“The Braves may not always win, but they’ll always give you a finish” is the patented call of Braves play-by-play man Chip Caray. Tonight, they did btoh. The Braves-Phillies match-up, pitting young superstar Ian Anderson against Vince Velasquez, saw the most dramatic and intense game so far in 2021. Everything beautiful about baseball: comebacks, Joe Girardi’s incredible strategy in extras, pinch-hit game tying homeruns, beautiful bunts by both the pitcher and a rookie, a brutal hop against Austin Riley as well as everything nasty about it such as an injury to a superstar and bad fundamentals on both ends.
It was a tale of two games. In the opening two frames, the Phillies put up three in the first two frames off of a Jean Segura homerun, Alec Bohm groundout and a single from former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. From there, Ian Anderson buckled down to get yet another quality start and keep his team in the ballgame, striking out seven over six solid frames. Velazquez, on the other hand, dominated. The Braves didn’t score until reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman broke a previous 0-22 stretch, marking only the second hit of the ballgame for the Braves (an Ozzie Albies triple accounted for the club’s first hit). From there, the bullpen shut the Braves offense down. Sam Coonrod lowered his season ERA to 1.13, posting an inning and a third of scoreless baseball. That being said, a 97 mph fastball ran in and hit NL MVP favorite so far Ronald Acuna Jr. in the left hand from Coonrod. Acuna immediately exited. Acuna is hitting to a 1.061 OPS so far this year with a league-leading ten homeruns. The Braves most certainly can’t afford to lose their best hitter so far, but with Guillermo Heredia and former All-Star Ender Inciarte already on the IL, they’re running out of outfielders to trot out. The Braves season as a whole seems snakebit, with reliever Chris Martin, silver-slugging catcher Travis d’Arnaud, his backup Alex Jackson and ace Mike Soroka also out with injuries. Max Fried and Drew Smyly have also taken stints on the injured list. Good news for Acuna is that his x-rays were negative and the teams specialist cited a left pinky contusion, making his injury a day-to-day affair.
Former Tampa Bay Ray Jose Alvarado shut down the Braves for another inning and a third as closer Hector Neris went for his seventh save of 2021. With Ehire Adrianza, who came into play right field for Acuna, on base and two outs into the ninth, Pablo Sandoval once again came off of the bench in a pinch and sent the Chophouse into a proverbial paroxysm to tie the ballgame on his fourth pinch-hit homerun of the season. The record for most pinch-hit bombs in a single season is seven. Panda Power continues to propel the Braves in an otherwise disappointing campaign thus far.
The game then became a strategic, extra-inning slugfest. Will Smith, despite inheriting the runner in the top of the tenth, did not allow that runner to score. Scott Kingery started the frame at second base and almost got picked off after a McCutchen walk in a bang-bang play. The Fresh Prince followed it by getting Rhys Hoskins out, of the K-variety. Hoskins missed on a filthy slider in. Bryce Harper, in 26th game in only his 11th at bat on the season with RISP, popped it up allowing Smith to work around the two-on-no-out jam by inducing a JT Realmuto pop up to first basemen Freddie Freeman. In the bottom of the inning, the Braves slowest runner in the lineup, Marcell Ozuna, began on second base. The Braves had not had a hit in extras in four extra inning games this season. Ozzie Albies moved Ozuna over to the hot corner on a ground ball to the second basemen. Joe Girardi walked Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson intentionally to bring up the two rookies: William Contreras and Cristian Pache. Bryce Harper was brought in to play first base with a five man infield, as Contreras rolled one over and they nabbed Marcell Ozuna at the dish. Pache struck out to send the game to the 11th.
In the 11th, AJ Minter took the mound. Following back to back K’s, Nick Maton hit a ringing double off of the centerfield wall to score the ghostrunner JT Realmuto, only the Phillies second extra-inning hit this season. Odubel Herrera reached on a catchers interference by Contreras prior to Scott Kingery hitting a lazy fly that was playable for Ozuna. The Braves had the speedy Pache on second to begin the bottom of the eleventh down one, when Ehire Adrianza hit an infield single that allowed Pache to cross home when shortstop DiDi Gregorious airmailed the throw to first. Max Fried dropped a beautiful bunt to advance Adrianza to third, Freeman was intentionally walked. With two on and one out, Ozuna popped out and Albies grounded out to send the game to the twelfth inning, tied at four.
The Phillies offense put the ball in play in a run-scoring explosion against the Braves twelfth inning reliever Jacob Webb. In the first at bat, Andrew McCutchen placed a groundball to Austin Riley perfectly for an infield single. The ball just so happened to take a nasty, unfortunate hop. The runner did not advance…until yet another error by Williams Contreras behind the dish on an Andrew Knapp bunt to load the bases with nobody out and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper coming into hit. Harper hit a comeback to Webb, who naturally went home for the forceout. Webb threw the ball over the head of Contreras, allowing for Kingery to score. As Contreras went to throw the ball back home, Webb had forgotten to cover the diamond which allowed McCutchen to come into score. JT Realmuto then singled home Andrew Knapp. Alec Bohm followed this with a double play. The inning ended on a DiDi Gregorious groundout.
With the Braves down three and still only having collected one extra inning hit this season, it seemed as if it was just a formality for the Phillies to extend their NL East lead to 3.5 games over the reigning champions and hold back the second place Mets for at least one more night. Enyel De Los Santos came in to close out the ballgame as second basemen Ozzie Albies took his spot up the middle to begin the inning. Following nine pitches, De Los Santos found himself deep into a fierce battle with Austin Riley, who had fought off some tough pitches to work the count full. In perhaps his best at bat thus far in the Majors, Riley took the tenth pitch of the plate appearance for ball four, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Dansby Swanson. Dansby rifled a first pitch heater to left, although Albies held up after he originally missed the first base bag. With the bases loaded, rookie Williams Contreras made up for his previous errors depositing a double in left field. Albies and Riley’s scored with relative easy, whereas Swanson forced the defense to make a misplay. Swanson, whose Twitter handle is Lt. Dans, ran like Forrest Gump as the bases were cleared and the ballgame was tied. Cristian Pache followed this up with a sacrifice bunt, as third basemen Alec Bohm double-clutched his throw to third and Contreras performed an immaculate swim move around the tag. With runners on the corners and nobody out, it was once again Ehire Adrianza at the dish. A 1-2 breaking ball was blooped into right field as the Braves walked it off 8-7 in a 12 inning thriller. Adrianza announced before the game that he was expecting his first child. Adrianza went 3-3, playing a pivotal role in all three rallies tonight.
The Braves, now sitting a game and a half behind Philly and New York for the lead in the NL East, look to take the rubber match tomorrow as they send Huascar Ynao against Aaron Nola. Nola has been unsurprisingly dominant so far this season as the 2018 All-Star has a 2.89 ERA over 42 1/3rd innings of work this season. Ynao is enjoying a nice breakout campaign, with a 2.36 ERA over 36 and 1/3rd innings of work. Ynao hit a grandslam in his last start, his second homerun of the season.
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