Walk. Single. Homer. Homer. Single. Walk. If you start off a ballgame in that fashion, there's a damn good chance you're going to win it. It wasn't a cakewalk to the finish line by any stretch of the imagination, but a five-run first inning for the Phillies was enough on Thursday night in a 7-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
For the Phillies, the focus was on Aarons; Nola on the mound, and the recently rehabilitated Altherr at the dish. The pitching Aaron didn't exactly have the smoothest of starts, but the hittin' one put together an encouraging night in his return from a wrist injury suffered way back in the infancy of spring training.
Let's start with that outburst in the first inning. Cesar Hernandez led off the game with a walk. Odubel Herrera placed one nicely into right field, and yes, Cesar managed to make it to third base without being thrown out, praise the lord. Enter Maikel Franco, who pulverized his 19th homerun of the season to left field to stake the Phillies to an early 3-0 lead. It was Franco's first homer since the moonshot he hit at Coors Field back on July 10, and this one was comparable in terms of distance.
Tommy Joseph felt like joining in on the fun, and he launched his 14th homerun of the season to right center, completing a back-to-back job with Franco to put the Phillies up 4-0.
Up stepped Altherr in his first at-bat of the season, spraying a single to right field to keep the train rolling. It was after a walk to Carlos Ruiz that Braves starter Matt Wisler probably began considering another career, perhaps as a carpenter, or a plumber, or maybe even as an actual decent starting pitcher in Major League Baseball.
All joking aside, much like Nola, it has been sort of a story of two different seasons for Wisler, a decent beginning to the year but a rough patch of starts over his last month or so. He had a 3.16 ERA on May 31, but exited tonight's game with a 5.16 mark. Yikes.
It was up to Nola to keep the Braves down, and that ended up being a fierce challenge. The Braves were able to load the bases with two outs in the bottom half of the first inning, but a strikeout of one-time Phil Ender Inciarte got him out of the jam.
And from there, this turned into your classic late-July game between two teams just a bit short of playoff aspirations at the moment, a slow-moving, winding through back roads at 10 MPH, low heat on the stove type affair. Nola was not particularly sharp, lasting just five innings. He allowed eight hits and three earned runs, though one run was essentially the direct result of a fluke mishap in center field involving Herrera, who completely lost a ball in the early-evening Georgia sky.
The story on this night was the return of Altherr, though, who stepped up with a man on in the 5th inning and a chance to do some damage. The damage was done, with a loud, long, and high homer to left to lift the Phillies to a 7-0 lead. Altherr added another hit, a single in the 7th, to finish the evening with three hits. Not too shabby after a few months away.
The Braves' 5th inning resulted in a crooked number as they put up three on Nola, including an RBI double from Freddie Freeman following the Herrera outfield mishap, and an Adonis Garcia RBI single.
Nola threw 61 of his 95 pitches for strikes. It was neither a disaster nor a success, a middling effort for the Phillies' right-hander. So it would be four innings from the Phillies bullpen, never an easy ask for any team. They persevered. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez both struggled, but Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris sandwiched themselves in there for some effective relief.
Almost 3 1/2 hours after this one started, Gomez was able to shut the door on the Braves in the 9th after allowing a run. A double play helped him immensely. But in this long season, Aaron Altherr did a little bit to help us all get through one more day on this night. Welcome back, kid.