Be it a 162-game season or the 60-game edition, the Braves have a knack for the dramatic.
Down 2-1 and on their final out and strike, newcomer Marcell Ozuna did exactly what the Braves signed him to do. The slugger belted a game-tying homer off Edwin Diaz in the ninth, helping the Braves force extra innings against the Mets on Saturday.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson began the 10th with a single, which allowed Adam Duvall – placed at second to begin the inning under MLB’s new extra-inning rules – to score their third run. The Braves tacked on a couple more with RBIs from Ender Inciarte and William Contreras, helping them defeat the Mets 5-3, earning their first victory of the season.
“We’re always being positive, fighting for every single pitch, every single out,” Ozuna said. “We’re always looking for something to do damage. Yesterday was the first day and we couldn’t (get it done). Today was a good day that we could come back and do some damage.”
It was the first National League game and second game in MLB history to feature the new extra-inning rules, which are intended for quicker finishes. The batter who made the last out of the previous inning is placed at second to begin the ensuing frame. The A’s defeated the Angels Friday night in the first game under the format.
For at least Saturday, the controversial rule worked in the Braves’ favor.
“If it’s going to work and do that, this could be another one of those changes that we might end up liking,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It made it interesting. They came right back, a couple hits, and there you go again. I think, as I’ve seen it, it might change how you use your closer on the road too. You may pitch him in the ninth inning in a tied game now, just because you’re setting up with a runner on base like that. My verdict isn’t out. We’ll wait and see.”
Starter Max Fried: “Starting a runner on second base was a little weird, but it obviously worked out for us today. So I guess I kind of like it right now.”
Ozuna added: “It’s good. You have a chance to finish the game quick. You have a chance to win the game. Today, we had a chance with the man on second and Swanson hits it up the middle to score that one, then we were on top.”
Before extras, the Braves used two solo homers to overcome their mostly lifeless offense, which didn’t produce a run in Friday’s loss. The team struck out 25 times across its first 18 innings while managing only the two runs over those frames. Those homers – provided by Duvall and Ozuna – were enough to give the Braves a chance to steal the game Saturday.
Fried didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, showcasing his entire repertoire and keeping the Mets off balance most of the day. But New York plated two runs in the fifth, which would be Fried’s final inning.
Michael Conforto doubled and Amed Rosario tripled for the Mets’ first hits and run. After Fried plunked Brandon Nimmo with a pitch, Jeff McNeil’s sacrifice fly scored the go-ahead run. Fried finished the inning and completed his first outing having allowed two runs on two hits, striking out five and walking two.
Notes from Saturday’s game:
- Luke Jackson recorded the final six outs. He pitched a quick ninth and persisted through bases-loaded trouble in the 10th, holding the Mets to only one run.
“Luke closed games for us last year, and most of them were just like that,” Snitker said. “I felt good with him as long as his pitches (pitch count) stayed manageable.”
Mark Melancon, the Braves’ regular closer, had a back issue that made him unavailable. The team also wanted to stay away from Shane Greene, who pitched Friday. Tyler Matzek and Touki Toussaint were warming up in the bullpen before the game ended.
“Melancon’s back locked up,” Snitker said. “He was there and healthy. That was something that happened during the game. We wanted to stay away from Greene, he hadn’t done two days in a row. ... Melancon’s back locked up on him and hopefully he’ll be OK tomorrow.”
- The Braves made several lineup adjustments before facing their first lefty in Steven Matz. Their outfield featured Austin Riley, Ronald Acuna and Duvall. Inciarte, who manned center Friday and made a couple of nice catches, sat against the southpaw.
Riley played third Friday, but Johan Camargo started there in the second game. Snitker repeatedly said the Braves will give Riley and Camargo ample time at third base. The first two games are a small sample of how they can do that.
Ozuna served as the designated hitter after manning left field Friday. Ozuna at DH, with Duvall, Riley and Camargo in the field, could be a logical blueprint when the Braves face lefties moving forward.
- Offensively, the Braves’ dynamic duo atop the lineup has been stifled across two games. Acuna is 1-for-9 with six strikeouts, punching out three times in each game. Ozzie Albies is 0-for-9 with two strikeouts.
Even Freddie Freeman, despite drawing three walks, hasn’t registered his first hit. He’s 0-for-5. It’s been a slow start for the Braves’ best bats against Jacob deGrom, Matz and the Mets’ bullpen.
- Ozuna had two of the Braves’ three extra-base hits through their first 18 innings. While the offense has been lackadaisical, he’s met expectations so far, adding thunder to the middle of the order.
“That guy can hit, man,” Snitker said. “We’ve all seen it for a long time, especially him being in Miami. That was huge for us.”
- Duvall provided the Braves’ first run of the season when he launched a solo homer to right off Matz in the second inning. The ball landed on a cardboard cutout of a dog, which turned out to be McNeil’s pup, according to the Mets’ broadcast.
The Braves have been optimistic about Duvall, who’s taken on an increased role during this shortened season. He’ll play against left-handers, hoping to provide the power he exhibited Saturday. Duvall had four homers in only 39 at-bats against southpaws last season.
- Fried’s breaking ball often draws oohs and ahhs. His most impressive pitch might’ve come in the first inning, when he struck out slugger Pete Alonso on a perfect curveball.
Last season, Fried implemented his slider, which he used sparingly but effectively against the Mets. The pitch induced several swinging strikes. He barely used his change-up, which he admits is very much a work-in-progress.
“I felt like my stuff was really good today,” he said. “The fastball was coming out good. I was able to throw my slider pretty well. Curveball was hit or miss. Had some good ones, had some bad ones. It felt like me and (catcher) Alex (Jackson) worked together really well.”
- Contreras, subbed in for Jackson in the later innings, collected his first major-league hit and RBI in the 10th inning. Contreras hit a double into the gap against reliever Hunter Strickland, plating the Braves’ fifth run. Contreras is expected to make his first start at catcher on Sunday.
“It’s a dream come true that I never expected,” Contreras said through team interpreter Franco Garcia. “It’s something I’ve worked my entire life to accomplish ever since I was a little kid. I just want to give thanks to my family and brothers for all their support through this.”
- Snitker applauded lefty A.J. Minter during summer camp, saying he believes Minter has recaptured form after a difficult 2019 that began with a spring training injury. Minter was sharp in his first appearance.
Mets catcher Wilson Ramos singled off Josh Tomlin to begin the eighth. Snitker turned to Minter, who after allowing a hit to Conforto, cajoled a fielder’s choice from Rosario before striking out Nimmo and McNeil to escape a dangerous situation.
The Braves are down a lefty while All-Star Will Smith is going through COVID-19 protocols. A reborn Minter would be a boon for the bullpen.
- Camargo was nursing a minor hamstring injury earlier this week. He looked fine Saturday, moving well defensively at third. His first hit of the season came off Matz.
- The Braves and Mets will conclude their series Sunday night. Lefty Sean Newcomb will face former Cy Young winner and Mets newcomer Rick Porcello. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.