It’s July 2. The Braves have
finally not yet notched their first 7-3 stretch of the season, though they could be getting there eventually, after defeating the Marlins 1-0 at Truist Park. The victory came as the result of one of the tensest games so far this season, which featured something you’ll probably not see for a while: a starter throwing one pitch, and departing the game. It was secured with a crazy ninth inning, as Will Smith walked the tightrope between despair and elation, but eventually ended up on the happier side of that particular chasm.
Let’s cut to the chase, though, of the biggest story of this game: after Drew Smyly threw a scoreless first frame, Pablo Lopez began (and concluded) his pitching ledger by hitting Ronald Acuña Jr. with a first-pitch sinker. A prolonged set of theatrics then followed. Manager Brian Snitker ran out of the dugout, ostensibly imploring the umpiring crew to take some kind of punitive measure against the Marlins. Miami skipper Don Mattingly eventually did the same. After a prolonged set of animated discussions and standing-around-with-hands-on-hips, the end result was that Acuña ended up on first base, while both Lopez and Mattingly, as well as pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, were ejected from the remainder of the proceedings. There’s probably a lot of discussion to be had about the appropriateness of this sequence from the umpiring crew, and I won’t even get into it, except to note that this is usually kind of the opposite of what you see as far as “early umpire intervention” goes. I also wonder whether Pablo Lopez will just start some other game in the series, given that he threw a single pitch.
In any case, that plunking also directly led to the first and only run of the entire game. After Ross Detwiler came on for some impromptu long relief work, Freddie Freeman lined his second pitch into center to put runners on the corners. Ozzie Albies followed with a sacrifice fly to right, and boom, there’s your run.
After that, well, the offensive part of the game was a whole lot of nothin’. Smyly cruised through three innings before running into a spot of trouble in the fourth, thanks to a leadoff walk and a one-out single that put runners on the corners. But, he got bailed out of the jam thanks to Miguel Rojas swinging over the top of a first-pitch outside curveball and bouncing it right to short for an easy double play. Smyly departed the game after giving up a two-out single in the sixth; he’s now 14-for-14 in facing at least part of the lineup the third time through, but to the Braves’ credit, they removed him from the game before finding out whether things could get any worse. Luke Jackson came on and made things temporarily hairier by walking Adam Duvall, but then got a deep-yet-harmless flyout to center off the bat of Jesus Aguilar to preserve the lead.
On the flip side, the Braves were unable to do anything at all against the Marlins’ de facto bullpen game. After Freeman’s single, Detwiler retired nine batters in a row. He was replaced by Anthony Bender in the fourth, and Bender struck out all six batters he faced. Richard Bleier threw a 1-2-3 sixth. The game was clipping along.
But, more stuff started happening in the seventh. Shane Greene began the top half of the seventh for Atlanta, and started his night with a walk to Rojas. After a strikeout and a pop-out, the Marlins announced lefty-swinging Jesus Sanchez as a pinch-hitter, and so the Braves lifted Greene for A.J. Minter. On a 2-2 pitch, Sanchez hit a bouncer against the shift. Dansby Swanson grabbed the ball, had no play at first, and flipped the ball to third. That turned to gold because Rojas overran the bag, returned to it, and then fell over after touching it, rendering him out on a tag play. A second big boost from Rojas to the Braves’ likelihood of winning this game, no lie. Watch it here:
Anthony Bass was Miami’s latest reliever for the seventh, and he too kept the Braves off the board, even though Albies’ infield single snapped a long stretch of perfect pitching by the Marlins. Chris Martin worked the top of the eighth, facing the minimum despite a one-out walk that was erased on a pickoff. The Braves tormented Dylan Floro a bit in the bottom of the inning, as both Abraham Almonte and pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval drew walks, but both Acuña and Freeman popped out to end the inning.
And so we came to the ninth, still with that 1-0 edge, and Will Smith on the hill due to face a procession of righties, about 24 hours after blowing a one-run game against the Mets. He didn’t blow this one, but boy, it was not a heartening inning, until the very end. The inning started with Austin Riley making a nice play on a slow roller to throw out Duvall. Smith then walked Aguilar, and things got very dicey as Rojas, making up for his earlier gaffes, singled into right-center. Pinch-runner Magneuris Sierra, who came on to run for Aguilar, went first-to-third on the play, but was, on first umpire ruling, gunned down by Acuña in the process. However, replay review ruled him safe, and Rojas had moved up to second on the play. A walk to Jorge Alfaro followed, and it was looking like the Braves would need a walkoff to secure a victory in this one.
But, Smith snatched victory out from the gaping maw of disappointment. Jon Berti popped up an inside slider to Freeman in foul territory. The Marlins went to Sandy Leon as their final hope, which should have sent shivers through the spines of Braves fans, given how ruinously backup catchers have thrashed them so far in 2021 (hi, Tomas Nido!). But, two pitches later, it was all good: Leon flew out harmlessly to left, and the Braves were winners for the third game in a row.
Still, this was a bizarre game to win, albeit not as bizarre as the game last night. The Braves won despite issuing seven walks in the game, while striking out just nine batters. Neither team had an extra-base hit, but the Marlins managed 12 baserunners to the Braves’ five. Drew Smyly had one of his better outings of the season, with a 7/2 K/BB ratio in 5 2⁄3 innings — you won’t be surprised to learn that in yet another game that he didn’t really avail himself of his cutter, a lot of success in this one can be attributed to throwing his curveball nearly 50 percent of the time (finally!).
With the Mets idle due to water pouring from the sky in New York, the Braves are just three back in the division. Can they get back to .500 with a win tomorrow? Stay tuned.