A lot of things happened in this game. Some were good. Some were bad. In the end, the Braves lost anyway. They climbed out of a deficit, they had two leads, they outhomered the Rays 3-1, and they lost. So it goes, as goes the season. I keep wanting to have one of these recaps be the equivalent of, “Hey, maybe the Braves are finally figuring it out,” because that would be much more enjoyable... but they aren’t. And now there’s one fewer game with which to make any kind of ascent up the standings.
The scoring started early in this one, as Charlie Morton had a nightmarish second inning. It started with hitting Austin Meadows with a pitch in a 2-0 count. Joey Wendle then hit a very routine bouncer (92.5 mph, 37 percent hit probability) that got under Freddie Freeman’s diving stab at first, and slowly rolled for a double. Kevin Kiermaier followed by hitting an outside, off-the-plate fastball against the shift for an RBI single, and Mike Zunino’s RBI groundout to third made it 2-0 in the Rays’ favor. Morton proceeded to issue two further walks in the frame, but got out of it with two more strikeouts. The Rays threatened again in the fourth, as Morton walked Zunino with one out and then gave up a double (misplayed in center by Guillermo Heredia) to Taylor Walls, but got out of it (strikeout, popout) with no further damage.
The Braves managed just a single and a walk against Tampa Bay starter Michael Wacha through three, but got to him in the fourth in a big way. Ozzie Albies drew a leadoff walk after falling behind 1-2, and Austin Riley absolutely unloaded on a cutter down the pipe, obliterating it to dead center to tie the game at 2-2. Two batters later, Dansby Swanson jumped on a very grooved 2-0 fastball and hit it out to left, and the Braves were suddenly ahead.
But, they weren’t ahead for long. Kind of for the minimum amount of time, really. Charlie Morton was sent back out for the fifth to face the bulk of the Rays’ order a third time, and immediately relinquished the lead, as Ji-Man Choi hit an opposite-field looping homer down the left-field line on Morton’s first pitch of the inning. Later, with two outs, the Rays strung together a couple of singles to bring Zunino up for the third time. Zunino nearly made the Braves pay dearly for leaving Morton in there with a towering fly ball to left, but it died just short of the fence for a harmless, yet terrifying, fly out.
The Rays, too, left Wacha in to face the order a third time... but pulled him immediately after a first-pitch leadoff single by Abraham Almonte. Wacha was relieved by J.P. Feyereisen, who was greeted, quite rudely, by a two-run shot of Freeman’s bat, the reigning NL MVP’s 20th longball of the season. The Braves went from ahead to tied to ahead, in whiplash fashion.
Morton was left in for the sixth and vindicated the choice with a 1-2-3 frame; Drew Rasmussen took over for the Rays and did the same in the bottom half. In the seventh, having thrown 107 pitches, Morton gave way to A.J. Minter, and things got hairy. With one out, uber-prospect Wander Franco hit a fairly routine fly to right that Almonte overran; the end result was a triple, and a 5-4 game when Meadows hit a sacrifice fly a few pitches later. Minter foundered after that, issuing two straight walks in a sequence that also involved a balk when he tripped while delivering a pitch. Luke Jackson came on and promptly hit Zunino with his very first pitch, loading the bases. But, the Braves escaped that frame with a lead, as Jackson got Walls to ground into the shift for the third out.
With Rasmussen still pitching, the Braves got that run back, as singles by Freeman, Riley, and Orlando Arcia made it a 6-4 game. But, then Chris Martin got handed the reins to the eighth with a plethora of lefties due up... and things went very south. In short:
The kicker was that the game-tying single, the one off Wendle’s bat, was a high chopper against the shift that Wendle beat out. And it’s not like Martin was walking the park or giving up moonshots, so in another universe, a few more of those balls find gloves and the Rays don’t tie the game. But the Braves aren’t in that universe, they’re in the universe where Chris Martin’s plummeting strikeout rate punishes them, and thus the game was 6-6 headed into the bottom of the eighth, where the Braves were sat down 1-2-3 by old friend and extreme slider aficionado Matt Wisler.
Will Smith came on for the ninth and did not allow a run, though he almost did: the inning started with Zunino (again!) nearly homering, but the ball dying a few centimeters from the promised land beyond the fence. Smith struck out the other two batters, and the Braves were in walkoff territory against Wisler, but couldn’t convert. Freeman reached on an infield single, but Albies struck out. Freeman stole second, but Riley’s broken-bat flare to right wasn’t shallow enough to give Atlanta a walkoff win.
So, into the always-delightful (read: not delightful) Manfredball experience in extras. Jesse Chavez came on for the Braves, issued a four-pitch leadoff walk, but then retired the next two batters with no advance by the baserunners. That brought up Meadows, who ripped another liner into right, and the Braves were trailing again for the first time since the fourth. Chavez struck out Wendle on three pitches, but the damage was done. And it was damage the Braves wouldn’t recover from.
Pete Fairbanks was the final pitcher on the ledger for Tampa Bay, and he retired the Braves in order. Arcia grounded to third, Swanson just missed a high, hanging slider and turned it into a flyout instead of a sexy walkoff homer, and that prompted pinch-hitter Joc Pederson to make his first appearance in a Braves uniform. Pederson didn’t really prolong the festivities (or agony), as he hit a first-pitch bouncer that turned into the game’s final out. So, the Braves are 44-46, and have once again lost consecutive games after reaching .500, for already the sixth time this season. Again, it’d be cool to have a recap where the Braves were on a roll, or got on a roll, or something, but it just isn’t forthcoming.
In the end, Charlie Morton had an okay start — three runs in six frames with an 8/3 K/BB ratio and a homer allowed — not dominant, but not awful, and worse than what he’s usually done this season. Freddie Freeman continued his awesome July with a 4-for-5 effort that included a homer and a stolen base. Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson padded their lines a bit with their longballs. That’s all kind of a sideshow, though. Que será, será and all that, and apparently, que será is that the Braves are going to continue treading water in a slowly-filling pool. Oh well.