Harper nearly quiets Atlanta on rough night for Nola

May 26th, 2023

ATLANTA -- The Truist Park organist played The Who’s “Who Are You?” as strolled to home plate in the fifth inning Thursday night.

Braves fans booed as Harper readied himself in the batter’s box. Seconds later, he smashed a first-pitch slider deep to right field for a game-tying solo home run. A couple of innings later, he bunted up the third-base line for a two-out single, later scoring the tying run on ’s double to right field.

If this were last fall, the Phillies might have found a way to win this one. Instead, they lost, 8-5.

“We’ll never think as a team, 'We can’t beat these guys,' or anything like that,” Harper said. “We’ve got to go out there and play our game, and understand the Braves are a really good team. We’re a really good team as well.”

But the Phillies, who beat the Braves in four games last fall in the NLDS, are 23-27. They are 8-14 since they won two in a row in Houston on April 28-29 to improve to 15-13.

The Phils’ play the past few weeks has placed increased significance on this four-game series. Perhaps it is why sounded as frustrated as he has been following any start in recent memory. He allowed eight hits, five runs, two walks and three home runs in six innings. It was the first time he had allowed three homers in a game since July 18, 2019.

“I’ve just got to execute,” Nola said. “I didn’t execute well tonight. They didn’t miss any balls over the plate. They hit some bad pitches, a couple good ones. I mean, they pretty much shelled me tonight. … It’s just not a great night.”

Nola allowed a two-run home run in the first inning to Austin Riley, who crushed a 1-1 cutter to deep left-center field. He allowed a solo shot to Marcell Ozuna in the second. Nola allowed a solo homer in the fifth to Riley, who crushed a first-pitch curveball to deep left-center field again.

Maybe Riley was sitting curveball there?

“I think if he was sitting on any pitch, he would have that ball out anyway,” Nola said.

Maybe Riley just has Nola’s number. He has homered five times against him in his career.

“I think it’s just one of those things,” Riley said.

Maybe it is familiarity. It was the 31st time Nola had faced the Braves in his career.

“It’s always a grind against these guys,” Nola said. “I’ve faced these guys like 50 times, you know? It’s frustrating.”

Nola is 4-3 with a 4.59 ERA. It is his highest ERA to begin a season through 11 starts in his career.

Even with Nola scuffling, Harper’s run tied the game in the seventh. But then Gregory Soto allowed three runs on four hits and a walk in the eighth.

Soto has allowed a hit in only six of 25 appearances this season. But in those six games, he has an eye-popping 29.08 ERA, allowing 17 hits, 15 runs (14 earned) and six walks while striking out seven in just 4 1/3 innings. In Soto’s other 19 appearances, he has allowed no hits, one unearned run and six walks with 20 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings.

“It’s been frustrating,” Soto said through the team’s interpreter. “It’s been a little difficult because I either have really good outings or really bad outings. Those are things I have to fix on the fly.”

The Phillies have a lot of things to fix right now.