Sean Murphy brought his A-Game to the plate tonight. The newest catcher for the Atlanta Braves had two doubles in the first nine innings of this game and then capped it off with a home run in the tenth inning. His walk-off homer helped power the Braves to a 5-4 series-opening win over the Cincinnati Reds.
The game started in eerily-similar fashion for both teams. In the top of the first inning, Jonathan India singled, TJ Friedl walked and then Jake Fraley grounded into a double play before Tyler Stephenson struck out to end the scoreless inning for Bryce Elder. In the bottom of the first inning, Ronald Acuña Jr. singled, Matt Olson walked, Austin Riley grounded into a double play before Sean Murphy struck out to end the scoreless inning for Graham Ashcraft. That ended up being an omen for both pitchers, as we ended up getting a pitchers duel for the vast majority of this game.
While it was tough to say that either Elder or Ashcraft were really dominant in this one, it was safe to say that both teams were having a hard time capitalizing on their chances while the starters were out there. The Braves in particular continued what's been a tepid run at the plate when it comes to having runners in scoring position. Sean Murphy was stranded at second base multiple times and Atlanta had a couple of chances that were immediately wiped out due to a double play ground ball. Graham Ashcraft pitched as advertised in this one, as the Braves were unable to really hit the ball hard against his eclectic arsenal of pitches.
That was with a couple of exceptions — Ronald Acuña Jr. got two hits against Ashcraft and then there was the aforementioned Sean Murphy. The first time he was stranded was after a leadoff double in the fourth inning. The next time came in the sixth inning, except this time there was a man already on base when Murphy hit a double down the line off of Ashcraft. Austin Riley started the play at first base and by the time he got to third base, Ron Washington got aggressive and gave Riley the green light to go home. Riley did, the throw from left field was off line and the Braves had broken through for their first run of the game.
The seventh inning ended up being a pivotal one, as that was as far as Bryce Elder got in this one. He got one out in that frame before he eventually bowed out and handed the game over to Jesse Chavez with a man still on base. Chavez continued to work in brisk fashion and got the next two outs to end the frame and insure that Elder finished the night with 6.1 scoreless innings under his belt. While Elder did give up six hits in this one, he struck out seven and only gave up one walk, so he was able to pitch his way out of any trouble that he found himself in. Elder has continued to get the job done at the major league level and it would be shocking if he didn't get another start once his turn rolls around.
The top of the seventh went swimmingly for Braves pitching — the same can't be said for Reds pitching, as Graham Ashcraft also hit the end of the line in the seventh. He walked Orlando Arcia to lead off the inning and gave way to Buck Farmer, who faced three batters and was taken out after Ronald Acuña Jr. got his third hit of the game. Reiver Sanmartin was then given the ball, and he promptly walked Matt Olson on four straight pitches to load the bases and then he threw a wild pitch with Austin Riley at the plate to make it 2-0 Braves. Atlanta was quite clearly scuffling to score runs at this point in the game, so you can imagine that they weren't going to complain about only getting just one run from that particular situation.
It ended up being a significant run, as the Reds finally got on the board in the top of the eighth. Jonathan India hit a one-out double that could've very easily been a homer over the short fence in left field if it had been a few feet higher. Jake Fraley then cashed in the double with a two-out single to right to make it 2-1, but Nick Anderson was able to get out of the inning without giving up any further damage from that point.
The Braves had a chance in the bottom of the eighth to add some insurance before the ninth, and they were able to get the job done eventually. Ozzie Albies was able to hit a grounder that blazed past Jose Barrero's glove at shortstop and he made it to second after a pinch-hitting Marcell Ozuna hit a weak grounder that was too slow for a double play but good enough to move Ozzie to second base. The sad ground ball paid off, as Orlando Arcia was able to take a ball that was low and outside the zone from Reiver Sanmartin and poke it into left center for some much-needed insurance.
That eventually meant that A.J. Minter was set to go for the save with a two-run lead to play with. Unfortunately, things went sideways in a hurry for Minter as it only took 11 pitches for the Reds to tie it. Wil Myers led off the inning with a single and then Stuart Fairchild hit a line drive to left field that nearly left the park. It stayed in the park after Kevin Pillar made a jumping attempt at the wall to catch it, but was only able to bat it towards the fence with his glove. Sadly, Fairchild was still at third base with an RBI triple and then Spencer Steer hit a blooper to shallow center-right field to tie the game at three runs apiece. Minter then got a double play and another ground ball to end the inning, but it was extremely frustrating to see this game even get to the bottom of the ninth.
It was even more frustrating to see the game get into extra innings. Heading into tonight's contest, the Braves were 13-19 in extra innings games since the zombie runner rule was put into place. They're now 14-19 after Sean Murphy took the first pitch he saw from Derek Law and sent it 408 feet and over the fence in center field for a walk-off dinger. Murphy's first homer in a Braves uniform came at a fantastic time and the Braves found themselves in the 'win' column for the first time since Thursday night.
This may not have been the prettiest win for the Braves, but if you're on a three-game skid while also in the ice-cold grips of a nasty injury bug then you'll take the wins any way you can get them. Bryce Elder did a great job of keeping the Reds off the scoreboard while he was in the game, and the Braves as a whole continued to live up to their reputation of never just rolling over. You never forget your first home run with a new team, and it'll be incredibly difficult to forget Sean Murphy's first homer in a Braves uniform.