The Braves had one hit through six innings, and that hit was an oddball leadoff homer. They ended the game with three hits, including a come-from-behind two-run shot by Ozzie Albies, and edged the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night. That’s just the overview, and in the end, that might be the most prominent memory about this game, but it was far, far weirder. But, through the weirdness, Braves, like life, uh, found a way to their 47th win and a season series victory over the Wrigley boys.
The weirdness started very early on. Ronald Acuña Jr. took the game’s very first pitch from Adbert Alzolay and hit it with very rare aplomb: 110 mph off the bat, but a 46-degree launch angle. It was caught by the winds over Wrigley and deposited beyond the confines of the park for a leadoff homer, albeit one with a corner case-esque 27 percent hit probability. But hey, it counts. Hit a ball 110 mph and, uh, find a way, I guess?
Max Fried, seeking a second consecutive good start for the first time in a month, started things off well with a 1-2-3 bottom of the first. But, his performance would devolve, evolve, and then devolve again (and so on) from there. In the first, Fried threw only strikes (though this was mostly due to the Cubs chasing). In the second, his command completely abandoned him, as he issued consecutive walks to lead off the frame, and after a strikeout of David Bote, issued another walk on four straight balls to load the bases. And then, the Cubs revealed a completely bonkers way for Fried to get out of the frame unscathed: a whiffed bunt try by Alzolay (hitting eighth) and a break home by Javier Baez led to a “pickoff” at third, which then ended the inning when Josh Donaldson fired back to the third base bag to nab Willson Contreras on an attempted advance. Walk three guys in an inning, find a way to allow zero runs. Thanks, Cubs.
Fried had no such troubles in the third, striking out two of the three batters he faced. But, he was right back to the problematic version of his pitching self in the fourth, allowing both Chicago runs. First, he walked Kris Bryant on four straight balls. Then, after an infield shift on an Anthony Rizzo grounder forced Josh Donaldson to make an ultimately late relay throw on a double play attempt and a single by Baez put two men on, Fried hung a curveball to Contreras that got knocked into the left-field corner, giving the Cubs the lead. Fried did strike out two more Cubs to end the inning, but the Braves now trailed.
Aside from Acuña’s homer, however, the Braves had their hands full (or, well, empty?) with Alzolay. He retired six straight after the homer, and then another six straight after a leadoff walk to Ozzie Albies started the top of the third. In the fifth, though, the Braves decided to somehow return the Cubs’ favor from the second inning, by also drawing three walks in the same frame and not scoring. In that frame, Austin Riley drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on an errant pickoff throw, and eventually to third with two outs. Despite alternating good and bad innings, Max Fried was left in to him for himself and found a way to draw a pretty wild, eight-pitch walk. Then Acuña walked too, and that was it for Alzolay, as Chicago skipper Joe Maddon would not let him face the bulk of Atlanta’s order a third time. His major league starting debut therefore concluded with a fairly odd line: 4 2⁄3 innings, a solo homer, four walks, four strikeouts, and no other hits allowed.
On came Mike Montgomery for the Cubs, facing Dansby Swanson despite lacking the platoon advantage. Montgomery fired three consecutive balls, none of them close, and it looked like the Braves might find a way to score a run without a hit to tie the game. But, instead, it was the Cubs and Montgomery that found a way to elude damage in this frame — Swanson took strike one, fouled off a borderline pitch for strike two, and then hit a routine grounder to third to end the inning with the Braves still trailing.
In the fifth, Fried may not have been as sharp as in the first and third, but his defense helped him out. Ozzie Albies made a nice play on a hard-hit grounder, Freddie Freeman leaped skyward to snag a liner, and then Josh Donaldson made a nice charging play to end the inning in 1-2-3 fashion. Fried then flipped the script: as the Braves went down 1-2-3 in the sixth, he had an uneventful even inning by retiring the side in order, with two strikeouts to boot. That was it for him, resulting in another odd line, somehow surviving five walks thanks to eight strikeouts and just two hits allowed. It wasn’t as good as his first start against the Cubs this year, but it proved to be enough in the end.
Still facing Montgomery in the seventh, the Braves made their few hits count. Brian McCann knocked a one-out single to center despite lacking the platoon advantage, and then Ozzie Albies jumped all over a hanging first-pitch Montgomery changeup, banging it into right center for a go-ahead two-run homer. It was now up to the Atlanta bullpen to find a way to hold the lead and deliver a victory, and they proved up to the task.
Sean Newcomb, fresh off a stint on the special seven-day concussion IL, worked a 1-2-3 seventh, striking out the last two men he faced and throwing just two balls all inning. The Braves did nothing against former teammate Brad Brach in the top of the eighth, and Newcomb stayed in for the bottom of the frame, albeit not for long. An opposite-field single by Albert Almora Jr. and a smashed grounder by Kyle Schwarber put the tying and go-ahead runs on base with none out. Out went Newcomb, in came apparent relief savior Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak’s very first pitch was rolled over by Bryant to third, where Donaldson stepped on the bag and fired to first for a twin killing. Swarzak was then left in to face the lefty-batting Rizzo, and on a 2-2 count, apparently bamboozled the Chicago first baseman by firing a fastball right down the pipe. Rizzo could only stare as he was rung up — he had seen just one other fastball from Swarzak in the at-bat, and it was on the upper-and-outer edge of the zone. Talk about finding a way.
More Brach-aided futility awaited the Braves in the top of the ninth, and so, Luke Jackson came on to try and get the final three outs necessary for a win. No stranger to ball-in-play shenanigans, the Braves found a way to turn Jackson’s fortune for a change: a soft pop into left field off the bat of Baez to lead off the frame seemed like it would find grass, but defensive replacement Charlie Culberson raced in and made a sliding catch for the first out instead. The ball only had a hit probability of 26 percent, but it’s possible positioning may have made it a harder catch than that.
Jackson then threw four straight sliders to Contreras, and down he went, fouling one but whiffing on two. David Bote then worked a 3-2 count, but could not catch up to 95 mph heat in the top third of the zone, and just like that, the Braves won a weird, close game.
These same two teams will keep fighting tomorrow night, with Dallas Keuchel set to face off against Yu Darvish.