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Braves lose 4-3 as Avilan blows eighth inning lead

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Fredi Gonzalez thinks Luis Avilan is suitable for high-leverage situations and it cost the Braves another game.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With the Braves leading 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning Fredi Gonzalez decided the first man out of the bullpen should be Luis Avilan. Avilan is the worst pitcher in the Braves bullpen currently and several excellent options were available to pitch this high-leverage situation. But since the Mets had two lefties due up in the inning, Fredi chose to use his lefty reliever over a collection of excellent right handed relievers who have actually managed to get outs at a high rate in 2014. The predictable outcome was predictable as Curtis Granderson homered off Avilan to tie the game.

This debacle of a decision ruined what had been one of Mike Minor’s better starts of the season. Minor did give up his customary home run but it was a solo homer and one of the only mistakes Minor made all night. Minor only allowed two hits in seven innings and was very sharp. The Mets scored their first run via a Travis d’Arnaud double but that double and David Wright’s homer were all the damage the Mets would do against Minor in seven innings.

After Minor finished off the seventh inning the Braves offense was finally able to break through after threatening against Daisuke Matsuzaka all night. Matsuzaka allowed eight Braves batters to reach base but none scored. That changed in the eighth when Vic Black came on in relief. Freddie Freeman got things started with a one out double and moved to third on a Justin Upton groundout. Freeman managed to put across the Braves first run when he scored on a wild pitch.

With the bases empty lefty-specialist Josh Edgin was brought on to get Heyward. In the same park where Heyward has his jaw broken on a poor pitch from a lefty last season, Edgin came in on Heyward barely missing his head. It was a terrifying moment to watch and Heyward somehow managed to come back from it and single to keep the inning going for Atlanta. This was Heyward’s first hit against a lefty in 37 at bats. Heyward then came home to score the tying run after Chris Johnson crushed a ball to straightaway centerfield for a double.

The Mets walked Tommy La Stella intentionally to get to Christian Bethancourt. In one of Bethancourt’s first high-leverage plate appearances in the bigs, the catcher came through with a go ahead single. La Stella was thrown out on the bases to end the inning but the Braves had the lead and only needed two good innings from their excellent bullpen to win the game.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the Braves leading 3-2 Fredi Gonzalez decided to use his least effective relief pitcher Luis Avilan. Avilan managed to get two outs before giving up the game tying home run to Curtis Granderson. The decision was inexplicable with Jordan Walden, Shae Simmons, David Carpenter and of course Craig Kimbrel all available. The fact that Fredi Gonzalez continues to use Avilan in high leverage situations is inexcusable and it cost the Braves tonight.

In the bottom of the ninth is when things got really weird. Eric Campbell reached on a single and on the ensuing play Juan Lagares tried to bunt Campbell to second. Chris Johnson made a great play to throw Campbell out at second and Lagares just beat out the throw to first to avoid the double play. However, the Mets challenged that Simmons had not touched second when he was making the throw to first.

When replay was added in MLB this year the "neighborhood play" was specifically listed as a play that could not be reviewed. The neighborhood play is when a player avoids a takeout slide while turning a double play and does not actually touch second base. In this case Simmons came off the base a moment early to avoid the takeout slide. The throw was perfect and Simmons did not come off to catch an errant throw which would not be a neighborhood play. Since the neighborhood play is explicitly not reviewable this play could not be reviewed under MLB rules. The umpires reviewed it anyway and ruled that Campbell was safe at second.

Fredi Gonzalez came out to argue and was thrown out of the game as he had to be. Despite the egregious violation of MLB rules the Braves would escape the inning. But this was bad and it is unfortunate that MLB umpires feel empowered to interpret rules in any way they see fit without regard to the specific guidelines set out by MLB. Fortunately this call wasn’t the reason the Braves lost as Simmons managed to get four outs and escape the inning.

The Mets won the game in the 11th when Lagares delivered a one out double to left field. He moved to third after d’Arnaud skied a loud out to centerfield and Lagares came home on a Ruben Tejada single. The Braves lost 4-3 but will maintain their half-game lead in the NL East as the Nationals also lost today. The Braves desperately need a real left-handed option out of the bullpen. They also need a manager who realizes Luis Avilan is not a legitimate option for high-leverage situations.