The proverbial “they” say that all’s well that ends well, and while this game certainly ended well, I don’t think I’d describe the rest of the contest as a positive experience. In any case, though, the Braves staved off a sweep and salvaged a game thanks to Ronald Acuña Jr’s walkoff blast to start the bottom of the ninth. Acuña’s 13th homer of the season was really the biggest positive to take away from this game, so here, go and watch it on loop a few times:
The way the Braves got there, though, was hardly delightful. Why? I can summarize it. Remember that this was a 4-4 game headed into the bottom of the ninth. Now, look at this image:
A .402 xBA is, frankly, insane. (Also, I think the .402 was before Acuña’s homer; I’m not sure Baseball Savant actually updated after the game ended. No matter.) There has literally been one game so far this season (other than this one) where a team compiled an xBA over .400, and it was .403. In that game, the Astros scored 10 runs. In this game, the Braves scored five runs, trailed multiple times, didn’t score until the fifth, and had a win probability as low as 25 percent at one point.
So, how did we get from here to there? Well, it went something like this. The first few innings were quiet as Charlie Morton and David Peterson ran into few issues. Both pitchers faced the minimum through three (Morton gave up a leadoff single in the second but then got a double play), but the Mets struck first when Jonathan Villar absolutely obliterated a 1-2 Morton fastball for a moonshot solo homer. The Braves got their first hit in the fourth thanks to Freddie Freeman, but it was immediately erased by a double play ball from Marcell Ozuna. Though Morton retired the next six batters after Villar’s homer, the Braves were down and things weren’t looking great.
But, the fifth turned things around, at least for a while. Austin Riley continued his recent spate of torrid hitting with a one-out double. A groundout moved him to third, and the Braves caught a non-break when a very wild pitch from Peterson could have easily scored the tying run... except it also hit the batter. That brought up Guillermo Heredia with two outs and runners at the corners, and he jumped on a high Peterson fastball and slashed it into right for a game-tying hit. Charlie Morton was next, hitting for himself, and he too went after the first pitch, this time a sinker at the knees, and golfed it into center for a go-ahead bloop single. Next was Acuña, who worked a walk. But, it wasn’t just a regular walk: the fourth ball was spiked in the dirt and bounced away, allowing Heredia to score a third run. A hard single from Freddie Freeman chased Peterson for Drew Smith, who got out of the bases-loaded jam by getting Ozuna to hit a hard grounder that, as has always been the case for Ozuna in May when grounders are involved, was gobbled up by a fielder for the third out.
Peterson’s night ended with those three runs allowed on the back of a 5/1 K/BB ratio in 4 2⁄3 innings. Morton also cruised through the sixth, but the game was about to get bonkers from there. With Drew Smith still in there, the Braves loaded the bases with two outs on a Riley single, Swanson double, and intentional walk to bring up the pitcher’s spot. The Braves yoinked Morton out of the game (six innings, the solo homer, 8/0 K/BB ratio) in favor of Pablo Sandoval, who hit a ball at 102.6 mph down the left-field line. The Mets weren’t shifted, and the ball was snared at third. Why focus on this? Because of the seventh.
With Morton gone, A.J. Minter got the ball. He got two quick outs, but then fell apart. Dominic Smith put a ball in play on a swinging bunt; Minter fielded it and threw it away. He then completely lost control, throwing four straight balls to James McCann, each of which missed in the exact same spot armside and up. After a fifth, more egregious miss to Jose Peraza, Minter threw a fastball at the knees that was sent (we’ve seen this way too many times at this point) on the ground past Riley. With catcher’s speed, McCann couldn’t score, but the Mets were now down just 3-2, with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.
That was it for Minter, on came Luke Jackson. The Mets pinch-hit with yesterday’s hero, Tomas Nido. (The pitcher’s spot was up because Drew Smith was double-switched in.) Jackson’s first pitch was a brushback slider that was never a strike. Nido swung. He hit it 69.5 mph. It found grass in front of Heredia. The Mets led 4-3. Nido’s ball had basically the same hit probability as Sandoval’s. One was hit 33 mph harder than the other. That one would’ve broken the game open. Instead, the other gave the Mets the lead.
Things looked even more grim when the Braves wasted a leadoff walk to Acuña in the bottom of the inning, as new reliever Miguel Castro retired the other batters. But, again, it was actually far more absurd than “the Braves wasted a leadoff walk.” In that half-inning, after that walk, Freeman crushed a ball at 102 mph into the right-center gap. It was caught at the wall by an outstretched glove. Ozuna hit another sharp grounder up the middle; this time it hit Castro, who couldn’t catch it, but was instead able to force Acuña out at second. Theater of the absurd, oh boy.
Chris Martin, who does apparently exist, despite not being asked to put out the fire in the seventh, threw a quick 1-2-3 eighth. The Mets then asked Aaron Loup to face R-R-R in the bottom of the inning with a one-run lead, a curious tactical decision perhaps necessitated by the fact that the Mets have like half a roster and then various cardboard cutouts with contracts drawn in crayon at this point. That allowed the Braves to tie the game: Riley once again doubled to right, a Swanson grounder up the middle actually turned into an infield hit instead of an out after it bounced off Loup, and William Contreras sliced a ball to right to score Riley. The Braves were set up well to take the lead, but pooched it horribly.
First, Guillermo Heredia was inexplicably asked to bunt, despite facing new reliever Jacob Barnes, who has been awful this season. He could not get the bunt down (duh), and after a protracted battle, went down swinging on the ninth pitch of his PA. Then, in one of the worst decisions I’ve seen so far this baseball season, Swanson decided to try and steal third. He was thrown out for the second out. Pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza struck out shortly thereafter, and there went that promising opportunity.
The Braves lost it because Will Smith couldn’t keep the game tied in the ninth last night. It nearly happened again tonight. Smith started his night by striking out the newest Met, Cameron Maybin. But, Maybin reached on the strikeout as Contreras temporarily lost the ball when it bounced off his shinguard. Smith won a Smith-Smith matchup by striking out Dominic, but Maybin stole second, and also moved to third on a wild pitch. Since you know this game ended in a 5-4 walkoff, you know Maybin didn’t end up scoring. But he almost did, in what would’ve been a killer — with two outs, Peraza hit a very soft, 52.5 mph liner that would’ve been hit over Riley’s head had he been playing in a bit more. But, he wasn’t, that was out number three, and Acuña walked the Braves off on the game’s very next pitch.
The Braves have a lot of work to do to keep clambering back into the playoff chase. We’ll see what they do against the Pirates in a four-game weekend set that starts tomorrow night.