After running into Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in consecutive days, the Atlanta Braves were left searching for answers as Wednesday’s getaway day contest against the Washington Nationals arrived. While the team’s offense did not exactly explode in the series finale, a quality pitching performance emerged and the end result was a 5-3 victory (in 12 innings) to avoid a sweep against a division rival.
The afternoon began in strong fashion, with Ozzie Albies blasting a home run against Washington’s A.J. Cole in the opening frame to give the visitors a one-run lead. From there, it was rather quiet in terms of scoring, at least until Trae Turner pushed along the game-tying run in the bottom of the third against Braves starter Brandon McCarthy.
Not to be outdone, Kurt Suzuki quickly broke the tie with a two-out, solo home run in the fourth inning and, after that, most of the offensive damage of the game was done on both sides. McCarthy used three double plays in the first four innings to navigate trouble and, when he exited after five innings, the veteran handed Atlanta’s bullpen the lead.
It should be noted, though, that McCarthy was forced to the dugout earlier than his performance would have dictated. The right-hander suffered a shoulder injury when covering first base on the final out of the fifth inning and, while he enjoyed a strong outing (six base-runners, one earned run) before that occurred, his status for the immediate future is in doubt.
Sam Freeman then relieved McCarthy and tossed a scoreless sixth inning, in part due to an impressive defensive play that turned into a double play to rob Bryce Harper. At that point, Daniel Winkler encountered some trouble in the seventh, allowing two base-runners and a potential game-tying hit but Peter Bourjos threw out old friend Matt Adams at the plate to preserve the advantage on the scoreboard.
A.J. Minter was then handed the keys and the left-hander put forth the best appearance of his young (and promising) career, striking out the side in the eighth inning and slamming the door on Bryce Harper for the final out. However, Arodys Vizcaino then allowed a home run (the first allowed by the bullpen this season) to Matt Adams to knot the score at 2-2 with one out in the ninth.
Vizcaino wasn’t done there, allowing a two-out single to Michael Taylor and then allowing the outfielder to advance to third base on an errant throw to first base (on a pick-off move) and, later, a wild pitch. He managed to escape without further damage, though, and the game moved to extra innings.
The wild nature of the contest was just getting started at that point and Ender Inciarte was caught (quite literally) in the middle of it all. With two base-runners on, Kurt Suzuki strolled to the plate (after an intentional walk to Freeman and a strikeout for Markakis) and, quickly, both Inciarte and Freeman stole bases to line up a situation in which a base hit likely scored two runs. However, Inciarte decided to attempt to steal home and, while replay was needed, he was called out on a bang-bang play at the plate to end the threat.
Jose Ramirez zoomed through a 1-2-3 bottom half of the tenth to give the Braves another shot and, this time, the offense dented the scoreboard. The team’s run arrived on a solo home run from Suzuki (his second of the day) and, though Atlanta fell short of generating an insurance run (despite two doubles), the margin looked to potentially be enough.
On cue, Shane Carle allowed a leadoff hit in the bottom half of the eleventh inning and, even after picking up two outs, he couldn’t keep the Nationals from scoring and, by proxy, generating a second blown save.
The Braves again produced a quality offensive half-inning in the 12th, with the team loading the bases on two singles and a walk. Nothing was easy, with Suzuki generating a pop-out to inspire fear, but Peter Bourjos then slid a two-run single between first and second base to break things open for good. Carle, who batted for himself at the end of the the previous at-bat, then managed to (finally) close the door on a win.
On the whole, it was something of an underwhelming day for the offense but, in extra innings, there was enough fireworks to get the job done. The Braves will now enjoy a day off for travel on Thursday before beginning a weekend series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Stay tuned.