ATLANTA — Gregory Soto homered for the first time since the Phillies-Braves rivalry Thursday night. It didn’t get that hot.
The left-handed Soto entered into a tied game in the bottom of the eighth inning with left-handed hitter Eddie Rosario and left-handed hitter Ozzie Albies. After starting the frame by hitting pinch hitter Kevin Pillar, Soto put five consecutive Braves on base — single, double, walk, two-run single, single — and three of them scored in an 8-5 Phillies loss.
That stymied an exciting night that had the feel of a big game and featured comebacks by the Phillies to tie or take the lead in three separate innings.
Soto’s first two months in a Phillies uniform have been strange. To say it has had its ups and downs would be an understatement.
He went hitless in two of his first three appearances, then allowed one hit and no earned runs over his next 11.
He was hit hard on May 2 at Dodger Stadium for four runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning, after which he went six straight without allowing a hit or a run.
He was hit again on May 17 in San Francisco, allowing three runs on five hits. He then bounced back against the Cubs and Diamondbacks before giving up three more runs on four hits over two-thirds of an inning Thursday night.
“It was frustrating, it was a little difficult because I either had really good outings or really bad outings,” Soto said through Phillies translator Diego Etedui.
“I like moments like (tonight). I like a rivalry like this. I feel I am ready for them. All I can tell you is that I will continue to work hard.”
The first meeting of 2023 between the Phillies and Braves featured five home runs. The only complete innings that neither team scored were the third and sixth. Austin Riley crushed two of Aaron Nola’s homer offerings that traveled 458 and 459 feet. Marcell Ozuna also took Nola deep.
Yet the Phillies came back in the second, fifth and seventh innings to tie the Braves or take the lead. Alec Bohm hit a two-run shot to center. Bryce Harper homered 445 feet to right and started a rally two innings later with a two-out single.
The Phillies struck. They just didn’t deliver.
“It’s always tough against those guys,” said Nola, who has made 32 career starts against the Braves, four more than he has against any team and 11 more than he has against the Marlins, for example.
Riley, Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. have seen Nola more than any other major league pitcher.
“I’ve gone up against these guys about 50 times,” he said. “They have almost the same composition. They have a good club. This is not the last time I will face them. Throw that one behind me and get ready for New York.”
It’s a crucial moment for the 23-27 Phillies. They have nine more games on the road against the Braves, Mets and Nationals. They are now eight games behind the Braves in the division. They showed flashes of their potential, but did not play consistent baseball in any phase.
The 31-19 Braves are far better and have a clear identity as an offensive juggernaut. They lead the National League in hitting, OPS and runs per game.
The Phillies eliminated the Braves from the 2022 playoffs and are 37-37 against them since the end of 2018, so they know they can go head-to-head with the team that has won five straight NL East crowns. But it’s a new year. This October 2022 magic carpet ride is just a memory.
“Coming in here, we’re never going to think as a team that we can’t beat these guys,” Harper said. “They are a good team. We are also a good team. We made shots very well. Riley took two good swings and that was the difference today. I wasn’t too shocked by the way both teams came back. we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”