By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Phillies are a win away from first place.
OK, it’s May — but for a team stuck for years in the bottom of the National League, it’s starting to feel a bit like September.
Nick Pivetta struck out seven over seven innings, and Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr each homered to lead the Phillies to a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
The Phillies took the opener of the three-game series and moved a half game behind Atlanta for first place in the NL East.
Philadelphia hasn’t had a winning record since it made the last of five straight postseason berths in 2011. The Phillies finished last in the division and lost 96 games in 2017 — the third straight season of more than 90 losses.
“It’s a big series, for sure,” Altherr said. “Especially being at home, we definitely want to take these games.”
Under first-year manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies are back in a battle for first in late May for the first time since Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels dominated during the glory years. But in a year where the Eagles won the Super Bowl, Villanova won a national championship and the 76ers won 52 games, perhaps Philly fans need more than 45 games to hop on the bandwagon. Citizens Bank Park — the site of an NL-record 257 straight sellouts that ended in 2012 — was thin with just over 21,000 fans announced on a gorgeous night.
Kapler was heartened that a Braves-Phillies series has first place on the line.
“I’m a baseball fan at heart and thinking about that gives me gooesebumps,” Kapler said.
The Braves played the Phillies for a whopping 10th time already, resulting in this quirk: Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz faced Pivetta for the fourth time this season.
Hard to believe, Harry.
“It was kind of amazing with the hitters seeing the guys so many times, it was just a 3-0 game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
The right-handers each delivered outings worthy of two teams fighting for first.
Pivetta (4-2) allowed only four hits, walked one and won his third straight start. Seranthony Dominguez tossed a scoreless eighth and Hector Neris finished the five-hitter in the ninth with his ninth save.
“Just build off the energy that we have going on in here just makes my life a lot easier,” said Pivetta, who has allowed one run in his last 19 innings.
Foltynewicz (3-3) allowed six hits and struck out five in six innings. His lone run allowed came when Williams hit a solo shot in the fourth, an opposite-field poke to left for his third homer of the year. The Phillies have homered in 16 straight games.
“It’s one pitch, really,” Foltynewicz said. “I was upset about that, just the way Nick was throwing tonight. I was going to try and not let anybody score because of the night he was having tonight.”
Altherr pinch hit for Pivetta in the seventh and crushed a two-run homer to left off Shane Carle for a 3-0 lead.
Two swings, one nice win.
“I take pride in the way a lot of our players have played,” Kapler said. “I take pride in the way they’ve worked. I take pride in their preparation. I really love our players. I love coming to work with them every day. I ride the emotion that they ride.”
The Phillies and Braves don’t play again after this series until they face each other seven of the final 10 games of the season.
Maybe in September, they’ll be playing for the title.
Phillies LF Rhys Hoskins gave Doug Pederson some tips before the Eagles coach took some batting practice. Pederson, enjoying the perks of winning the Super Bowl, had already thrown out the first pitch at the home opener. He won a hitting contest against some Eagles rookies before the game and earned a Louisville Slugger bat inscribed with the title, “2018 Philadelphia Eagles batting champion.”
Braves: RHP Anibal Sanchez (hamstring) made a rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday night.
Phillies: SS J.P. Crawford (right elbow strain) fielded grounder at extended spring training. … RHP Pat Neshek made 30 throws from flat ground as he recovers from a strained right shoulder. … RHP Jared Eickhoff’s return from a back injury suffered a setback when he felt a twinge in his right index and middle fingers during a rehab start. “I don’t think we’re at the stage of deciding the level of concern. I think we’re at the stage of evaluating,” Kapler said.
Phillies C Jorge Alfaro has thrown out six of his last nine attempted base stealers. He threw out a runner at second with one out in the seventh to preserve the 1-0 lead.
Braves: RHP Brandon McCarthy (4-2, 5.05 ERA) looks to improve already to 4-0 this season against the Phillies. McCarthy has a 2.25 ERA in three starts that span just 16 innings.
Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (4-4, 4.37) is already 0-3 against the Braves this season. Velasquez has lasted just 12 2-3 innings in three starts this season and is 0-4 lifetime against the Braves.
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