Here’s how the Braves tied Monday’s game. With one out in the ninth, Francisco Cervelli hit a triple. Billy Hamilton pinch-ran. Rafael Ortega walked. Adeiny Hechavarria hoisted a sacrifice fly. Hamilton scored.
It wasn’t the most emphatic half-inning in Braves’ annals. It didn’t even come in a victory. (The Braves lost to Colorado on a home run in the bottom of the ninth, snapping their win streak at eight games.) From the Braves perspective, there was no majestic clout on the order of Bob Watson against Steve Howe on Aug. 13, 1983, or Francisco Cabrera off Rob Dibble on Aug. 21, 1991. But this August inning was remarkable for the Braves involved, none of whom had graced this 25-man roster 15 days earlier.
Rafael Ortega: summoned from Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 13.
Adeiny Hechavarria: signed as a free agent Aug. 16 after being released by the Mets.
Billy Hamilton: claimed off waivers from the Royals on Aug. 19.
Francisco Cervelli: signed as a free agent Aug. 24 after he was released by the Pirates.
And remember: This August was supposed to be different. MLB had done away with the waiver trade. You could still claim a guy, but you could no longer negotiate a deal with the controlling club if it decided to pull him off waivers. The controlling club had to let him go, free and clear. That was why this year’s trade deadline was seen as a team’s last real chance to improve itself.
To which Alex Anthopoulos said, “Hah!”
From the summer of ’91 through the first part of the next century, we saw the Braves do incredible things on a yearly basis. We never saw eight consecutive victories quite like these. The prevailing thought after most if not all the eight wasn’t, “Wow.” It was, “Who?” These workers of wonders weren’t familiar names. On the contrary, they were so unfamiliar we weren’t certain they were Braves at all. But there they were, wearing the uniform — if the bizarre ensemble sported in New York over the weekend qualified as such — and doing their bit.
Rafael Ortega: hit a grand slam to beat the Dodgers on Aug. 18. It was his second career home run. He made his MLB debut in 2012.
Adeiny Hechavarria: had seven hits, scored six runs and managed four RBIs over his first seven games as a Brave. He has played for six big-league teams since 2016.
Billy Hamilton: delivered the game-winning single in the 14th inning of his third game as a Brave. He has worked for three teams in the past 11 months.
Francisco Cervelli: went 5-for-9, four of the hits for extra bases, with three RBIs in his first two games as Brave. His last previous big-league at-bat had come May 25.
Let’s be clear. It’s entirely possible none of these will be around much longer. In a perfect world, none would be on this roster now. They’re here because — deep breath — Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte (again) and Brian McCann got hurt, and also because Johan Camargo forgot how to play.
Let’s be clear about something else. This is still August. The rosters haven’t expanded. The Braves were forced to find castoffs just to get them to September. Somehow Anthopoulos, the general manager once painted (though not in this space) as a twiddler of thumbs, found a whole bench’s worth, and he paid next to nothing for the lot. Ortega was acquired over the winter as a free agent. The others came after the so-called hard deadline. All have offered immediate help. The Braves won a series against the Dodgers and swept the Mets in Queens. This has been magician-like stuff.
Before the eight-game streak commenced, the Braves led Washington by 4-1/2 games in the National League East. As of this morning, their lead is 5-1/2. The Nationals have won seven of eight. Imagine if the Braves’ eight consecutive wins had been a run of, say, 4-4. They’d be 1-1/2 games up with seven remaining against the D.C. crew, four coming next week. The wild-card game, which is a must to avoid, would have become a real possibility. As is, the cushion is holding.
For that, the Braves can thank the usual suspects — Freeman, Acuna, Donaldson — and their rotation, which is again ticking upward, and on certain days they can even thank their bullpen. But the biggest thank you must go to Anthopoulos and the four guys he plucked from the ether. They arrived as stopgaps. They’ve filled those gaps.
Just when you think you’ve seen everything these Braves can do, a passel of new Braves show up and do this. Incredible.
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