dominguez worked around two hits in the fifth by fanning the side — including a called third strike on MVP favorite Ronald Acuña Jr. with runners at first and third.
Jose Alvarado, rookie Orion Kerkering, Matt Strahm and Craig Kimbrel shut down the Braves the rest of the way, with Kimbrel earning a save against his first big league team.
Other than chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the home crowd, it was a quiet night for the first player in baseball history to post 40 homers and 70 stolen bases in a season.
Acuña went hitless in his first three at-bats, including the crucial strikeout against Dominguez on a perfect fastball on the inside corner. The Braves star finally reached with a walk leading off the eighth, but it failed to spark the Atlanta offense.
Video reviews led to a pair of overturned calls that benefitted each team.
Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies was initially called safe on an attempted steal in the second inning. He was ruled out when the replay showed a tag on his mitted hand just before it got to the bag.
In the fourth, Matt Olson was initially called out on a force play at second. The Braves challenged, and the replay clearly showed the runner got to the bag ahead of the ball.
After leaving Kyle Wright off the playoff roster, the Braves announced the injury-plagued right-hander will undergo surgery and likely miss the entire 2024 season.
Wright, a 21-game winner in 2022, missed more than four months this season with lingering shoulder issues. He had returned late in the season, but struggled in two starts and was moved to the bullpen for the final week.
Wright was sent for an MRI on Friday, which showed a more serious issue with the shoulder. He finished this season 1-3 with a 6.97 ERA in just nine appearances.
Left-hander Max Fried (8-1, 2.55 ERA) will get the start for the Braves in Game 2 after dealing with a recurring blister issue late in the season. “Just something you gotta monitor and just kind of pitch through,” Fried said.
The Phillies will counter with right-hander Zack Wheeler (13-6, 3.61 ERA), who got the win in Game 1 of the wild-card series against Miami by allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings. Wheeler is a native of Smyrna — not far from the Braves’ stadium. “It’s definitely going to be fun to pitch here in front of friends and family and hopefully we get a win,” he said.
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