After six games in the first 11 days of a new season, this is what separates the Phillies and the Braves.
Alec Bohm’s toenail, to be specific.
The Phillies’ big third baseman was ruled safe by the length of his left big toe on a controversial ninth-inning play at the plate that proved decisive Sunday night in Atlanta. The Phillies avoided a return favor of their three-game sweep of the Braves last week at Citizens Bank Park with a come-from-behind, 7-6 victory after trailing by three runs in the first inning.
In a game that had seemingly everything, including late-inning solo home runs by superstars Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuña Jr., it came down to a 230-foot fly ball to left field, a throw to the plate, and Bohm apparently getting a toe in ahead of Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s tag, at least according to home-plate umpire Lance Barrett and replay officials who upheld his call.
“It looked like [Bohm’s] big toe kind of hit the corner of the plate,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s what we saw when we looked at the angles.”
The Braves begged to differ, with manager Brian Snitker claiming that Bohm’s foot never touched the plate based on the replays that were shown on ESPN and the scoreboard at Truist Park.
“We have five different angles on a nationally televised game, and it’s clear that his foot didn’t touch the plate,” Braves starter Drew Smyly said. “Everyone saw it. Everyone knows it. For MLB not to overturn that, it’s embarrassing. Why even have replay if you won’t overturn that?”
So, Alec, did you touch the plate?
“I was called safe,” Bohm said, smiling. “That’s all that matters.”
Either way, it was a gutsy decision by third-base coach Dusty Wathan to send Bohm.
Didi Gregorius, who belted a three-run homer against Smyly to give the Phillies a 5-3 lead in the fourth inning, was upset with himself for not hitting a deeper fly ball with Bohm on third base and one out in the ninth.
“If you look, I literally hit the ball and I said, ‘Oh, I didn’t get it deep enough,’ and I threw my bat,” Gregorius said. “I was surprised as anyone.”
But the Phillies wanted to test Braves left fielder Marcell Ozuna’s arm. As Bohm chugged to the plate, d’Arnaud fielded the throw on a hop and slid across to block the plate. Bohm said he looked for an inside lane to the plate, but d’Arnaud closed it off quickly.
Barrett was in position to make the call, though, and the replay room didn’t believe it had enough evidence to overturn it, much to the disgust of the announced crowd of 14,221, some of whom threw debris on the field after the call was upheld.
“It felt like an hour,” Bohm said of the lengthy review. “They’re showing every [replay]. It was quite a relief when they said safe, for sure.”
Said Girardi: “We felt that we had a chance. We talk about those things before the game. Dusty goes over all the analytics with outfielders and their arms and the speed of the baserunner, and just felt that we had a shot. It was a narrow one, and it was by the skin of his big toe, I think, that we scored.”
The Braves ambushed Phillies starter Matt Moore in every which way in the first inning.
On his first pitch of the game, Acuña beat out a routine grounder to shortstop for an infield single. On his second, Ozzie Albies cranked a two-run homer. D’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson notched consecutive two-out hits, and the Braves led, 3-0.
But Moore survived, and the Phillies went to work on Smyly. It began in the second inning with J.T. Realmuto, who slashed a double past third baseman Austin Riley, stole third, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Rhys Hoskins led off the fourth with a nine-pitch at-bat that ended in a homer to shave the deficit to 3-2.
Girardi dropped Gregorius to seventh in the order with Smyly on the mound because he went 1-for-10 with six strikeouts against lefties through eight games. Naturally, then, Gregorius put the Phillies ahead by smacking a curveball in the middle of the plate over the right-field fence.
But the Braves came back from a 5-3 deficit in the fifth. Harper gave the Phillies a 6-5 lead in the sixth. Acuña tied it in the seventh. Acuña went 9-for-13 with three doubles and two homers in the three-game series.
“We’re punching each other back and forth,” Bohm said. “It was a great game. Any time they scored, we’d answer. Any time we scored, they’d answer. We just got the last punch in. But that’s a good win, getting out of here, saving ourselves from getting swept.”
Indeed, if this game had been played in September rather than on the second Sunday of the season, it would’ve been a taut, gut-churner fit for a pennant race.
Phillies and Braves fans should be so lucky six months from now.