ATLANTA – Héctor Neris made a promise with a smile following Friday night’s brutal loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park.
“Tomorrow, you know, I got it tomorrow for sure,” he said.
The Phillies’ offense provided Neris his redemption moment Saturday night, when it scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning against the Braves to take a one-run lead. Neris jogged to the mound from the bullpen with the game on the line and the Braves blasting highlights of Friday’s ninth-inning meltdown on the scoreboard in center field. Neris swore he never noticed. He needed just seven pitches to retire Ronald Acuña Jr., Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman to earn the save in a badly needed 6-5 victory.
The victory snapped the Braves’ eight-game winning streak and moved the Phillies within 1 1/2 games of the Braves in the National League East. The Phillies can win the series with a victory Sunday afternoon.
“What an answer,” Jay Bruce said.
“Wow,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “What a resilient group of guys.”
“You know it, papi,” Neris said.
The comeback victory lessened the sting of another rough start from Phillies ace Aaron Nola. He allowed a three-run home run to Josh Donaldson in the fifth inning to hand the Braves a 5-4 lead. He allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings overall. Nola is 6-1 with a 4.89 ERA this season. He has a 7.71 ERA in his last three starts.
It is a concern that he has been unable to get into a groove and stay there. His command has not allowed him to do that. He is throwing only 63.1 percent of his pitches for strikes this season, which is the lowest mark of his career.
“I want to get it straightened out soon,” Nola said. “I feel like I have a good start, bad start, OK start, bad start, just up and down. It's kind of how the year's been for me. Walks and home runs hurt me this year. I feel like getting ahead is the key for me. I haven't been doing that too much but a lot of times I'm barely missing. That's pretty much been the big thing for me.”
“I have no concerns or worries about Aaron Nola turning the corner,” Kapler said. “And when he does, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Scott Kingery started the ninth inning with a single to left field. He went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs to bring his batting average to .347 this season. Sean Rodríguez, who has played third base the past two nights in place of struggling Maikel Franco, dropped a bunt up the third-base line. Braves pitcher Luke Jackson threw wildly to first base, advancing Kingery to third and Rodriguez to second with no outs.
“It was a huge play in our season,” Kapler said.
Cesar Hernandez followed with a single to left field to score both runners and give the Phillies the lead. Hernandez had been hitting leadoff following Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending knee injury, but Kapler dropped him to eighth Friday following his recent struggles. Hernandez entered the game hitting .094 (5-for-53) in his last 14 games.
But maybe Hernandez is emerging from his funk. He hit a solo homer in the fourth inning, too.
“To me, most of it is about mental strength that you have to have in this game,” Hernandez said through the team’s interpreter. “A lot of players, if not all, go through slumps, so you have to know how to deal with that and just keep fighting, keep grinding. Luckily for me today, I was able to kind of get out of it and help my team win.”
A win they desperately needed.
“You know, that's a good team that's playing right now over there,” Bruce said. “They've won -- that was going to be their ninth in a row? They've won eight in a row, and they hadn't done that in a long time. Everything was kind of falling their way. It was kind of a situation where it was a huge win to answer back like that. Kind of shows you what our team is capable of doing. We have a chance to win the series tomorrow, so it was a big, big win for us and a good bounce back game.”
In the fifth inning, Freeman's foul tip hit J.T. Realmuto in the groin area, sending the catcher to his knees in pain. After a brief delay, Realmuto finished out the inning before being replaced by Andrew Knapp in the sixth after experiencing nausea. He was not available for comment after the game.