Spencer Strider dominated on Saturday afternoon, sending the Braves to their first series win in Cincinnati since the 2017 season. Strider struck out 11 Cincy batters, tying a career high, while allowing just one run, one hit, one walk, and one hit-by-pitch. That’s a lot of “1”s, which is also the number of runs the Reds ended up with in this game.
While Strider’s dominant performance was pretty much all the Braves needed, this game had a ton of weirdness to it that didn’t really factor into the final result very much. The weirdness started very early: with one out and one on in the top of the first, Matt Olson inexplicably decided to bunt the very first pitch. He bunted it right back to Cincinnati starter Tyler Mahle, for a routine 1-6-3 double play. Matt Olson has a 124 wRC+ with a .225 ISO, just in case you were wondering.
The second was a lot less kind to Mahle, but also just one of the strangest innings ever. Austin Riley opened the inning, and the scoring, with his 20th longball of the year:
Here is your daily @austinriley1308 home run highlight.@PapaJohns | #ForTheA pic.twitter.com/r17REHgIoY— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 2, 2022
The next three batters all reached base: Marcell Ozuna singled up the middle, William Contreras drew a walk, and Adam Duvall got plunked on the left hand (and later left the game) to load the bases with none out. Up next was Orlando Arcia, and he worked a 3-1 count. Mahle’s next pitch was outside, and Arcia halfheartedly offered at it. The pitch was ruled a ball at the plate, but the Reds appealed and got a check-swing strike call out of it. However, Duvall figured that the pitch resulted in a walk, and was therefore jogging to second... which led to an easy “pickoff.” The inning turned rotten for the Braves afterwards. Arcia struck out swinging on a better (closer to the zone) pitch than the one that got Duvall thrown out, and Michael Harris II chased high fastballs for strikes two and three to end the rally. Riley’s homer was the only run the Braves scored in the inning.
In the fourth, the offense again tormented Mahle, but got relatively little. Riley walked to lead off the frame, and Contreras followed with a booted grounder to third that was ruled a double. Arcia and Harris then drew back-to-back two-out walks, the latter driving in the Braves’ second run of the day, but Ronald Acuña Jr. rolled out to end the inning.
Strider, though, just rolled through the Reds’ lineup like that thing in that weird game that’s like 18 years old at this point where the point is that you have a ball and you roll it over stuff or something. This simile went nowhere, like the Reds’ offense against Strider, is what I’m saying. Through the fourth, he struck out two in every inning. He started the fifth with an unfortunate hit-by-pitch of Kyle Farmer; the pitch got Farmer on the hand — I haven’t seen any injury updates on him but I hope he’s okay beyond the obvious non-okay-ness of getting hit on the hand by a 100 mph bullet from Strider. The hit-by-pitch prompted a lengthy tirade by Reds manager David Bell; after Bell got his money’s worth, the Reds scratched across a run thanks to a wild pitch and a Nick Senzel bloop single; Strider again struck out two in the inning. The only inning in which Strider didn’t get two punchouts was the sixth, his final frame — he settled for one, a soft lineout, and a first-pitch groundout.
This was, all-in-all, just a nasty outing from the young right-hander. At times he was essentially just pumping in fastball after fastball, and watching the Reds wave at it with the sort of futility I’ve only experienced when trying to get my 3-year-old to eat vegetables. In the fourth, after the Reds had already seen him once, he threw seven straight fastballs to Brandon Drury and Tommy Pham, resulting in one ball, two called strikes, a whiff, two fouls, and then a foul tip. Part of what made him nigh-unhittable was that his slider was working; he’d pump in two or three fastballs and then bust out a slider to finish the PA that the Reds hopelessly offered at.
Mahle departed after five, and reliever Art Warren threw a scoreless sixth. However, the Braves got to him in the seventh. Acuña drew a one-out walk, advanced to third on a hit-and-run-or-maybe-a-steal-but-Swanson-singled-anyway, and scored on a bouncer groundout from Matt Olson after Warren departed in favor of Reiver Sanmartin. Riley followed with a two-out double to score Swanson, who forgot there were outs but had no trouble coming around to plate the fourth Atlanta run.
After that, it was relief time, and the Braves used a procession of A.J. Minter, Jesse Chavez, and Will Smith to close out the game. Minter had no trouble, going 1-2-3. Chavez was about as disgusting as Strider, getting three strikeouts on cutters. (He also walked a guy.) Then came Will Smith, and... yeah, Will Smith. Smith struck out Drury on three pitches, but then issued back-to-back walks to bring the tying run to the plate. That tying run took the form of Matt Reynolds, who came into the game for Farmer. Fortunately for Smith and the Braves, Reynolds hit a weak liner to right that was easily caught by Acuña. Next up was pinch-hitter Donovan Solano; Smith got ahead of him 0-2 and then hit him in the foot with a slider. Now the winning run was at the plate in the form of Albert Almora Jr.
Smith threw Almora basically the most grooved, get-me-over four-seamer possible, and fortunately for him, Almora failed to execute. He hit it kinda hard (96 mph) but way too high, and it died well short of the wall, traveling 352 feet. The Braves came kinda close to losing a game they never trailed on a walk-off grand slam, but they didn’t, so that’s neat.
Also neat: Spencer Strider, who was dominant. Dansby Swanson collected three more hits after a four-hit game yesterday. Every Braves batter reached base at least once, save for Guillermo Heredia, who came in after Duvall departed with his injury.
This ended up being a pretty fortuitous day in the standings for the Braves, too. The Mets lost, so the Braves now trail in the division by just 2.5 games. One of the Phillies or Cardinals will lose; the Giants and Brewers already lost. The Dodgers currently lead the Padres 3-0. So, the Braves will continue to rocket up the league leaderboards and push their playoff odds even higher. Good, good stuff.