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Braves win 6-5, escape St. Louis with sweep despite bullpen woes

A laugher turned into no laughing matter thanks to the bullpen, but A.J. Minter slammed the door on the sweep.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves escaped St. Louis with a sweep thanks to a 6-5 victory on Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t come easily. After jumping out to a big lead against former teammate John Gant and the Cardinals’ bullpen, the Braves’ relief corps nearly gave up the game before finally regrouping and slamming the door. Despite the jump scares of the late innings, the Braves have started their tough road trip on as positive a note as possible, and head into New York having won three straight and four of their last six games.

Mike Foltynewicz got the start for the Braves and was the story early. The big man they call “Folty” seemed a little uncomfortable in the heat and had some trouble commanding his fastball, but was able to induce a double play to erase a leadoff, four-pitch walk in the first. A wicked fastball-slider combo led him to strike out the side in the second, and after another leadoff, four-pitch walk in the third, he struck out the side again. Folty found himself in some hot water in the fourth, as he allowed a two-out single and then a walk. With two strikes on Harrison Bader, he reacted with animation (and animus) to a couple of called balls at home plate, before getting Bader to wave ineffectually at a 3-2 slider for his ninth strikeout. Flagging a bit, Folty still managed to work a 1-2-3 fifth via three outs recorded on balls in play before departing the game. It was another highly successful five-inning outing for Folty, with a scoreless sheet, one hit, three walks, and nine strikeouts.

The Braves jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second, courtesy of a roped double by Tyler Flowers and then a two-out soft liner over third by Charlie Culberson that will look the same as the preceding two-bagger in the box score. Aside from that, and another leadoff walk issued to Culberson in the fifth, John Gant fared fairly well. However, he was sent out to start the sixth, and things began to unravel. Ozzie Albies hit the first pitch of the sixth into right center for a single. Gant then jumped ahead of Freddie Freeman 0-2, but was mired in a long battle that ultimately ended in Freeman’s favor as the MVP candidate crushed a two-run homer into right. It was Freeman’s first homer in a couple of weeks, and hopefully that gets him back on track.

With a 3-0 lead, the Braves weren’t done. Nick Markakis drew a walk to continue the rally, and after Flowers grounded out, the Cardinals lifted Gant in favor of Mike Mayers. Gant ended his day with four hits and three walks allowed in five and a third to go with two strikeouts. He ended up allowing his fourth run after Mayers yielded consecutive singles to Ronald Acuña Jr. and and Culberson. Dansby Swanson then reached base on a fielder choice to first where the throw home failed to nab Acuña, changing the score to 5-0. The final Braves run in the game scored on Ryan Flaherty’s sacrifice fly.

Shane Carle came on in relief of Foltynewicz in the sixth and worked a scoreless frame, working around a Tommy Pham one-out single. After the Braves went 1-2-3 against Greg Holland in the top of the seventh, it quickly began to be time for Braves fans to sweat. Shane Carle’s sequence in his second inning of work went single-strikeout-double-single, changing the score to 6-2. The two-RBI single was yielded to right-handed hitter Francisco Peña, he of the 39 wRC+ coming into the game. That was it for Carle, who gave way to Jesse Biddle. Biddle elicited a fielder’s choice groundout but then walked Matt Carpenter.

Braves fans’ stomachs then began to churn uncomfortably, as Brian Snitker walked out to the mound and relieved Biddle of duty, summoning Peter Moylan from the bullpen. Moylan got ahead of Pham by a 1-2 count, but the frisbee-est of frisbee 2-2 sliders just hung right over the center of the plate for Pham, and he didn’t miss it, slamming it over the center field boards for a three-run homer that brought the Cardinals within a single run. With no one in the bullpen and more righties due up, Moylan was left in the game. The tying run reached base when Moylan couldn’t make a play on Jose Martinez’ soft tapper, but mercifully, Marcell Ozuna grounded out to end the inning.

The Braves could do nothing against hard-throwing righty Jordan Hicks in the top of the eighth (or the top of the ninth). Dan Winkler came on to work a scoreless eighth with all three outs recorded via fly balls. The first two were fairly routine, but the third, off Kolten Wong’s bat, carried and carried to right center and was caught by Ender Inciarte, who nearly got tangled up with Nick Markakis but still held on to the ball. A.J. Minter then made short work of the Cardinals in the ninth, striking out Peña and then getting a flyout from pinch-hitter Yadier Molina. Matt Carpenter gave Minter a battle despite the lefty-lefty matchup, but ended up flying out to right on the eighth Minter pitch he saw to end the game.

The Phillies and Nationals are still playing their Sunday contest, but the Braves won’t lose ground to either today. Onward, to New York, where the Yankees await.

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