PHILADELPHIA — Crammed into the visitor’s clubhouse, the Atlanta Braves puffed on their championship cigars, showered each other with bubbly, shot-gunned beers and danced in alcohol puddles — until the music briefly paused.
“Turn the music up! Some people want to party!” shouted reliever Kirby Yates.
On his command, the music was cranked to max volume and the NL East title celebration resumed. Yates was the one who closed another division title, so he got to call the shots in the locker room.
And as he surveyed the jubilation around him, and ran his fingers through hair matted by booze, Yates knew there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
“So far,” he said, “it’s the best part about being a baseball player.”
It’s just what the Braves do this time of year.
The Braves clinched their sixth straight NL East title, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 on Wednesday night behind Spencer Strider’s major league-leading 17th win and Austin Riley’s two-run homer.
“Now the real party starts,” Strider said.
Yates struck out Brandon Marsh to end the game and the players danced in a mob near the mound as 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 booing fans by raising both arms and signaling with his hands to bring it on.
“We’ve checked one box,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Atlanta (96-50) clinched in 146 games, its second-quickest clinch in the divisional era. The division title was the Braves’ record 26th, two more than the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees,
The Braves have seemingly made winning the East a rite of September since the 1990s and this year’s team looks loaded enough to win their third World Series since moving from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. Over that span, Atlanta won 11 straight NL East titles from 1995-2005, and the World Series in 1995 and 2021.
Yates earned his fifth save.
Atlanta took special satisfaction in clinching on the same Citizens Bank Park field where the Phillies eliminated them last October in the NL Division Series. The Phillies won that series 3-1 — just as Atlanta won this four-game set.
The Phillies lead the NL wild card and the teams could face each other 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’re going to have to do it somewhere. The focus is on us, still. We’re going to keep pushing until the very end.”
Riley, one of many big boppers in the lineup, gave the Braves all the runs they needed when he connected off Cristopher Sánchez (2-4) in the first for his 35th homer.
“I try not to think of moments like that,” Riley said. “You just try and go up there and have a good at-bat. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself this year to perform in those moments. I was able to put a good swing on 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 have still lost five of seven.
“We’ll bounce back,” manager Rob Thomson said. “This group has been resilient all year.”
Strider (17-5) took it from there and won for the fifth time in six starts, allowing one run and four hits in seven innings. Strider struck out nine to boost his MLB-best total to 259. He also gave the bullpen some needed rest after a rough first three games in Philly that included Raisel Iglesias surrendering tying homers in the ninth inning in two of them.
That the Braves had the mettle to rebound and win on the road from the crushing blows is just one more reason why they just might be the team to beat in the postseason.
“Let’s get ready for October,” Strider said.
Riley became the third Braves player to reach 35 homers, joining Matt Olson (51) and Acuña (37). The Braves are tied for most players with 35 homers in a season on one team in MLB history.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson said it would be a “pleasant surprise” if injured first baseman Rhys Hoskins is able to return in the postseason. Hoskins has tried to remain optimistic that he could play after he tearing his left ACL in spring training. Hoskins has a $12 million, one-year contract and may have played his last game with Philadelphia.
Hoskins will continue to hit off a tee on the trip in St. Louis. Hoskins hit 30 homers with 79 RBIs last season for the NL champions.
The Braves are off as they head to Florida for a three-game set with the Marlins. The Braves send RHP Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.38 ERA) to the mound. The Marlins have not named a starter.
The Phillies take Thursday off before they open a three-game set in St. Louis. The Phillies send RHP Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.64 ERA) to the mound against Cardinals RHP Zack Thompson (5-5, 4.06 ERA).
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB