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The Philadelphia Phillies scored a shutout win against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The Phillies' style of victory registered as a surprise for two reasons: 1) it marked the first time all year that the Braves, the regular season's best offensive team, had been blanked on their home field; and 2) that shutout stemmed from a nontraditional approach to pitcher management by Phillies manager Rob Thomson. 

Thomson used Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola during the Phillies' Wild Card Series against the Miami Marlins, leaving him with few options other than to start left-hander Ranger Suárez in Game 1. 

Suárez answered the call, holding the Braves without a hit through the game's first 3 2/3 innings. Atlanta's Matt Olson then singled, and Ozzie Albies subsequently reached on a fielder's choice. That's when Thomson made the unusual decision to go to his bullpen so early in a non-elimination game, inserting right-hander Jeff Hoffman into the game. Hoffman walked the first batter he faced before striking out Michael Harris II to end the inning and the threat. 

Thomson would go to his bullpen five more times throughout Game 1, stringing together five combined innings from Seranthony Dominguez, José Alvarado, Orion Kerkering, Matt Strahm, and Craig Kimbrel. Those five pitchers surrendered a total of four hits and one walk.

After the game, Thomson explained that he "didn't have a script," though he intended to use Hoffman after Suárez no matter when the latter was lifted. He revealed that he did not inform Suárez before the game about his potentially short hook, either, since he didn't want to disturb his pitcher's focus.

"There's one thought that you tell him to empty the tank early. Don't worry about going deep. Is that the best message to send him or is it, hey, you know, just go and pitch your game. Don't worry about it and just pitch your game," Thomson said at his press conference. "So I decided not to tell him and let him pitch his game, and he pitched well."

Thomson didn't get into his thought processes underpinning his decision, but they seem easy to divine. The Phillies not only have Wheeler and Nola lined up in Games 2 and 3, but the schedule calls for an off day between Games 1 and 2. As such, Thomson could burn through his bullpen without worrying about asking them to pitch in consecutive games. Thomson, then, avoided overexposing Suárez or any other pitcher to the majors' best offense, all the while raising his chances of stealing Game 1 on the road. That last part is important, as MLB teams who have won Game 1 in a best-of-five postseason series have historically then won the series on more than 70% of occasions.

This isn't the first time Thomson has proved to be a deft decision maker on these grounds. He earned praise last postseason, en route to the World Series, for his bold and clever approach to his pitching staff. 

"He's just got a good pulse on what's going on," Phillies president Dave Dombrowski told Sports Illustrated's Emma Baccellieri at the time. "He's been aggressive all along. He has a real feel of what he needs to do. He knows his personnel so very well."

Thomson now has the Phillies two wins away from a repeat trip to the NL Championship Series, and six wins away from another pennant. 

"If that didn't work out, it would be scrutinized," Thomson said of his pitching plans on Saturday. "But it is what it is, and you gotta make the best decision in your mind that you need to make."