After uncharacteristically being held to two runs in the first 20 innings of a wild-card playoff series at Truist Park, the Braves' offense showed up in the eighth inning Thursday, abruptly looking like its familiar self.
Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall – the Braves' two leading home-run hitters during the regular season with 18 and 16, respectively – entered the inning a combined 0-for-15 with 11 strikeouts in the series against Cincinnati’s stellar pitching. But then they hit a pair of two-run homers to turn a tense 1-0 game into a 5-0 victory as the Braves won their first playoff series in 19 years.
“Our lineup is dangerous, so I think any time, any inning, you can break out,” Duvall said. "It’s not something where I felt like, ‘Oh, man, we’re in trouble.’ It was just a matter of time, I think, that with the at-bats we put together, eventually we’re going to break out and score some runs.
“And that’s what happened there at the end.”
Without the eighth-inning rally, the Braves might well have won a second consecutive game by a 1-0 score. Ronald Acuna’s two-out double on a full-count slider from Reds starter Luis Castillo in the fifth inning scored Austin Riley from first base to put the Braves on the scoreboard, and the way both teams were pitching in this series, starters and relievers alike, it would have surprised no one if the scoring had ended there.
“As many zeroes as we’ve seen put up there, just to score like that was huge, I thought,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Acuna’s RBI hit. “I liked our chances after we scored the one run. I sure am glad we did the add-on runs, but we were down to where that game was manageable and where we wanted it.”
For the Braves, the eighth-inning rally against Reds closer Raisel Iglesias relieved the tension of a high-pressure series.
“Those were huge insurance runs,” Travis d’Arnaud said. “If we went into the top of the ninth only up 1-0, it’s a different feeling for everybody, including myself, including every infielder and outfielder. I’m sure every fan would be feeling different as well."
After Freddie Freeman walked to start the bottom of the eighth, Ozuna (previously 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in the series) slammed a 429-foot home run to left-center to give the Braves the comfort of a 3-0 lead. Ozuna wasn’t available for interviews after the game, but he made his exhilaration clear by snapping an imaginary selfie photo before reaching first base.
Three batters later, following a walk to Ozzie Albies, Duvall (previously 0-for-7 with six strikeouts in the series) hit a 388-foot homer to left against his former team.
By the end, the Braves hitters' struggles against the Reds' pitchers seemed to be a fading memory on the team.
“I’m just really happy. I’m overcome with joy,” Acuna, who went 3-for-5 on Thursday after going 1-for-6 on Wednesday, said through an interpreter. “As a team, I think we set out to do what we always do, and that’s to play our game and do our very best. Our goal was to advance, and luckily we were able to do that.”