With a late-inning victory last night, the Braves came into play tonight with a chance to not only take the current three-game series from the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers, but the season series as well. Unfortunately, things did not quite go according to plan, as the team struggled across a number of facets and fell by a final score of 7-4.
It wasn’t all bad, though — so let’s get much of the good out of the way first.
- In the fourth, Nick Markakis did what he does so well: loop a soft line drive single over short. While Braves fans have seen him do this time and time again, this particular hit was notable because it was the 2,000th of his career. This makes him the 284th player in history to hit this milestone, and just the tenth active player to do so. Congratulations, Nick Markakis: your 2,000th hit was very similar to a bunch of hits that came before it, and I guess that’s fitting.
- In the ninth, Ozzie Albies lifted a 1-1 fastball from Tony Cingrani to left-center, where the ball just kept on carrying despite being hit into the wind. It just scraped past the fence, giving Albies not only his first career major league hit, but also his first career major league home run and RBIs. The ball traveled only an estimated 381 feet (and had a hit probability of just 46 percent), but Albies and the Braves will certainly take it, and it gave the fans and faithful viewers that stuck around to the end of this one a reward for sticking it out.
The rest of the game, well... it was not so great.
Things actually started out pretty well in the first inning. Sean Newcomb pitched around a one-out single to work a scoreless frame, and the Braves pushed across a run against Alex Wood thanks to a two-out Freddie Freeman single, followed by a Tyler Flowers double to center field that was misplayed by Enrique Hernandez on an ill-advised dive attempt that allowed Freeman to score. Sean Newcomb then struck out the side in the second, preserving the early lead.
That was all the good tidings for a while, though. The third inning got messy in a hurry. Los Angeles leadoff man Chris Taylor lofted a fly ball to right that Markakis was unable to run down, and a solid line drive from Corey Seager put the tying run on second with none out. Newcomb, who hadn’t exactly looked crisp to start the game, then started really struggling with his command — he threw five straight balls to Justin Turner, walking him despite one of them being called a strike in a pretty terrible, egregious call. Newcomb then battled back to whiff Cody Bellinger after a seven-pitch battle that went called strike-called strike-foul-foul-foul-foul-swinging strike, but then went right back to struggling to throw strikes against a righty hitter, walking Logan Forsythe on five pitches to tie the game.
Newcomb was able to escape further damage by striking out Austin Barnes and getting Hernandez to pop out, but his pitch count was escalating. The lead was gone, and soon the tie also evaporated. The Braves lefthander issued a four-pitch walk to Yasiel Puig to lead off the fourth, and then after a brief groundskeeping delay and a sacrifice bunt from Wood, missed badly with a 2-0 pitch to Taylor that was thwacked into center field for a two-run homer. If you watch the replay, you’ll see that Tyler Flowers called for the ball at Taylor’s shoetops — instead, it ended up going diametrically in the opposite location, ending up letter high and out over the plate, and then into the stands shortly thereafter.
It looked like Newcomb was regaining some composure in the fifth, as he struck out Bellinger and Forsythe to start the frame, but after consecutive two-out walks to Barnes and Hernandez, and a pitch count of 110, he was pulled in favor of Luke Jackson, who retired Puig to escape the jam. Newcomb’s final line was, well, a bit pants: 4 and 2⁄3 innings pitched, four hits, three runs, seven walks, and seven strikeouts.
The bottom of the fifth was where things got partly surreal. Alex Wood had largely cruised after his first inning: he needed just 37 pitches to complete the second, third, and fourth innings, facing just two over the minimum in the process. But, he melted down against his former team a bit in the fifth, issuing a five-pitch walk to Albies, a seven-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Lane Adams, and then a dunker into left field from the bat of Ender Inciarte that loaded the bases with none out.
Now, I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, that as a Braves fan, you are used to the ol’ bases loaded, zero out situation going wrong in all sorts of miserable ways. Strikeout, double play? You’ve seen it. Three strikeouts? You betcha. Weak pop-out, double play? No problem, happens like clockwork. 5-2-3 double play, followed by a strikeout? Feels like home. But, believe me when I tell you, in case you somehow missed tonight’s game: you’ve never seen anything like what happened then.
With Brandon Phillips batting, Alex Wood wheeled and threw to second, picking off Lane Adams. The questions here are myriad, including, “Why was he even taking a large lead, given that the bases are loaded?” “Why can’t we have nice things?” “Who even is Lane Adams?” and “Is life always this empty and full of pain?” Answers aside, a really promising situation became considerably less promising, and you can absolutely set your metaphorical watch to the fact that, as predictable as Chip Caray using the phrase “on his horse” to describe an outfielder moving to catch a fly ball, Brandon Phillips promptly hit into the most routine of 6-4-3 double plays to end the scoring threat.
As Ludwig Wittgenstein posted in the Game Thread: “It’s probably best if we pretend this inning never happened.” Well said, Ludwig.
With the Braves’ spirit clearly broken by that bit of ugly kismet, the bullpen proceeded to put the game out of reach. Jason Hursh came on to work the sixth and gave up a fourth run on two singles, a wild pitch, and a Justin Turner sacrifice fly. He then allowed two more runs in the seventh, on a single-hit by pitch-RBI single-run scoring double play sequence. Ian Krol was tabbed to pitch the eighth and worked a scoreless frame, but his luck ran out in the ninth, as a leadoff single and a double from Barnes gave Los Angeles a 7-1 lead.
Offensively, the Braves were fairly quiet after their fifth inning blunder. They got two on with two out in the sixth against Wood, but Sean Rodriguez struck out to end the threat. Wood finished the game having allowed one run on seven hits and two walks in six innings while striking out just two hitters. The Braves didn’t get anything going against Brandon Morrow in the seventh or Josh Fields in the eighth. Consecutive singles against recent Dodgers acquisition Tony Cingrani to lead off the ninth set up Albies’ three-run homer, but after that, Cingrani retired Danny Santana, Inciarte, and Phillips in order to end the game.
The Braves will try to put the disappointing performance behind them tomorrow night, as they take on the Marlins. Adam Conley will face R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball to kick off that weekend series.