The biggest series that the Phillies have played in a decade got off to a promising start Tuesday night when Odubel Herrera and Jean Segura led off the top of the first inning with a pair of singles against Atlanta Braves starter Charlie Morton.
Not so fast.
Just as quickly as the Phillies built that early threat, it was gone. Bryce Harper grounded into a fielder's choice, J.T. Realmuto struck out and Brad Miller grounded out.
It was that kind of night for the Phillies. The kind of night they've had way too many times this season and it came at the worst possible time.
After those two hits to open the game, the Phils had just one more the rest of the night as they began a do-or-die series against the first-place Braves with a 2-1 loss in Atlanta.
The Phillies were two outs away from being shut out in a second straight game. Didi Gregorius drove home an unearned run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth to make it a one-run game and snap a string of 20 straight scoreless innings for the Phillies' offense.
The loss moved the Phillies (81-76) closer to a 10th straight season without making the playoffs. They are 3½ games behind the Braves with just five to play. The Braves' magic number for winning their fourth straight NL East title is three.
"We have to win out," said Miller, summing up the Phillies' desperation. "That's pretty much it. I think it's cut and dried. We take care of business and win out and kind of see what happens, but that's really all we can do."
Phillies ace Zack Wheeler pitched a tremendous ballgame -- seven innings, four hits, two runs, one walk, seven strikeouts.
Morton, the Braves' 37-year-old right-hander, was just a little better. He delivered seven scoreless innings, held the Phils to three hits and struck out 10.
"It's baseball," Miller said. "I don't think we did anything egregious as far as having terrible plate appearances. (Morton) was just sharp. I wish we could've gotten something across at some point, but he was pretty sharp. It's one of the best right-handed curveballs I've seen.
"There were two really good pitchers on the mound. Shoot, Zack pitched his ass off, too. I wish we could have gotten something for him. A guy like that shouldn't have 10 losses next to his name. It's not on him. So nothing crazy tonight, a good pitcher and some baseball and they beat us."
Two of Morton's 10 strikeouts came against Harper, the Phillies' MVP candidate.
Herrera and Segura were the only Phillies with hits -- all singles. Herrera had two of them.
The Braves entered the game scoring 4.92 runs per game, seventh-best in the majors. Wheeler did an excellent job keeping that offense in check, except for one inning when the Braves strung together some smart at-bats.
After opening the game with two straight 1-2-3 innings, Wheeler allowed a leadoff double to left to Travis d'Arnaud in the bottom of the third. The hit came on an 0-1 sinker in and off the plate. Wheeler wished he didn't throw the pitch.
"The ball with Travis, right when I was going to start my motion, I saw him take a little shuffle backwards like he was expecting that two-seamer in," Wheeler said. "I should've just stepped off like I wanted to, but I didn't. He was looking for it and he hit it well."
Dansby Swanson then singled and moved up on a two-strike bunt by Morton. Jorge Soler then jumped on a first-pitch sinker, also in and off the plate, and lined it to left for the only two runs of the game.
"They know the game plan against me and know that I throw in," Wheeler said. "They're very aggressive and he was looking in and he just made solid contact with it."
Those two runs were all that Morton and the Braves' bullpen needed.
Afterward, manager Joe Girardi wondered what might have been if the Phillies could have capitalized on the two hits against Morton to open the game.
"It's frustrating for us because we had a chance to get to him early," Girardi said. "And I think when we've beaten him, we have gotten to him early."
Morton departed up, 2-0. Luke Jackson pitched a scoreless eighth and lefty Will Smith survived a leadoff walk to Harper and an error by left fielder Eddie Rosario in the ninth to earn the save. Smith struck out Freddy Galvis with runners on the corners to end it. Galvis, who started at third base, struck out three times. Afterward, Girardi said he'd probably play Ronald Torreyes at third base against lefty Max Fried on Tuesday night.
With their season on life support, the Phillies will send Aaron Nola to the mound.
"We have to find a way to win," Girardi said. "Then we have to go from there. Obviously, we need some help now. We have to go out and play a good game. We need a good game out of Nola and we need to score some runs."
A Braves win would put them in position to eliminate the Phillies on Thursday night.