PHILADELPHIA -- Somebody asked Phillies manager Rob Thomson on Tuesday if he thought the Braves are a better team this year than last year.
Last year’s Braves won 101 games.
This year’s Braves are on pace to have their best season since 1898.
“The record’s better, so I mean you have to consider them better,” Thomson said before Tuesday night’s 7-6 loss in 10 innings at Citizens Bank Park. “But we’re better, too.”
The Phillies have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Cubs for the No. 1 NL Wild Card with 17 games to play, but they need to start winning games like the one they lost Tuesday. Twice in this series, they have hit game-tying home runs in the ninth inning only to lose in the 10th. Bryce Harper did it in Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader. Trea Turner did it Tuesday. It was the fifth time since Aug. 23 the Phillies have tied or taken the lead with homers in the eighth inning or later and lost.
The Phillies have lost nine games this season when tying or taking the lead in the eighth inning or later, according to Elias Sports Bureau, tied for the third-most in baseball.
“We can’t let it happen, especially this late in the season,” Harper said. “We’ve got to win these games, plain and simple. We’re playing some really good teams, of course. We’re going to play more good teams down the stretch. But these are the games, especially at home, that we need to win.”
The Braves carried a 6-1 lead into the seventh. Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna each homered against Zack Wheeler. Acuña has been booed heavily this week following his elaborate home run trots.
“They say let the kids play or whatever they say,” Thomson said. “Whatever.”
“This one’s on me,” Wheeler said. “Olson, we pitched him away the first at-bat. And then he just got to that one. That might have been the cause of that. Same thing with Ozuna. I think we finished him with a bunch of high heaters in and so, then the next at-bat, he was on that. And then I just hung the curveball to ... what's his name? Acuña?"
But the Phillies stormed back. Harper hit a solo homer, and Bryson Stott hit a two-run homer in the eighth to bring them within a run.
Turner hit a game-tying homer to lead off the ninth. He is batting .388 with 16 home runs, 41 RBIs and a 1.251 OPS since Aug. 3. It is the best 34-game stretch of his career.
“Probably in my entire career, for the most part,” Turner said, when asked how confident he feels at the plate.
Alec Bohm and Harper each singled to move the winning run to second, but J.T. Realmuto struck out and Nick Castellanos grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Craig Kimbrel allowed a run in the 10th. The Phillies put the tying run on third with one out in the bottom of the inning, but Braves left-hander Brad Hand struck out Brandon Marsh and got Johan Rojas to pop out to end it.
Thomson said he did not consider Rodolfo Castro as a pinch-hitting option for Marsh, who entered Tuesday’s game with a .702 OPS this season against lefties. Castro has a career .861 OPS against lefties. But Castro has not hit in a week -- his only plate appearance so far this month came in the ninth inning against San Diego on Sept. 5.
The Phillies are 3-6 against the Braves, who could clinch the NL East with a victory on Wednesday. But the rivalry feels closer than that. Maybe because Philadelphia was 8-11 against them last year, then beat them in the NL Division Series.
Maybe because these games are close, and it is easy to see things breaking differently if these teams meet again in October.
“[The Phillies scare] me as much as any team in the game, quite honestly, with that firepower they’ve got,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We saw it right there. If they’ve got a strike left, they’re dangerous.”
Dangerous, but unable to finish. The Phillies are 10-9 since Aug. 23, when Harper hit a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth against the Giants, only to lose in the 10th. Philly’s ability to finish strong will determine where the club will play in the postseason.
“We’ve just got to keep playing our game,” Harper said. “We can’t worry about anything else. If we keep worrying or if we start to worry or anything like that, we’re not going to be there.”