It was at times predictable, at times scary, and for a few moments, cause to celebrate. In the end, the Braves salvaged a game of their series with the Colorado Rockies at SunTrust Park, winning 8-7 thanks in large part to late-inning heroics by Josh Donaldson and Luke Jackson. Down by two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Donaldson clobbered a three-run homer to cap the scoring. In the next half-inning, Luke Jackson was summoned from the bullpen after A.J. Minter once again threatened to unravel and got the game’s final two outs to seal the victory.
It feels like I write this a lot, but this game was fun early, and then, not so much. The Braves should have clobbered Colorado starter Tyler Anderson, and they did. After Kevin Gausman hurled a scoreless top of the first despite issuing a four-pitch leadoff walk, Ozzie Albies mashed a second-pitch leadoff homer off Anderson. Donaldson then drew a walk, and scored immediately thereafter when Freddie Freeman obliterated a pitch over the center-field fence. The Braves had three men bat, and they led 3-0. Fun times.
They got less fun in the third. Gausman inexplicably walked light-hitting Tony Wolters to start the frame, and Wolters came around to score after a sacrifice bunt by the pitcher and then an opposite-field grounder by Charlie Blackmon. Trevor Story then lined a pitch to right that went for a ground-rule double and would have scored Blackmon had it stayed in play, but that distinction ended up being irrelevant as Daniel Murphy crushed a Gausman pitch into right field for a go-ahead three-run shot. See, not fun.
But, the Rockies held that lead for all of one pitch, as on Anderson’s second pitch of the bottom of the third, Albies once again took him out of the yard, this time to right center on a line. The game was now tied 4-4. But, it didn’t stay tied long. Noted poor-performing baseball guy that apparently now haunts the Braves, Ian Desmond, hit a leadoff double to start the fourth, and later scored on a sacrifice fly. The Braves battled right back against Anderson, however, as Johan Camargo belted a triple to right that evaded the glove of Blackmon. Dansby Swanson then did a nice piece of situational hitting (assuming that that’s what he was going for), as he drove a fastball around his eyes deep to center, allowing Camargo to score and tying the game.
Despite it failing to work over and over again earlier this week, the Braves allowed Gausman to continue to work in the fifth with the top of Colorado’s order coming up for a third time. That looked like it would end poorly, as Blackmon led off the frame with a double, but Gausman was able to battle back to strike out Story, get a foul pop out from Murphy, and use his body to block a grounder from Nolan Arenado and recover the ball in time to end the threat. That was the end of the line for Gausman, who ended his day allowing five runs in five innings with a 5/2 K/BB ratio. It was arguably the worst of his five starts so far this season, but he was able to redeem it some extent by surviving the top of the fifth. One of the big differences for him on the day was command — it was notably awful most of the day, with expected high locations ending up in low pitches and inside calls running way outside to right-handed batters, but somehow improved enough in that final frame to survive the dreaded Third TTO malady.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Braves were able to chase Anderson, as they drew two walks and extended the inning as a weak bouncer from Nick Markakis was mishandled by Murphy at first. Unfortunately, it all went for naught, as new reliever D.J. Johnson turned Johan Camargo around and got him to weakly fly out to keep the game tied. Anderson finished with a brutal line of five runs (three homers) allowed in 4 2⁄3 frames of work, but he did manage a pretty wild tally of nine strikeouts, giving him a strikeout rate of 39 percent (his highest in a start since June 2017), despite also issuing four walks. Of 23 batters faced, he only allowed seven balls in play.
Ian Desmond was due up in the top of the sixth, and despite having to face a Braves reliever of appropriate handedness (Dan Winkler, who came on to start the frame), he lined a pitch over the right-field wall to give the Rockies a 6-5 lead. The Braves need to burn him in effigy or something, because, yeah, wow. Ugh. Other grunting noises. Winkler otherwise retired the Colorado batters, and the Braves looked like they could tie the game again, thanks to a leadoff “double” from Swanson that was the result of a grounder down the line that bounced off a diving Arenado and trickled into foul territory. Unfortunately, new Rockies reliever Bryan Shaw was able to retire the rest of the side, including pinch-hitter Matt Joyce, in order, on a grounder and two soft-hit liners to the outfield.
