The Braves capped off their series in Arizona with another thrilling finish after a game that included many of the same twists and turns that transpired across the past three games. In the end, a ninth-inning outburst delivered a huge come-from-behind win, as Ender Inciarte’s massive three-run homer against his former team broke open the floodgates and pushed Atlanta to a 4.5-game lead in the National League East.
This game ended as a particularly high-scoring affair, but you wouldn’t know it from how it started out. With Touki Toussaint facing the team that drafted him on the hill for the Braves, and the resurgent Robbie Ray starting for the Diamondbacks, the early innings were full of goose eggs. Toussaint struggled a bit with his command, issuing four walks over his first four innings (one in each), but by allowing just one hit in the process, he kept the Diamondbacks off the board. Ray, meanwhile, breezed through his first trip across the Atlanta order, before the Braves squandered a scoring opportunity in strange fashion in the fourth.
Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the fourth with a walk. He then easily stole second base, setting himself up to score if and when Atlanta got their first hit. But, with a 2-2 count on Johan Camargo, Acuña took off for third without the benefit of a large lead and was easily gunned down. Camargo would later walk, and the Braves would hit themselves out of the inning when Freddie Freeman rolled into a double play. It’s not every day that a team gets two walks and still brings only three hitters to the plate in an inning, but that’s exactly what happened there.
The Braves were hitless until the top of the sixth, when who else but Touki Toussaint himself hit a one-out single to break up Ray’s no-hit bid. It was Toussaint’s first career hit, and it was more than just a novelty. On the very next pitch, Acuña obliterated a ball into the right field corner. It kept going and going deeper into the corner, and landed beyond the fence for a two-run blast. Ray had lost both his no-hitter and his shutout on two pitches.
If you’ve watched the rest of this series, you might be thinking, “Yeah, okay, but I bet the Diamondbacks just got those runs right back, yeah?” And your thinking would be correct, and then some. Toussaint retired Paul Goldschmidt to start the inning, but then began to falter. He gave up a single to A.J. Pollock, and then walked Daniel Descalso to put the tying runs on base. A groundout moved the runners into scoring position, and that was it for Toussaint, as manager Brian Snitker removed him from the game in favor of Luke Jackson (?!). Luke Jackson could not accomplish his task of stranding Toussaint’s runners, as Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed knocked a letter-high fastball back up the middle, tying the game at two runs apiece.
Then, in disturbingly familiar fashion, the Braves elected not to remove Luke Jackson despite a procession of lefties coming to the plate. Unfortunately, Jackson was unable to flip the script on his career 5.60 xFIP against left-handed batters. He walked Alex Avila to put the go-ahead run in scoring position, and then was not lifted when pinch-hitter David Peralta was announced. Peralta sprayed Jackson’s second pitch to left, scoring Ahmed easily and giving Arizona a 3-2 lead. Yet another left-handed hitter came to the plate with no response from the Atlanta dugout, and Jon Jay also notched an RBI single on a liner up the middle, completing the Diamondbacks’ turnaround from a two-run deficit to a two-run advantage. Luke Jackson was then lifted before switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar could do any more damage, having retired none of the batters he faced (three of whom were lefties). Chad Sobotka entered the game and got a first-pitch pop out to keep the deficit to two runs.
(Seriously, how does this keep happening? It can’t be that hard to just match the handedness of the opposing hitter with the pitcher you use, right?)
The Braves did not manage to claw any runs back in the seventh, squandering a one-out, 0-2 double off the bat of Ozzie Albies. Brad Ziegler retired the other three hitters (including both righties he faced). In the bottom of the inning, Sobotka threw a scoreless frame despite a leadoff walk to Goldschmidt and a wild pitch that moved him to second with none out.
Jake Diekman came on for Arizona in the eighth and yielded a single run to make it a 4-3 game. A one-out walk to Acuña, a slow groundout from Camargo, and a Freddie Freeman grounder away from the shift brought the Braves to within one, but Nick Markakis hit a weak dribbler that was easily fielded by Diekman to end the inning. Sam Freeman worked the bottom of inning number eight cleanly, thanks to an odd decision by Ketel Marte to attempt to steal third with two strikes and one out. The steal attempt came on a strike three fastball and Tyler Flowers’ throw to Camargo at third was on target, and the Diamondbacks squandered their chance to extend their lead.
The ninth, though — this game was really about the ninth. Brad Boxberger came in for the Diamondbacks, and did not fare well. The Braves did not opt to pinch-hit for Tyler Flowers against the righty reliever, and that decision worked out just fine, as Flowers singled through the left side, putting the tying run on base. Ozzie Albies then drove a liner up the middle. Nick Ahmed dove for it but could not come up with the ball and it trickled into the outfield, moving the tying run to second.
But, the exact location of the tying run didn’t really end up mattering. Ender Inciarte came to the plate and initially attempted to bunt the runners over, but gave up that idea when a 2-1 pitch received a very questionable strike call. After another pitch in the same location that was called a ball, Boxberger grooved a full-count pitch about as down the middle as you can get, and Inciarte didn’t miss it.
Just like that, the trailing Braves were now ahead by a 6-4 score, as Inciarte got another heaping of revenge against his former team. After a week where Atlanta was victimized by former players including Ahmed and Brandon Phillips, this was the most welcome of turnabouts (and it came in a game started by Touki Toussaint!).
Oh, but the Braves weren’t done. After Boxberger retired Dansby Swanson, he was lifted in favor of Yoan Lopez, who made his major league debut. (As a random bit of trivia, the trade that sent Touki Toussaint to the Braves in exchange for salary relief may have been prompted at least in part by former Arizona General Manager Dave Stewart’s decision to spend $16 million to sign Lopez as an international free agent. Thanks, Dave.) That debut went terribly. Lopez’ second major league pitch was deposited into the right-field stands by pinch-hitter Lucas Duda. 7-4 Braves. His sixth major league pitch was mashed into the left-center gap for an Acuña triple. His eighth major league pitch was a changeup that didn’t really do anything other than hang up for Camargo to smash it into right-center for the inning’s third homer. 9-4 Braves. That was it for Lopez, and new pitcher Jimmie Sherfy finally got the last two outs after allowing a single to Freddie Freeman.
The Diamondbacks did eke out another run in the ninth off Brad Brach, as Paul Goldschmidt tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly, but that was it. The Braves won 9-5, collecting their first series win at Chase Field since 2012. With the Phillies also losing to a Mets comeback, the division lead now sits at 4.5 games as the Braves head to San Francisco for the second leg of their West Coast road trip.
Both Touki Toussaint and Robbie Ray had strange but ultimately successful outings. Ray allowed two runs in six frames on two hits and four walks, while striking out six. Toussaint lasted five and two thirds and yielded two runs on two hits and five walks, while striking out five. Nick Markakis went 0-for-5 after collecting seven hits in the first three games of the series. It was the first time he had gone 0-for-5 since July 4, at Yankee Stadium.
The Braves will send Sean Newcomb back to the mound against surprising Giants rookie Dereck Rodriguez tomorrow night. For the time being, however, let’s all dance and celebrate this thrilling victory — Inciarte and Acuña will show us the way.