Braves rally with seven-run inning, rout rival Phillies in opener

AP photo by Matt Slocum / Atlanta Braves pinch-hitter Adam Duvall connects for a two-run double off Philadelphia Phillies reliever Matt Strahm during the seventh inning of Friday's game in Philadelphia. It was the season opener for both teams, who have become fierce rivals in the NL East Division.
AP photo by Matt Slocum / Atlanta Braves pinch-hitter Adam Duvall connects for a two-run double off Philadelphia Phillies reliever Matt Strahm during the seventh inning of Friday's game in Philadelphia. It was the season opener for both teams, who have become fierce rivals in the NL East Division.

PHILADELPHIA — The calendar still says March, so that's prime time for the Atlanta Braves to beat up on the Philadelphia Phillies.

Friday afternoon's matchup at Citizens Bank Park was just the first game of a long season for the National League East Division rivals, of course. Atlanta still has six months to figure out how to beat Philadelphia in those final October games after playoff losses the past two years have proved fatal to the Braves' biggest goals.

Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson tied his career high with three doubles, including a bases-loaded drive in a seven-run eighth inning, and the six-time reigning NL East champions rallied to a 9-3 win in regular-season game 1 of a planned 162 for each team.

Braves center fielder Michael Harris II had three hits, and his RBI single off José Alvarado (0-1) made it 3-2 in the eighth and ignited the breakout inning. Alvarado allowed five runs and Connor Brogdon gave up two.

Pierce Johnson (1-0) tossed a scoreless seventh to earn the win for the Braves, who triumphed in their first trip back to Philadelphia since their 2023 season ended with a Game 4 loss in a best-of-five NL Division Series at this ballpark. That's also how Atlanta's 2022 season ended, despite finishing 14 games ahead of Philadelphia in the division standings each of those years.

This opening rematch came a day later than originally scheduled, with the decision made Wednesday to postpone from Thursday to Friday because of rain in the forecast.

Braves manager Brian Snitker insisted his team was excited for any win — because it was needed, not necessarily because it was a potential table-setter toward a third straight October showdown.

"You can't do that," Snitker said. "I talked to the guys about that early on. It's easy to do, it's easy to say. But you've got to win today. If you want to fast-forward, it doesn't work that way."

Brandon Marsh hit a two-run homer for the Phillies, whose late collapse in the club's 142nd season opener wasted a strong outing for Zack Wheeler, who received a three-year contract extension through 2027 from the club in the offseason.

The 33-year-old right-hander from the Atlanta area struck out five batters without issuing a walk while throwing 89 pitches and six shutout innings in his first time starting on opening day. His chance to figure in the decision ended when Adam Duvall ripped a two-RBI double to left field off Matt Strahm in the seventh that made it 2-2.

"That goes to show we're never out of it with our lineup," said Duvall, who signed earlier this month to begin his third stint with the Braves. "We can come back with anybody."

Atlanta right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., the 2023 NL MVP, went 2-for-4 with a walk, an RBI, a run and a stolen base. The Braves, who tied Major League Baseball's single-season record with 307 home runs last year, had their big day at the plate without going deep.

(READ MORE: Five bold predictions for Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2024)

Braves ace Spencer Strider, a 20-game winner last year in his second MLB season, went five innings and surrendered Marsh's shot to left in the fifth. The hard-throwing 25-year-old right-hander — who added a curveball to his repertoire in the offseason — pitched to derisive chants of "Stri-der! Stri-der!" from 44,452 full-throated Phillies fans already in postseason form.

The Phillies and the Braves are entrenched in one of baseball's most intense rivalries of the past few years, with Philadelphia frustrating Atlanta in its bid to make another deep run after winning the 2021 World Series.

Philadelphia earned a wild-card berth out of the division the past two seasons and proved better than Atlanta in the playoffs, but the Phillies lost the 2022 World Series to the Houston Astros in six games, and they blew a 3-2 NL Championship Series lead to the Arizona Diamondbacks last year.

So the Phillies have renewed their quest for a third World Series trophy to go with their 1980 and 2008 titles.

"Last couple of seasons, you get close. You can taste it, you can feel it," Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. "They want it, they really do. It's not something we talk about every day. But it's part of the conversation certain days."

Perhaps no Atlanta player illustrates the tale of two seasons between these rivals quite like Strider. He entered this year 8-0 with a 1.90 ERA against the Phillies in the regular season, but in the postseason he is 0-3 with an ERA of 5.40 against the same club.

The Phillies flopped last fall against Arizona when Nick Castellanos, Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner went 5-for-53 (.094) with 11 walks, 22 strikeouts and two RBIs in Philadelphia's four NLCS losses. The four sluggers were 1-for-15 with eight strikeouts against five Atlanta pitchers Friday.

"No excuses," Schwarber said. "It's still a fastball, and you've got to hit."

The crowd booed Braves manager Brian Snitker when he was introduced before the game. Earlier this month, he called out Phillies fans for what he said was objectionable behavior toward visiting fans in the past, saying his wife vowed never to return to Citizens Bank Park. Snitker, though, broke into a wide smile and laughed as he jogged to the third-base line during the pregame festivities.

(READ MORE: Braves manager's family not fans of 'hostile crowd' in Philadelphia)

"They don't boo nobodies," Strider said. "That's what I've been told. I like playing here. It's a fun place to play. There's passionate fans, and a good team on the other side of the field. Usually it leads to a good game."

Atlanta catcher Sean Murphy left with left oblique tightness and was expected to go on the injured list, but the Braves had veteran Travis d'Arnaud at the ready in a three-game series that continues this weekend.

Saturday's matchup is set for 4:05 p.m., and the Braves will send left-hander Max Fried to the mound as the Phillies counter with Aaron Nola. The 30-year-old right-hander had started Philadelphia's past six openers, the longest streak for a Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton made 10 consecutive starts on opening day from 1977 to 1986.

Fried was Atlanta's starter on opening day the past three years.

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