Did you know it was Bryce Elder’s birthday today? I didn’t, which is kind of shameful for someone who touted the Battle of the Bryces across a few different posts in preparation for tonight’s game. No matter, though: said Battle lived up to its billing, as Bryces Elder and Miller impressed on the mound. While Elder’s outing may not have ended the way he wanted, it was likely a happy birthday for him nonetheless: a stellar performance on the mound, and what ended up being a comfortable 6-2 win after the Braves pulled away late.
Let’s talk about the younger Bryce, surnamed Elder, first. He was great. Early on, he was even better than great. Though his day started with a leadoff single, he quickly got a Bryce Elder Double Play (patent pending), and then struck out Julio Rodriguez on three pitches. Said third pitch was an 0-2 changeup, to a righty, and at that point no one would blame you for thinking Elder was pitching with a little extra chutzpah on his birthday. He had more than just chutzpah, though. He struck out two in the second (including another 0-2 changeup), and another in the third. In the fourth, he was helped by Sean Murphy throwing out a runner trying to steal second to end the inning. He bookended the fifth with another pair of strikeouts. Through those five innings, Elder had six strikeouts and had allowed just four singles. He even made a few nifty plays defensively early on, including barehanding a toss from Matt Olson when covering first, and making a behind-the-back snag with his glove on a comebacker.
The sixth inning featured Elder heading into the treacherous waters of the third time through the order, and he held the sharks in abeyance for at least a bit, thanks to some awesome defense. J.P. Crawford hit a one-out double off of him, and then moved to third on a wild pitch. Not to worry, though, because Michael Harris II donned his superhero cape and flew to the rescue, bailing his teammate out by punching the metaphorical sharks of the third time through square in the nose:
DON'T RUN ON MIKE @MoneyyyMikeee | #ForTheA pic.twitter.com/wWyvf3O0Vd— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 20, 2023
The seventh, though, wouldn’t prove as kind, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Meanwhile, Bryce Miller was, well, as advertised, and impressively effective given his approach. The Braves made it look, early on, like they had solved him before facing him: Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the home half of the first with a ringing opposite-field double into the gap, and Matt Olson followed by pulling a double of his own, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead. But nothing really developed further, as Miller threw fastball after fastball (80 of his 102 pitches, the most any Mariners starter has thrown in a game this year, were four-seamers) and generally got piddly or no contact on them. After Olson’s double, Miller retired nine Braves in a row; after a Murphy single broke up that streak, he retired another nine in a row. And just like that, we were in the seventh, with the Braves holding a 1-0 lead.
Despite needing Harris heroics to escape the sixth with a lead, the Braves let the birthday boy start the seventh. It was a bad call. Rodriguez started the inning with a barreled double. Elder then issued his first and only walk of the game, and Rodriguez swiped third on ball four. Two pitches later, Elder grooved a 1-0 sinker to Eugenio Suarez, whom he had struck out twice earlier, and Suarez plonked it through the hole in left for a game-tying single. It was only then, with men on first and second and none out, and a tie game, that the Braves elected to finally pull Elder. He saved the bullpen zero outs in the seventh.
Elder’s relief came in the form of Collin McHugh, who honestly has been pretty horrible this year. Cal Raleigh was the man up, and he pulled a 1-0 inside cutter towards the brick façade in right field. The ball wasn’t particularly well hit, and it’s a short porch... but Acuña didn’t care about the porch and its shortness this time:
That play may have saved the game, but a runner advanced to third, and ended up scoring when McHugh yielded a 1-2 opposite-field RBI single to Teoscar Hernandez. Elder’s valiant effort seemed like it may all be for naught. But not to worry: this is the vaunted Atlanta attack, here.
After McHugh got out of the inning thanks to a double play ball, the Braves went to work on Miller, now in his own shark-infested eddies of 3TTO. Riley led the charge by hitting the ball hard to Suarez, who booted it and put Riley on first. After a forceout, Miller walked Ozzie Albies, and that was it. He departed with a 4/1 K/BB ratio in 6 1/3; Elder finished with a 6/1 K/BB ratio in 6-plus.
Trevor Gott was the first guy out for Seattle, and well, he was around for the game getting blown. It wasn’t really his fault, though: Marcell Ozuna hit a sub-62 mph bloop over first that dropped in, tying the game by scoring Riley from second. Gott then threw Orlando Arcia an elevated cutter as the first pitch, and Arcia teed off on it, barreling it off the right-field wall, and staring the ball down after contact, for a long RBI single that gave the Braves the lead they just relinquished in the top half of the inning.
Gott struck out Harris, but was then lifted in favor of Justin Topa to face Acuña, who grounded out the end the rally.
In the eighth, Nick Anderson made hilariously short work of an inning that didn’t really befit the tension present throughout most of this game. Anderson had a three-pitch strikeout and then two first-pitch outs, walking off the field a couple of minutes after he walked onto it.
Then, the Braves pulled away. Olson greeted Topa with a dinger to right.
Dinger probability @mattolson21 | #ForTheA pic.twitter.com/gpWzH2M7JR— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 20, 2023
Murphy and Riley singled off Topa, who then gave way to southpaw Taylor Saucedo. That was not exactly the greatest tactical move by Seattle skipper Scott Servais (say that five times fast), because the Braves just pinch-hit for Eddie Rosario with Kevin Pillar, and that move allowed righty-batting Albies to come to the plate. Pillar flew out but Albies singled to load the bases, and then Ozuna hit another flare, this time 81 mph into left, that plated two more and capped the scoring at 6-2.
Raisel Iglesias worked another anticlimactic inning in a four-run game, slamming the door on 13 pitches and ending the game with another Suarez strikeout.
With the win and and a loss by the Phillies this evening, the Braves put further distance between themselves and at least one team likely to try and chase them down over the summer... though actually, the Marlins have the second-best record in the NL East at this point, and the Mets won another crazy comeback game tonight.
As for the Mariners, you kind of have to feel bad for them. It was yet another game where they were fully in it, and even led at one point, but the hubris of leaving one Bryce in the game when another got stung by the third time through, and the inability of their nearly-best-in-class relief corps to get it done due to ball-in-play stuff they couldn’t really control, has been an all-too-constant refrain for them so far this year. They’ll get a chance to right the ship (no pun intended but actually kinda intended) tomorrow, but the Braves will be ready and waiting — as we’ve seen in the last two games, to say nothing of the past half-decade, this offensive approach just won’t quit.
As for Elder, he had the good fortune of having what was arguably his best career start on his birthday. Fun stuff, and a great win for him and the team.