(First, some meta-recap information: I initially wrote this recap in the bottom of the ninth. Then, the bottom of the ninth invalidated it. So I started rewriting it based on what seemed possible given the bottom of the ninth. But then the Braves invalidated that too. So this is Take Three. This is the only time in all my time at TC that I’ve attempted to pre-write a recap. I am never doing it again. You are all my witnesses in this.)
A game that was chock-full of happenings for a half-dozen baseball games ended in disappointing fashion for the Braves, as they fell 10-7 in 15 innings, well over five hours after the game’s first pitch. Recapping everything that happened in this contest is a monumental effort; I highly suggest you watch the condensed game or review the play-by-play if you want to relive the agony, or experience it for the first time.
Both starting pitchers were effective at keeping runs off the board. This wasn’t unexpected for Sean Newcomb, facing a weak Orioles lineup. It was far more unexpected for Alex Cobb, who’s had a tough season to date, even if his xFIP has always suggested that he was pitching better than his ERA or FIP indicated. Through six and a half innings, the only run was a Chris Davis solo homer, itself a bizarre occurrence given that Newcomb is not very homer-prone and that Davis has been the worst player in baseball so far this season. (Newcomb also walked Davis earlier in the game and went to a 3-0 count on him before the homer, suggesting that the Braves were treating him like it was 2013.)
The Braves tried a rally against Cobb in the fourth but fell short, as three first-pitch grounders resulted on runners on second and third with one out, and then Nick Markakis and Tyler Flowers hit foul popouts to end the threat. In the bottom of the seventh, with Cobb still out there, the Braves finally tied the game courtesy of an exciting Dansby Swanson two-out triple and then a laced Johan Camargo RBI double.
In the eighth, the Braves managed to take the lead thanks to a Charlie Culberson double with the bases loaded. That two-run cushion, however, quickly evaporated as Dan Winkler melted down in the ninth. Winkler allowed a leadoff single and then a walk, battled back for a strikeout, yielded an RBI single, and then allowed a super questionable double down the third-base line that really, really looked foul to me. Fan interference over the railing turned it into a ground rule double that tied the game, and then Brian Snitker lifted Winkler in favor of Sam Freeman to face Davis. Freeman did not do his job of keeping the game tied, as a soft flyout from Davis was poorly charged by Santana and the resulting throw hit the runner on the way home, giving up the lead. The game then went into full-on farce mode, as Freeman was left in to face a procession of righties, allowing an RBI hit to three of them until Luke Jackson was mercifully summoned from the bullpen to end the inning.
But, this was a 15-inning game, and the four-run deficit did not deter the Braves in the bottom of the ninth. The Braves loaded the bases against Zach Britton with none out and then proceeded to score four runs, tagging him with his first runs of the year. The game-tying blow came on a Nick Markakis liner into the right field gap. Third base coach Ron Washington sent Freddie Freeman to try to steal a walkoff victory, but it was not to be, as he was easily gunned down at the plate. That proved to be a key inflection point in the game, as with one out and Markakis on third, the Braves failed to bring in the winning run thanks to a Tyler Flowers strikeout against new reliever Darren O’Day, and a Dansby Swanson flyout.
That sent the game to extras, which meandered for inning after inning. The Braves had ample opportunity to win the game as Shane Carle and Jesse Biddle did the fantastic work of keeping the Orioles silent for five innings of relief, but could not push the winning run across despite some leadoff baserunners and two near-homers off the bat of Danny Santana and Nick Markakis that died at the wall and nestled in the glove of center fielder Adam Jones.
The fateful 15th was where it all went sour, as Peter Moylan came on and gave up the game’s ghost. Moylan hit the leadoff hitter and then “elicited” a weird sacrifice bunt that actually hit the batter while he was still in the box (and the pitch would have hit the batter had he not bunted it). With an 0-2 count on Manny Machado, Moylan’s frisbee offering did not do whatever it was supposed to, and Machado hooked it into the left field corner for a go-ahead two-run homer. Moylan later allowed another run, but the damage was done. The Braves got a one-out walk in the bottom of the inning, but it was for naught as they took home a disappointing loss in the series opener.
Aside from Moylan, Tyler Flowers really pooched it in the game, going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts while the Braves were rallying, and an amazing brutal -.514 WPA that will be hard for any Braves position player to top (bottom?) this season. Danny Santana, recalled from Triple-A before the game, had the unfortunate throw on the sacrifice fly that allowed the go-ahead run to score, but redemeed himself by going 2-for-3, including a big double that helped the Braves key their ninth-inning rally. His sole out was one of those deep drives that almost ended the game in extra innings, but didn’t have the extra foot of juice needed.
With the Phillies creaming the Nationals today, the Braves’ lead in the division shrinks to 2.5 games. They’ll hope for better, and perhaps shorter, results against the lowly Orioles tomorrow afternoon, with Julio Teheran on the hill. Expect to see at least one move to get some fresh arms in the Atlanta bullpen.
Arodys Vizcaino was inexplicably not available for tonight’s game; no information was given during the broadcast. While it’s tempting to think that the Braves win this game with him available, the Braves were so terrible at getting anything done against Miguel Castro (three innings of relief, 5.14 xFIP coming into the game) and Mike Wright Jr. (two innings of work, 5.35 xFIP coming into the game) that it may not have mattered.
It ended up being a better game than one where the Braves lost 1-0 on a Chris Davis homer, and it ended up being a better game than one where a poor Dan Winkler outing, a blown foul call, and inexplicably leaving Sam Freeman in to face righty after righty doomed the team. It was still a painful loss for the Braves.