Olson blows out candles, Braves blow out Phillies

March 30th, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Making fun of on his 30th birthday and drawing loud boos from a raucous Philadelphia crowd were just a couple of the ways the Braves celebrated the start of this new season.

“When you go somewhere and you get booed, it feels good, especially when you’re the road team,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “So, that was fun.”

Olson celebrated his birthday by tallying three doubles within the final three innings and Michael Harris II capped his three-hit game during a seven-run eighth that allowed the Braves to cruise to a 9-3 win over the Phillies on Friday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

“They don’t boo nobodies, that’s what I’ve been told,” Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider said. “I like playing here. It’s a fun place to play. They have passionate fans.”

The passion of this strong division rivalry was felt as the Philadelphia fans loudly chanted Strider’s name, attempting to rattle him. Reigning National League MVP winner Ronald Acuña Jr., manager Brian Snitker, Orlando Arcia and Strider were all loudly booed during pregame player introductions. Arcia became a villain last year when Philly fans learned he was celebrating Bryce Harper’s baserunning mistake that ended Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

So it certainly made Arcia feel good when he and Adam Duvall combined to record consecutive doubles off reliever Matt Strahm in the seventh. Duvall’s game-tying two-bagger scored Arcia and Harris, who started the frame with one of his three singles.

“Duvy basically put the cleats on a week ago,” Olson said in reference to the fact Duvall remained a free agent until the Braves signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal on March 14.

Everything felt right about this season-opening victory. Duvall made an immediate impact as he began his third tenure with the Braves. Olson showed he might again be a top NL MVP candidate. Harris delivered three of the game’s timeliest hits. And Strider showed why he will again be a top NL Cy Young Award contender.

Strider certainly wasn’t happy about leaving a 2-2 fastball over the middle of the plate for Brandon Marsh to hammer for a two-run homer in the fifth. But the Braves' hurler certainly impressed as he recorded eight strikeouts and allowed just three hits over five innings. The Phillies whiffed on 13 of their 19 swings against Strider's breaking balls. The curveball he added this winter accounted for 12 of his 90 pitches.

“They haven’t seen [the curveball] from him, so it kind of surprised them,” Harris said. “They didn’t expect it. It was very effective and it kept them quiet.”

Phillies starter Zack Wheeler kept the Braves quiet over six scoreless innings. Olson’s opposite-field double with two outs in the sixth accounted for the only extra-base hit against Philadelphia's ace. He added another opposite-field double to begin the eighth against José Alvarado. Olson scored a few minutes later when Harris laced an RBI single to center that put Atlanta ahead for good.

Olson also capped the seven-run inning with a three-run double. The three doubles matched the career high he had set against the Cubs on June 19, 2022.

“He might have to have the day off tomorrow unless he goes and gets a massage or something,” Harris said playfully with Olson within earshot. “He’s probably hurting right now.”

Olson set franchise records with the MLB-leading totals he produced in home runs (54) and RBIs (139) last season. He certainly hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he prepares for his third season with his hometown Braves, who acquired him from the A’s to replace fellow NL MVP candidate Freddie Freeman at the start of the 2022 season.

But that didn’t stop his teammates from reminding him his age now starts with a “3."

“I’ve been telling him he has a '3' for his age now, so he’s going to get slower,” d’Arnaud said. “For some reason, when I turned that age, the power went up. So it’s good for him. He got his running in and got the cardio in. No, he’s going to be all right. He’s excited to be 30.”

One thing that doesn’t get old, regardless of the age, is silencing a loud enemy crowd.

“That’s the competitive juices you like,” Olson said. “I like to play in good atmospheres. You find a way to thrive on that energy.”