There was plenty of contact. There were plenty of scoring chances (though poor execution). There were plenty of hard hit balls. And that was just in the first five and half innings in a 1-1 game. Unfortunately, the Braves simply ran out of outs once the fun started and dropped Game 1 to the Cardinals, 7-6.
After a dominant first inning from Dallas Keuchel, Atlanta was quick to mix patience and aggressiveness. Ronald Acuna Jr. walked, and was thrown out attempting to steal second by Yadier Molina. Ozzie Albies walked, then made it to third on a Freddie Freeman single.
That works.#RELENTLESS pic.twitter.com/KoOAiOYO6E— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 3, 2019
Josh Donaldson then “delivered” with a slow grounder to second that was mishandled by a returning Kolten Wong. Albies Scored, with Freeman and Donaldson safe at second and first. Unfortunately, Nick Markakis and Matt Joyce were unable to do any further damage with two straight fly outs.
Dallas Keuchel worked through the second only allowing a single, and then Brian McCann lead off the bottom of the second with a double. Similar to their inability to execute in the first inning, the Braves could not get McCann home. The Cardinals threatened in the top of the third, as Miles Mikolas, yet another pitcher, hit a ground rule double. After a walk to Dexter Fowler, Keuchel was able to get Tommy Edman to ground into an innning ending double play.
After the Braves went quietly in the bottom of the third, Dallas Keuchel again ran into trouble in top of the fourth. After a Paul Goldschmidt double and a walk to Marcell Ozuna, Keuchel again worked his magic, as Yadier Molina grounded into a double play. With Goldschmidt at third, Keuchel intentionally walked Paul DeJong and got Wong to ground out to second base to end the threat.
The Braves continued to struggle in the bottom of the 4th. After threatening in the third and fourth innings, the Cardinals finally broke through in the fifth. Harrison Bader made it to first on an infield single, advanced to second on a Mikolas sacrifice bunt, stole third base, and then scored on a Fowler ground out. After a Tommy Edman double, Keuchel was removed for Darren O’Day to face Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt delivered with a line drive, but it only found the webbing of Dansby Swanson’s glove on a great play by the Braves shortstop.
The Braves could not cash in a Ronald Acuna Jr. two out double in the bottom of the fifth, and Shane Greene came on to work the top of the sixth. Greene allowed a lead off double to Ozuna, who advanced to third on a Yadier Molina ground out. DeJong popped out, and after intentionally walking Wong, Greene also got Bader to pop out to end the inning.
Put the ball in play and good things can happen!#RELENTLESS pic.twitter.com/91iq1g1HcC— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 3, 2019
Though the Braves were struggling to generate offense, they were at least putting the ball in play. Thankfully, that finally paid dividends in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Freeman grounded out, Donaldson was hit by a pitch and Nick Markakis followed with a seeing-eye double. Managers Mike Schildt and Brian Snitker then started their fun. After Adam Duvall was announced to face Tyler Webb, the Cardinals intentionally walked him. Once Francisco Cervelli was announced to replace Brian McCann, Giovanny Gallegos was brought in and struck out Cervelli. Dansby Swanson stepped up with the bases loaded and two outs and hit a hard grounder to Tommy Edman. Edman misplayed the hop, DeJong misfired to try to get the out at second, and two runs would score to give the Braves a 3-1 lead. Gallegos struck out Adeiny Hechivarria to end the threat.
Max Fried would enter in the top of the 7th and get the Cardinals in order, with the top of the Braves order due up. Acuna Jr. immediately got the fun started with a long shot to right that looked as if it may be a home run. However, it stayed in the park, and Acuna Jr. was limited to a single. Albies grounded out on a good play by Wong, and Freddie Freeman was then hit by an Andrew Miller pitch. With runners on first and second, Josh Donaldson hit a line drive that was caught by Paul Dejong and resulted in an inning ending double play.
RHP Chris Martin left tonight’s game with left oblique tightness.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 3, 2019
In the top of the 8th, Chris Martin was called upon to face the middle of the Cardinals order, but felt a surge of pain in his warmups. The issue was left oblique tightness, and Luke Jackson was called upon to work the eighth. Unfortunately, Paul Goldschmidt was not in the mood to provide a warm welcome. Goldschmidt crushed a fastball 446 feet to make the score 3-2. Jackson would strike out Ozuna and retire Molina on a ground out. Dejong and Wong would hit back to back singles, and the Cardinals announced Matt Carpenter would replace Bader. The Braves countered with Mark Melancon to close out the eighth and ninth. Unfortunately, a bloop single from Carpenter landed just inside the left field line. Dejong easily scored, but Wong was thrown out by Duvall trying to get the lead for the Cardinals. The end result was a 3-3 tie heading to the bottom of the eigth.
The Braves could not get anything done, and Melancon came out to keep the Cardinals quiet in the top of the ninth. Again, the Cardinals were able to get a threat going with singles from Dexter Fowler and Tommy Edman. Paul Goldschmidt was then walked on four straight pitches. Unfortunately, the Braves dam finally broke for good. Ozuna delivered a two run double, and after Melancon struck out Dejong, Wong delivered a two-run double of his own. Sean Newcomb would enter the game and get Carlos Martinez to strike out swinging, but the Cardinals were ahead 7-3.
In his first three playoff games at SunTrust Park, Ronald Acuña Jr. has four hits, two walks and two home runs.— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) October 4, 2019
(via @Braves) pic.twitter.com/EABadSHe5Q
The one sliver of hope for Atlanta was the fact that the ninth spot was up followed by the top of the order in the bottom of the ninth. Billy Hamilton stepped up and earned a walk against Martinez, and Acuna Jr. proceeded to deliver a 97 MPH two seamer over the center field fence. After an Ozzie Albies ground out was challenged and upheld, Freeman decided he would join the party with a home run of his own to make the score 7-6. Martinez then got Donalson to ground out and caught Markakis looking to end the rally and the game as the Cardinals earned the win.
The Cardinals are 0-8 with runners in scoring position & the Braves are 0-9.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 3, 2019
The last time a playoff game finished with BOTH teams 0-for-8 or worse with RISP was Game 3 of the 1980 NLCS b/w the Phillies and Astros.
PHI 0-9, HOU 0-8
Astros won on walk-off sac fly in the 11th
Though the Cardinals struggled just as much as the Braves at scoring runners during the first seven innings, they simply were the better offense all night and executed when it mattered most. Even when they were not getting hits, several of the Cardinals outs were over 100 MPH off the bat as the game went
The Braves had their chances early, but simply could not get the big hit it needed to get a commanding lead. While the Braves were putting the ball in play versus Mikolas, he made the needed pitches to keep them quiet. When the Braves finally got the offense going, it simply did not have enough outs to work with to make the game go to extra innings.
Make no mistake, this one stings. The Braves now are down 1-0, and are about to face arguably the best pitcher in the National League in the second half of 2019. However, the bottom of the ninth showed they clearly have the ability find a way to win. Atlanta must find the same ability it showed over its final three outs tonight to utilize early and often tomorrow to get the series split before heading to St. Louis. It seems with the injuries and ineffectiveness the bullpen experienced tonight, they will need all the runs they can muster.
Many times this season, Atlanta has quickly bounced back when it experienced a disappointing or unexpected loss. The difference between now and those other times is that Atlanta has no choice but to bounce back. With the way they responded down 7-3 tonight, fans should remain confident that Atlanta can find a way to win this series. It simply is going to take a much more difficult road to get there. Hopefully, this team can once again rise to the occasion and reach the destination all of us know they can.