Huddled together in the visitors’ clubhouse, the Atlanta Braves smoked their championship cigars, showered each other with fizzy, fizzy beer and danced in puddles of alcohol – until the music briefly paused.
“Turn up the music! Some people want to party!” shouted helper Kirby Yates.
At his command, the music was turned up to maximum volume and the NL East title celebration continued. Yates was the one who secured another division title, so he was allowed to call the shots in the locker room.
And as he looked at the cheering around him and ran his fingers through his alcohol-stuffed hair, Yates knew he didn’t want to be anywhere else.
“So far,” he said, “this is the best thing about being a baseball player.”
That’s exactly what the Braves do this time of year.
The Braves clinched their sixth straight NL East title, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 on Wednesday night, behind Spencer Strider’s 17th major league victory and Austin Riley’s two-run home run.
“Now the real party begins,” Strider said.
Yates hit Brandon Marsh to end the game, and the players danced in a mob near the mound while Phillies fans booed them off the field.
“Congratulations Atlanta Braves 2023 NL East Champions” flashed on the scoreboard.
Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. responded to the booing fans by raising both arms and using his hands to signal for him to go.
“We checked a box,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Atlanta (96-50) won 146 games, the second-fastest in the division era. The division title was the Braves’ record-tying 26th, two more than the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
The Braves have apparently made winning the East a September ritual since the 1990s, and this year’s team appears strong enough to win its third World Series since moving from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. During this period, Atlanta won eleven consecutive NL East titles starting in 1995-2005 and the World Series in 1995 and 2021.
Yates made his fifth save.
Atlanta was particularly pleased with the victory on the same field at Citizens Bank Park where the Phillies eliminated them in the NL Division Series last October. The Phillies won that series 3-1 – just as Atlanta won that four-game set.
The Phillies lead the NL wild card and the teams could face off in October.
For now, September belongs to the Braves.
“Did we want it to be on our field? No,” Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “But they have to do it somewhere. The focus is still on us. We will continue to push until the end.”
Riley, one of many big boppers in the lineup, gave the Braves all the runs they needed when he hit Cristopher Sánchez (2-4) for his 35th home run in the first.
“I try not to think about moments like that,” Riley said. “You just try to get up there and have a good shot. I put a lot of pressure on myself this year to perform in these moments. I was able to get a good swing there.”
Riley had a sacrifice fly in the third and Kevin Pillar added an RBI double in the fourth for a 4-1 lead.
Sanchez struck out a career-best 10 in 7 1/3 innings, but the Phillies still lost five of seven.
“We will bounce back,” said manager Rob Thomson. “This group has been resilient all year.”
Strider (17-5) soldiered on from there, winning for the fifth time in six starts, allowing one run and four hits in seven innings. Strider recorded nine strikeouts, raising his MLB best to 259. He also gave the bullpen some much-needed rest after a difficult first three games in Philly, in which Raisel Iglesias hit a two-game home run in the ninth inning.
That the Braves had the courage to bounce back from devastating blows on the road and win is just another reason why they may be the team to beat in the postseason.
“Let’s get ready for October,” Strider said.
Riley became the third Braves player to hit 35 home runs, joining Matt Olson (51) and Acuña (37). With 35 home runs in a season by any team in MLB history, the Braves are tied for the most by any player.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson said it would be a “pleasant surprise” if injured first baseman Rhys Hoskins could return in the postseason. Hoskins has tried to remain optimistic that he can play after tearing his left ACL in spring training. Hoskins is on a one-year, $12 million contract and may have played his final game with Philadelphia.
Hoskins will continue to tee off on the trip in St. Louis. Hoskins hit 30 home runs with 79 RBIs for the NL champions last season.
The Braves are headed to Florida for a three-game set against the Marlins. The Braves send RHP Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.38 ERA) to the mound. The Marlins have not named a starter.
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