2013 is officially upon us, and 2012 is in the history books. During the 2012 season, the Braves had plenty of thrilling and memorable moments for their fans, but which one was more so than all the rest? I pored over each of the close victories and walk-off wins of their 94 total and found plenty of worthy candidates, but these four stood out over all the rest. Here are the nominees for Game of the Year.
The Phillies jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to a four-run third inning against Tommy Hanson. Down by six against one of the game's best in Roy Halladay, the Braves answered back in a big way in the fifth: Michael Bourn and Martin Prado delivered run-scoring singles with the bases loaded, but Brian McCann provided the biggest blow of the inning with his eighth career grand slam to tie the game. Jason Heyward's two-run single in the sixth gave Atlanta the lead, but Carlos Ruiz stole it back first with a three-run homer in the seventh followed by his three-run double in the eighth, giving the Phillies a 12-8 lead late.
Atlanta's offense, though, came roaring back against a faulty Phillies bullpen with a five-run eighth to capture the lead yet again. However, the pesky Phillies would not be denied, plating a run against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth to force extra innings, tied at 13. In the 11th, Chipper Jones ended the suspenseful battle, sending the Atlanta crowd home happy with a walk-off two-run homer, his first such home run since 2006.
The Natspos frequently give the Braves fits, but more so when the Braves are the visitors and this game was no different, especially now that the Nats were a first-place team to be reckoned with. Washington struck first with Michael Morse's 465 ft. three-run bomb in the first inning off Tommy Hanson. Not to be outdone, Ryan Zimmerman belted a three-run homer of his own in the fourth. Hanson was chased from the game in the fifth, but the Nats added three more with a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single to put the Braves in a 9-0 hole against Stephen Strasburg. Initiate comeback mode.
In the sixth, Brian McCann belted a two-run homer followed by Martin Prado's two-run double to cut Washington's lead to 9-4. Facing the Nats bullpen in the eighth, the Braves continued to chip away. A bases-loaded walk and two run-scoring singles suddenly trimmed a seemingly insurmountable deficit down to a single run. Washington turned to Tyler Clippard to deny the Braves further, but like Storen and Burnett before him, he too was ineffective. Michael Bourn stepped to the plate with two on and drove a triple high off the right field wall, scoring both runners and completing an incredible comeback. The Braves now had a one-run lead heading to the ninth with Craig Kimbrel primed to hammer the final nail in the coffin.
Danny Espinosa, however, spoiled those plans by hammering a Kimbrel fastball over the left field wall to tie the game and send the game to extras. In the 11th, Dan Uggla was at third base when Paul Janish popped up a perfectly placed fly ball that dropped just out of the reach of Ian Desmond. Uggla scored easily and Chad Durbin retired the side in order to seal an improbable victory. Chipper's RBI single in the eighth gave him the most RBI among third basemen in MLB history.
This was not a good day to be Paul Maholm. The Braves had lost each of his two previous starts, and early on in this game, a third loss appeared inevitable. The Phillies plated five first-inning runs on five hits, three of them doubles, and scored two more in the third inning once Maholm was pulled from the game to take a 7-1 lead.
Cole Hamels had established himself as the Phillies' best starter in 2012 and had held the Braves to three hits through five innings. Reed Johnson's two-run single in the sixth pulled Atlanta to within four, but that was all the offense could manage against the Phillies lefty. Meanwhile, five Atlanta relievers stifled the Phillies bats long enough to give the Braves one final chance.
With two on in the bottom of the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon was summoned from the Phillies bullpen to squash Atlanta's rally. Instead, he walked Michael Bourn to load the bases and a line drive by Martin Prado deflected off third baseman Kevin Frandsen allowed two runs to score, trimming the lead to two. Chipper Jones then stepped to the plate with two on and two out. He had already burned the Phillies earlier in the year with a walk-off homer, but he couldn't do it again, could he?
Yes he could. Chipper sent Papelbon's 1-1 pitch deep into the Atlanta night for his 468th, and final, career home run.
Win and you're in. All the Braves had to do was beat the flailing Marlins and they would secure a playoff spot. They certainly had the man on the mound to do it in Kris Medlen; the Braves had won 21 straight Medlen starts leading up to this game. The Marlins countered with Nathan Eovaldi, who had held the Braves scoreless through eight innings in his previous start.
Eovaldi proved to be just as tough this time around, but the Atlanta offense broke through early in the second inning. The Braves already trailing 1-0 on Donovan Solano's first major-league home run, Dan Uggla tied the score with a second-inning single. Neither pitcher budged for the next three innings, but Chipper Jones broke the tie with a sacrifice fly in the sixth. However, Solano stunned a great number of fans when in the seventh, he took Medlen deep a second time, this time a two-run shot to give the Marlins a one-run lead.
Still trailing by one in the ninth, Atlanta faced former Brave Mike Dunn and Chipper Jones greeted him with a leadoff double. The very next batter, Freddie Freeman, wasted little time in making the hometown crowd happy. He hammered Dunn's 1-1 pitch over the center field wall to send the Braves to the playoffs. The home run was the first walk-off homer for Freeman.
There you have it. Vote for the Braves' 2012 Game of the Year below!