For the second night in a row, the Braves fell behind early and then rallied to pour a bucket of unpleasant water on the Chicago Cubs’ playoff hopes. Last night, they did so thanks to a dropped fly ball. Tonight, they eroded three separate Cubs leads en route to a walkoff victory, thanks to the heroics of Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Ozzie Albies.
Darius Vines, making his second career MLB start, did not shine in this one, but in the end, the Braves were never out of the game. They jumped out to a 1-0 lead off Jameson Taillon when Ozzie Albies connected for a solo homer in the first, but that was all they would manage for six innings. Meanwhile, Vines had some struggles. In the first, he had a 1-2-3 frame, but the final out was a barrel by Ian Happ caught at the center field wall. In the second, the Cubs scored on one of the weirder sequences of the year. Cody Bellinger hit a leadoff single, and Vines issued an unfortunate four-pitch walk to Seiya Suzuki. After a flyout by old friend Dansby Swanson moved Bellinger to third, Vines’ first pitch to Jeimer Candelario was fouled at the plate... except home plate umpire and noted confrontationalist Dan Bellino didn’t rule a foul, and let the skittering ball function as a “passed ball” that allowed Bellinger to score from third. Braves skipper Brian Snitker came out and had an animated, lengthy argument with the umpiring crew, but to no avail — the Cubs tied the game, on a foul ball that will go down in the record books as not having contacted a bat.
Vines escaped the rest of the second without further damage, but was nowhere near so fortunate in the third. Mike Tauchman took him deep to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead, and then Happ followed suit two batters later. Two more batters reached base against Vines in the fourth, but he stranded both with a weak flyout.
Perhaps surprisingly (or perhaps not, given the Braves’ position in the standings and the way they’ve treated most of September), the Braves let Vines continue into the fifth with the third time through the order looming, and he did okay. He actually retired all six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth with no damage against him, and they were really his best two innings of the game. Baseball!
Meanwhile, the Braves were having no real success against Taillon. After the weird non-passed ball tied the game, Marcell Ozuna led off the home half of the second with a double, but was stranded there. That was actually the last baserunner the Braves had until the seventh; Taillon retired 15 straight Braves from the second through the sixth. Nor were the Braves particularly unlucky in this woeful span — Orlando Arcia’s opposite-field liner was the only remotely well-hit, non-grounder.
But, as you know at this point, leaving any pitcher in to face the Braves is dangerous... leaving a guy in to face the Braves again and again is a nightmare. Taillon walked Austin Riley to start the seventh, and Matt Olson followed with a seeing-eye single to put runners on the corners. Up came Marcell Ozuna, and he hit into what could’ve been a double play ball... except Nico Hoerner’s glove flip to Swanson at short was too high and skidded off Swanson’s glove without an out being recorded. Riley scored, the tying run was now on second, and the go-ahead run trotted to first. That was it for Taillon, who departed after six-plus with a 3/1 K/BB ratio and a bunch of weak contact, along with that first-inning Albies homer.
In came Drew Smyly, who managed to stymie the Braves. Michael Harris II grounded out, moving the runners up a base, but Sean Murphy struck out and pinch-hitter Kevin Pillar popped out. It was still 3-2 Cubs... for the time being.
Julian Merryweather was the next guy out of the bullpen for Chicago, and he gave up the lead. With one out, Acuña smashed a single to right, and then stole his 69th base of the season on a silly play where catcher Yan Gomes’ throw was thrown between second and third. Albies followed with the seeing eye-iest of dribblers to score Acuña and tie the game. The Braves pushed their luck, sending Albies on a 3-2 count with Riley at the dish, and that turned into a double play as Riley struck out looking and Albies got gunned down by Gomes at second.
In relief of Vines, Michael Tonkin was very good, throwing a scoreless seventh and eighth with three strikeouts and zero walks. With the game now tied, the Braves perhaps showed how little they cared about this marginal win by asking Kirby Yates, arguably their worst reliever at this point, to complete the frame. Yates definitely made the game more interesting. After an out, he hit Swanson on an 0-2 count, and then walked Candelario. Gomes followed with a sad, sub-60 mph bloop to right that scored Swanson as the go-ahead run, and the Braves were down again. To his credit, Yates did stem the bleeding there with a strikeout and escaped the frame following a lineout, and hey, the deficit didn’t last long.
It only took a few pitches for the Braves to re-tie the game, as Marcell Ozuna took Mark Leiter Jr. deep to make it a 4-4 game.
It looked like the game would soon be over, as Harris followed Ozuna’s blast with a bloop that was bungled in center and turned into an impromptu double. New reliever Jose Cuas then wild pitched (a real one, not a fake umpire-assisted one) Harris to third... but Murphy and Pillar couldn’t end the game.
Onto the tenth, where Jesse Chavez gave up two 300-foot air outs to put the Cubs ahead, but struck out Suzuki to end the frame. That just set up yet another opportunity for the Braves to shine, this time against new reliever Daniel Palencia. With one out, Acuña singled home the tying run with a 112 mph screamer to right. He then stole his 70th base, setting up Albies’ game-ender:
All in all, another fun day at the ballpark for the Braves, who now have 102 wins, and history’s first-ever 40-70 guy in Acuña. They’ll go for the sweep tomorrow night against Marcus Stroman as the Cubs try to keep their season alive.