The amazing Friday night contest between the Braves and the Giants went through many iterations on the field... and in my head, when planning this recap. There was time when the recap was going to lament a ridiculous loss where the Giants benefited from one of the cheapest homers in recent memory, while the Braves hit barrel after barrel into gloves. There was a time when calling out some poor defensive play on Atlanta’s part was going to be a theme, an example of how the team’s sacrifice of defense for offense can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Then, Jorge Soler stepped to the plate in the seventh, his team down by a run, and drilled a first-pitch fastball way into the Atlanta night, completely changing, well, everything. Joc Pederson ended the game with an awesome catch, and there you have it: another suddenly can’t-miss paragon of Atlanta Braves 2021 baseball.
Given all of the above, I guess I’ll just proceed sequentially now, but man, what a game. But, it didn’t start that way. Max Fried, coming off his first career complete game shutout, started the game with a hit-by-pitch. He got the next two batters, then fell behind Buster Posey 3-0, and grooved him a get-me-over fastball. To Fried’s useless benefit, Posey didn’t put a good swing on the ball. To everyone’s exasperation, Posey’s routine fly ball to right sailed just out above the brick wall in right field. The hit probability of Posey’s drive? Four percent, give or take. Posey did hit it hard, at 99 mph, but with a launch angle of 44 and an eventual distance of around 341 feet, those usually aren’t homers. This one was. Oof.
The Braves then took aim at old friend Kevin Gausman, and nearly got those runs back. They hit three singles in the frame, but as luck would have it, Travis d’Arnaud came up with the bases loaded and scalded a ball at 105.5 mph... but right to first baseman Darin Ruf, who easily flipped to Gausman for the out. Adding insult to insult in the inning was that Freddie Freeman hit a ball into the left-field corner about as hard (98 mph to 99 mph) and about as far (338 feet to 341 feet) as Posey, but Freeman’s was a fly out and Posey’s gave the Giants their lead. This first inning also featured a random rain delay before the Braves loaded the bases, but not one long enough to knock Fried or Gausman from the game.
Bad defense gave the Giants another run in the third. With two on and one out, Gausman’s bunt attempt was fielded by d’Arnaud, who threw to third base but pulled the ball past where Austin Riley could reach it. Now down 3-0, Fried got a first-pitch twin killing to end the inning with men on the corners.
And then, Adam Duvall got one back. Really back.
Pederson followed by also creaming a Gausman offering and hitting it 385 feet (a barrel), but he hit to center, and despite the ball traveling much further than Posey’s, it was just an out. After Fried struck out the side in the top of the third, the Braves crept slightly closer, as Jorge Soler, a wild pitch, a groundout from Freeman into the shift, and Riley’s opposite-field single made it a 3-2 game. But, defense would throw a wrench in Atlanta’s plans yet again. With one out and a man on first, Fried elicited another tailor-made double play ball. But, Ozzie Albies somehow bobbled the ball as he jogged towards first, and Fried had to continue in the frame. Naturally, Tommy La Stella, another former Brave, made the Braves pay by doubling to Albies’ left in the shift — with Jorge Soler not really playing La Stella to pull and slow to get to the ball, the should-have-been-doubled-off runner scored, making it 4-2 in favor of San Francisco.
With six runs already scored and the third time through looming for each starter, you’d think we were in for some fireworks, but... nope. After La Stella ended the inning by getting thrown out following his RBI double, Gausman and Fried retired 15 batters in a row; both pitchers were lifted after six. Thing is, that kind of undersells it, at least from the Braves’ perspective. In the fourth, Pederson barreled another ball... that was also an out to center, this time traveling 396 feet. Dansby Swanson followed suit in the sixth. It seemed like it wasn’t going to be the Braves’ night, even after A.J. Minter got through a scoreless seventh despite a hit and the Braves’ only pitching walk of the game. But that was not what happened at all.
The Giants summoned Tony Watson to pitch the home seventh. Watson struck out Duvall, but walked Pederson. Pinch-hitter Guillermo Heredia singled, and the Giants elected to let Watson keep pitching to a right-handed Albies. That move backfired terribly, as Albies smoked a double into the gap. Suddenly, it was a one-run game, and the Braves had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second. With Soler due up, the Giants went to Zack Littell. That also backfired. A lot.
Litell’s first pitch was a 94 mph fastball at the top edge of the zone, over the middle of the plate. Soler swung, connected, and turned the game around, completely:
Ballgame, kinda. Luke Jackson threw a scoreless eighth, and Will Smith gave up a leadoff homer to Wilmer Flores in the ninth. Actually, things would have gone even worse for Smith had not Joc Pederson exacted some revenge for his barrels being caught by making a leaping catch at the fence in right field to end the game. Amusingly, that final play of the game had the same hit probability as Posey’s homer eight innings prior. It’s mostly just amusing because the Braves won. As for Smith, his value continues to tumble, but that’s not really something that I really kicked around as a recap topic — I just hope after 2021, the Braves can put the “should we pay big money to relievers” topic to bed, once and for all.
With the Phillies and Diamondbacks locked in a see-saw, extra-inning affair at the time of writing, we mostly just know the Braves won’t lose ground. But when you’ve got the right dingers at the right time, who cares? What a game.