Sometimes, baseball games kind of are what they are — a meandering wend to a finish that wasn’t in particular doubt. This wasn’t one of those games, not by a longshot. Late-inning fireworks completely upended a low-scoring affair, and unfortunately, the Braves came up quite short. An insane, game-tying two-run homer in the ninth by Ronald Acuña Jr., a throwing error that almost (but not quite) gift-wrapped a win for the Braves, and then another unfortunate outing by Shane Greene in which he yielded a three-run homer to Tucker Barnhart were on the docket on Sunday afternoon, and the Braves now head to Minnesota having split a series with the Reds and failing to secure their first season victory over Cincinnati since 2014.
While the game was 3-1 headed into the ninth, there were a ton of baserunners in the early innings, and many of them were stranded by the Braves. Julio Teheran started his afternoon off well in the first with a 1-2-3 inning that included two strikeouts and a 3-0 flyout by Joey Votto, and Acuña led off the home half of the inning with a hustle grounder double into left center. But, as was common in these innings, the Braves couldn’t score. A strikeout by Ozzie Albies and a pop-up by Josh Donaldson led to Cincy starter Sonny Gray pitching around Adam Duvall in order to get to Austin Riley, whom he dispatched via strikeout after a gift (terrible) strike two call.
The second continued to idea that Teheran might reel off another strong outing on the heels of his solid July. He issued a four-pitch walk to Josh VanMeter, showcasing the same arm-side miss troubles to lefties that have plagued him for years now, but recovered to get a first-pitch double play. A one-out walk to Johan Camargo by Gray in the bottom of the inning went nowhere.
And then, the wheels kind of came off. Teheran walked the eighth-place hitter, Tucker Barnhart, on four pitches with one out, and he came around to score after a sacrifice bunt and a grounder through the shift by Jesse Winker. Teheran then issued two more walks and was in imminent danger of walking in the second run of the inning, but VanMeter swung at two or three balls in his six-pitch at-bat, with the final one resulting in a whiff and a vintage Ju-dini moment.
Another run was bled in the fourth, as a hit batter and a one-out double led to an intentional walk to Barnhart and then an odd play in which Gray bunted the ball to first and was tagged out by a charging Austin Riley, who didn’t flip the ball for the forceout at home. Teheran then got a fly out to end the inning, but he was now in a 2-0 hole. The Braves had a chance to strike back as Riley led off with a double off Gray in the bottom of the fourth, but even after he moved to third on a fly out, both Camargo and Tyler Flowers struck out on nearly-identical Gray sliders in the dirt.
Teheran then yielded his third run in the fifth, courtesy of another random two-out walk, a stolen base, and an RBI grounder. He was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning, but to no avail. Sean Newcomb worked a scoreless top of the sixth, and then the Braves again threatened futilely against Gray. Donaldson drew a leadoff walk and then moved to second on a ridiculous baseball occurrence: a 432-foot single by Duvall that went off the center field wall but arrested an advance because it wasn’t clear whether the ball was going to be caught. Even that bit of silliness couldn’t result in paydirt for Atlanta — pop out, groundout, walk, groundout with the bases loaded, and the Reds still led by three.
Newcomb worked another scoreless frame, and Gray sat down the Braves in order once more. Gray finished his day with seven scoreless frames, allowing four hits and four walks while striking out seven. He continued his good July-onward run; Teheran, who allowed three runs in five frames with a revolting 5/6 K/BB ratio, did not.
Then Anthony Swarzak did the same despite a walk and a hit thanks to a double play off Barnhart’s bat, and the Braves finally got on the board as Josh Donaldson took former Brave Lucas Sims deep and out of the yard for his 26th homer of the year. Unfortunately, Sims struck out the side after that, including Duvall, the man he was traded for. Swarzak and Jerry Blevins combined to retire the Reds in the top of the ninth, and away we went.
With Raisel Iglesias used heavily earlier in this series, the Reds turned to Amir Garrett to preserve the two-run lead. He didn’t. The Braves finally used Freddie Freeman as a pinch-hitter with one out in the ninth, and he drew a walk. Ronald Acuña Jr. strode to the plate. After nearly getting tossed for arguing balls and strikes when an 0-1 pitch call didn’t go his way, Acuña delivered an amazing moment a few pitches later... one that would have likely been fondly remembered as another glorious part of the tapestry of the Braves’ 2019 campaign, had the rest of the game gone better.
brb gonna watch this on repeat for a few days pic.twitter.com/HalnWpJUmR— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) August 4, 2019
That was awesome, but it wasn’t it, either. The Reds left Garrett in the game, and Ozzie Albies singled to left. Then, Robert Stephenson came on and threw the ball away on a pickoff play, letting Albies scamper all the way over to third. That looked like it was going to set up another epic walkoff, but it was not to be. Adam Duvall went down swinging on four pitches, three of them sliders low and away. Two more sliders in the dirt was all it took to retire pinch-hitter Brian McCann, who rolled the second one to second base.
So, extra innings for a second consecutive night. The last one went pretty well... but not this one. Shane Greene came on, and... welp. Welp welp welp, that’s really the only way to describe it.
Josh VanMeter led off the inning with a single (79 percent hit probability). Greene momentarily recovered thanks to a tailor-made double play off the bat of Nick Senzel, but then two more singles (hit probabilities of 82 percent and 60 percent) made for choppy waters in the tenth. The potential for further drama was quickly erased, however: Greene’s first pitch to Barnhart was about as grooved as possible, and Barnhart un-grooved it over the brick wall in right-center for a three-run homer. Like I said, welp welp welp.
The Braves got a solo homer from Tyler Flowers in the bottom of the tenth, but David Hernandez retired the other three men he faced, and that was that. The Braves lost despite out-hitting and out-homer the Reds, marking the third time in this four-game series that inexplicably, the team with more homers didn’t win. If that’s not enough baseball for you, I don’t know what is. Go enjoy the rest of your Sunday and try not to think about a world where nothing makes sense.