A Saturday night thriller had a little bit of everything, but in the end, some batted ball fortune went the Braves’ way as they yoinked out a 5-4, extra-inning win over the Houston Astros.
If you like pitching duels, this game had a lot to offer you. The Spencer Strider-Cristian Javier matchup went pretty much as advertised, with both righty strikeout artists mostly carving up the other side. Strider retired the first 11 batters he faced before losing the perfect game and no-hitter on a weakly-hit tapper from Kyle Tucker. The Astros didn’t actually do any damage against Strider until the fifth, when Jeremy Pena took a get-me-over 3-1 fastball and hit it not-particularly-well-but-well-enough-to-get-over-the-wall-in-right for a solo homer. Strider reeled a bit after that, walking two straight, but recovered to strike out Jose Altuve to keep it a one-run game.
The Braves, meanwhile, were not doing much more against Javier. They managed just a single through three innings, and a fourth-inning attempt at a rally that started with a leadoff walk to Dansby Swanson and also featured William Contreras reaching on an error to Pena was snuffed out when Eddie Rosario struck out to end the inning. In the fifth, now suddenly trailing, they also suddenly stopped, as Vaughn Grissom had another great PA and then muscled an inner-third fastball out to left:
Vaughn clocking in #ForTheA | @GrissomVaughn pic.twitter.com/AdhscXa661— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) August 21, 2022
After Grissom’s game-tying shot, Javier struck out the next three Braves.
Both starters were done after six. Strider had a 9/2 K/BB ratio; Javier basically matched him with 8/1. Then, the bullpens were set to battle. Kirby Yates and Bryan Abreu contributed scoreless sevenths. The Braves inexplicably asked A.J. Minter to face all righties in the eighth — he threw a 1-2-3 frame but had to battle Jake Meyers over 11 pitches as part of it. The Braves looked like they might break the stalemate in the bottom half of the inning against Rafael Montero, as both Robbie Grossman and Ronald Acuña Jr. drew walks to start the action. However, Swanson flew out and Austin Riley bounced into a double play. Minter stayed in to start the ninth with a strikeout of Kyle Tucker, and then gave way to Raisel Iglesias, who put the Braves in walkoff territory despite a hit-by-pitch and a two-out single. But, Ryan Pressly threw a perfect frame of his own, and we were off to extra innings.
At this point, the Braves faltered fairly egregiously. With four straight righties due up, the call was made to give the ball to southpaw Dylan Lee, who has fairly sizable platoon splits in his so-far-brief major league career. Things went predictably south, as the first two righties both singled, putting the Braves in a hole. Lee struck out Altuve, but then Yuli Gurriel was the beneficiary of Riley (again) not being positioned on the third-base line, as he yanked a curveball that nearly hit the plate past Riley for a weakly-hit RBI double. Lee recovered to keep any more runs from scoring, but by the time he departed, it was 3-1 Astros.
Hector Neris came on the shut the game down for Houston in the bottom of the 10th, but failed at that endeavor. Though he got Grissom out, a one-out double from Michael Harris II brought the Braves to within a run, and Grossman followed by flaring an elevated splitter through the shift to tie the game. Like Lee before him, Neris recovered after allowing two runs, and we were on to the 11th.
This time, with four righties due up again, the Braves gave the ball to right-handed Jackson Stephens, who did fairly well. A groundout moved the “ghost” runner to third, and a walk followed. Stephens jumped ahead of Pena 0-2 and got him to make horrid contact. Unfortunately, the horrid contact resulted in a slow bouncer to Riley that led to another Houston lead; Riley made the only play he could, on to first. Stephens then struck out the next batter.
The Braves were set to face off against Stanek with their final three outs, and ended up not needing any of them. Riley walked, and in a 1-0 count, Olson checked his swing but made contact anyway... somehow tying the game:
MATT! #ForTheA | @mattolson21 pic.twitter.com/rEvB4TzXE4— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) August 21, 2022
I think that blue icicle face zipper mouth emoji thing sums it up perfectly. Also, Dansby Swanson’s jump is hilarious. Anyway, when you give up an accidental checkswing game-tying double in the 11th, things are probably gonna go really poorly for you pretty soon, and yeah, that’s what happened to Stanek. The Astros intentionally walked William Contreras to set up the force play. The Braves pinch-hit with Travis d’Arnaud (they randomly had Guillermo Heredia run for Rosario as the “ghost” runner earlier in the game, so d’Arnaud was replacing the Braves’ ineffable hype man at the plate), and d’Arnaud basically immediately ended the game upon his arrival at the proceedings:
Travis calls game! #ForTheA pic.twitter.com/IyLKliENp2— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) August 21, 2022
Despite the close game score-wise, the Braves had all four barrels in this one; Acuña had a 404-foot fly barreled fly caught at the center-field wall in the third. Lee facing a bunch of righties aside, Braves pitching dominated Astros hitting, with the Braves also having the three hardest-hit balls and seven of the ten hardest-hit balls on the night.
The Braves will go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon behind Charlie Morton.