ATLANTA — Here’s the thing about blowing a five-run lead in the last three innings of a game and getting walked off the field on a bloop single against your closer: The next day is usually a lot better.
Somehow, it almost got worse for the Phillies.
It wasn’t merely that they were trailing by one run in the ninth inning Saturday night against the division-leading Braves. Or that Aaron Nola got knocked out in the fifth after giving up five runs. The Phillies incurred two more injuries, too, with left fielder Jay Bruce and catcher J.T. Realmuto — the player that they can least afford to lose — both leaving the game early.
All together now: Oof.
But then Scott Kingery led off the ninth inning with a single, his third hit of the game. Sean Rodriguez dropped down a bunt and reached on an error. Cesar Hernandez punched a two-run single through the left side of the infield. And Hector Neris, who guaranteed he would close out the game after blowing the save the night before, tossed a perfect ninth inning.
Just like that, the Phillies had their best victory of the season, 6-5, and snapped the Braves’ eight-game winning streak before a record crowd of 43,593 here at SunTrust Park.
"That was a really important win for our team. Wow," manager Gabe Kapler said. "What a resilient group of guys. There's a lot that went on in today's game that could have pushed us to not give the kind of effort that we gave. Really impressive, heartfelt win by our club as a group, as a unit, as a team."
Indeed, as June wins go, it was enormous. Rather than slipping to 3 1/2 games off the pace in the National League East, the Phillies sliced the margin to 1 1/2 games and gave themselves a chance to win the series with a victory Sunday.
And about those injuries, well, it could certainly be a lot worse. Bruce, who departed with left hamstring tightness after failing to score from first base on Kingery's two-run double in the third inning, has been playing through some soreness for the last two or three games. He doesn't expect to play Sunday, but he also doesn't think he'll miss more than a day or two.
"That ball that I thought I should've scored on, the ball that Kingery hit, I couldn't really open it up," Bruce said. "I got to the point where I felt like, if I did try, I thought I might actually injure it instead of it just being tight. I knew it was probably a good idea to not push it anymore."
Realmuto, making his 14th consecutive start behind the plate, was hit squarely between the legs by a foul ball. He initially stayed in the game, but after feeling nausea, according to Kapler, he was replaced in the sixth inning by backup catcher Andrew Knapp.
Kapler hadn't intended to rest Realmuto for another few days. That plan might change now, but the Phillies aren't expecting him to miss more than a game.
In any case, Hernandez effectively dumped cold water on the Braves, who were riding their longest winning streak since a nine-game roll in 2014. Mired in a dreadful slump and dropped to the No. 8 spot in the batting order, Hernandez homered in the fourth inning before delivering his big hit in the ninth.
"To me, most of it is about mental strength that you have to have in this game," Hernandez said through a team translator. "A lot of players, if not all, go through slumps. You have to know how to deal with that and just keep fighting, keep grinding."
Said Bruce: "So happy for Cesar. Big game from him."
Neris, too. After giving up Brian McCann’s game-winning two-run single Friday night, Neris promised that he’s “got it tomorrow, for sure.”
And with highlights of McCann’s hit playing on the center-field scoreboard, Neris came in from the bullpen and turned out the lights by retiring Ronald Acuna Jr., Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman, the top three batters in the Braves order.
"You know it, Papi. I'm ready for that every day," Neris said. "Today I got the opportunity. I had to get it."
The comeback also took Nola off the hook. The Phillies staked him to 3-1 and 4-2 leads early in the game, but he gave it away by giving up a three-run homer to Josh Donaldson in the fifth inning. It marked the 13th homer that Nola has allowed in 81 innings. Last year, he gave up only eight homers through his first 176 innings.
In 15 starts this season, Nola has completed the seventh inning only once and allowed five or more earned runs four times. Not very ace-like.
“Obviously, 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.”
Surely, though, a win like this helped the Phillies erase the disappointment of Friday night.