Newest Brave Jerry Blevins (my fave) got the call to start the seventh, and promptly walked his first batter faced, pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds. Welcome aboard, Jerry! You’re fitting right in. But, Blevins recovered to get Blackmon to ground out, and in a welcome surprise, was then removed in favor of right-hander Chad Sobotka to face Story. Sobotka proceeded to nail Story with a 2-2 pitch that tailed way, way, way inside and plunked him in the back, but got a pop out from Murphy and struck out Arenado to keep the deficit at one run. Carlos Estevez came on for the bottom of the seventh, and the Braves threatened once again, as Freeman drew a one-out walk and made it to third on a Markakis double that sadly didn’t roll around in the right-field corner enough to allow Freeman to score. That brought up Camargo, who had already botched one key situation in the game, and Camargo flew out softly on the first Estevez pitch he saw.
Sobotka continued to work in the eighth, and issued a one-out walk to Ian De(s)mon(d). With two outs, Wolters singled to left again, and Camargo had the roller skip under his glove, allowing De(s)mon(d) to score the Rockies’ seventh run. Sobotka was relieved of his duties in favor of Jacob Webb, who struck out left-handed pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia to end the inning.
But then fortune smiled on the Braves, and by fortune what I really mean is “Josh Donaldson obliterated a baseball.” Seung Hwan Oh came out to preserve the Rockies’ now-two-run lead and sandwiched a Tyler Flowers single with two outs. But then Ozzie Albies singled to right. And then this happened.
With a 33-degree launch angle and 101 mph exit velocity, that’s the sort of ball that is either a routine fly out or a homer in most cases, depending on park dimensions. Fortunately for the Braves, it was the latter, and what a homer it was. The Braves threatened Oh after the homer as well, as Freeman fought off a pitch at eye level for an opposite-field single, and Ronald Acuña Jr. walked. That was it for Oh, the key bullpen collapser in this game, as Mike Dunn came on and got Markakis to fly out to end the inning.
Onto the ninth we went, with all the trepidation that brought. And trepidation it was, as A.J. Minter went right back out there after yesterday’s conflagration. I wish I could tell you that self-immolation was not in the cards today, but I can’t. Minter allowed a leadoff single to Blackmon (who doubled in the tying and winning run off Minter yesterday), and then another to Story. He got a fly out from Murphy, and the Braves needed two more outs, with a right-handed hitter due up in Nolan Arenado. But then, something amazing happened: Minter was not allowed to continue and face the righty. Manager Brian Snitker lifted him from the game and inserted Luke Jackson, he of the previous yeoman-type relief work and now ostensible bullpen savior. Jackson slid into that savior role like a well-worn glove slides on a hand... well... sort of. Facing Arenado, Jackson got a 2-2 count and then left a slider a little too up... but Arenado didn’t quite connect solidly. The result was a soft fly that Acuña raced in and caught with a slide. Two out. With no more lefties available, it was now up to Jackson to retire David Dahl to end the game. That took all of two pitches: after a first-pitch strike, Dahl tapped a perfectly-placed curveball into the ground, and Jackson collected it and fired it to first to end the game.
The Braves improve to 13-14 with the victory, and snap their heinous three-game losing streak, as well as their eight-game losing streak to the Rockies at SunTrust Park. Ozzie Albies finished the day with his second two-homer day of his career. Acuña was the only member of the starting lineup to go hitless, but drew two walks on the afternoon.
Now the Braves will welcome the Padres to town. The Padres have had an oddball season, as much of their month has consisted of a four-game winning streak, a six-game losing streak, and then a five-game winning streak before it was snapped earlier today by a Matt Adams walkoff homer in the 11th. The Braves will try to extend that streak to some additional games, with Mike Soroka set to work on the hill on Monday night.