The Braves entered the eighth inning down 10-6 after their pitching hemorrhaged runs through the first six frames. They left the eighth inning up 11-10, piecing together a crazy five-run spurt aided by timely hits and a faulty Mets bullpen.
Starter Sean Newcomb and reliever Jhoulys Chacin allowed 10 runs, but the Braves offense kept it just close enough for an explosive eighth. Once trailing 8-2, the Braves wound up defeating the Mets 11-10 in the series opener at Truist Park on Friday.
“You go from sitting in a dentist chair, waiting for them to hit a nerve, to being besides yourself,” manager Brian Snitker said, trying to summarize emotions throughout the night. “These guys continue to amaze me. How they’re never out of a game, they just keep coming back. We’re putting the game together seeing we’re four (runs) down with a couple at-bats, as we manage these games the last few years, you almost consider that like a one-run deficit with the way these guys grind at-bats and do what they do. It’s something else.”
Adeiny Hechavarria led off the eighth inning with a single against Dellin Betances. Ender Inciarte’s walk was followed by a Ronald Acuna strikeout. Dansby Swanson, who’s been a force at the plate to start the season, singled to score Hechavarria and bring the Braves within three runs.
The Braves executed a double steal while Freddie Freeman was batting. The Mets challenged the result at second, but Swanson was ruled safe. Betances threw a wild ball four that allowed Inciarte to score, bringing the deficit to two with a pair of runners still on base.
“If we’re down five runs, 10 runs, whatever, we’re going to continue to play until they tell us the game is over,” Swanson said. “It’s just who we are. They’ve done a tremendous job of putting a group of guys together that that’s what they care about. They care about winning. A lot of contributors tonight.”
New York pulled Betances for relief ace Seth Lugo, who immediately walked Marcell Ozuna. Johan Camargo popped a shallow flyout, putting the Mets one out away from escaping a bases-loaded jam.
Their former catcher Travis d’Arnaud, making his second start with the Braves, ripped a single to center on the third pitch, scoring all three base runners. It was his third hit of the night.
By night’s end, the Braves had tagged Mets relievers for seven earned runs in four innings. They’ve done damage against the Mets’ bullpen in three of four meetings, helping push the unit’s ERA to 6.82, which is second worst in the majors.
“We just never give up,” d’Arnaud said. “It all starts with Snit giving good energy the whole game, regardless if we’re down 8-2 or up by a ton of runs. … He’s always in a great mood. Uplifts you when you’re down. And he’s always fun to even talk to about baseball.”
Somehow, Snitker’s Braves did it again. They won a game in which they allowed 10 runs and 13 hits. In a season of abnormalities, the Braves pulled off another of their unexpected-yet-unsurprising comebacks.
Chris Martin notched the save, leaving two Mets stranded on base in the process. It was his first save since joining the Braves just before last season’s trade deadline. Evidently, Martin wasn’t even aware it was a save chance.
“He had no idea it was the ninth inning,” d’Arnaud said of Martin. “He thought it was the eighth. I was walking to the mound just laughing the whole time. The guys coming out of the dugout were pointing and laughing at him too. It was really funny.”
The offense spared the Braves a crucial division loss, which means even more in a shortened season, but it can’t bail out the pitching every night. The Braves’ middle innings were dreadful.
Newcomb had pitched well through three innings but crumbled after a 10-pitch at-bat against Brandon Nimmo. After fanning Nimmo, he walked Pete Alonso, setting up J.D. Davis’ two-run homer, though Davis deserves more credit for hitting a low-and-inside four-seamer, to tie it 2-2 in the fourth.
Robinson Cano opened the fifth with a homer off Newcomb, who then allowed two consecutive singles. After retiring Amed Rosario, Nimmo singled to load the bases. Snitker decided to lift Newcomb for veteran Jhoulys Chacin.
“It’s a total thing, it’s not go out and have two or three good innings,” Snitker said of Newcomb. “A good outing is what you’re looking for and you have to put an end on it. He wasn’t able to do it.”
Chacin struggled mightily. He walked in two runs before Yoenis Cespedes’ double scored two more. Cano’s single brought home the Mets’ sixth and final run of the frame.
The Braves entered the fifth in a 2-2 draw. They left it in an 8-2 hole. Chacin finished his night having allowed four runs on five hits in 1-1/3 innings.
“We needed him to cover,” Snitker said. “We weren’t in a position with the bullpen. Somebody, in a game like that, you might give up some runs, but you have to cover some innings to get us to a doable portion of the game. We’re still trying to not abuse the relievers.”
Newcomb was charged six earned runs over his 4-1/3 innings, increasing his ERA to 8.22 through two starts (both against the Mets). He’s not the only Braves starter off to a slow start.
Mike Foltynewicz was removed from the roster after allowing six runs over 3-1/3 innings in his only outing. His replacement, Touki Toussaint, will start Saturday. Toussaint allowed six runs over 2-2/3 innings in relief of Foltynewicz on Monday. The fifth starter, Kyle Wright, allowed five runs on four hits in 2-2/3 innings earlier this week.
To sum it up: The Braves are crossing their figures three of the five rotation turns right now. The team hasn’t been able to replace Julio Teheran or Dallas Keuchel, two long-gone veteran innings eaters, and the two starters it added in the winter – Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels – are out. In Hamels’ case, the earliest he can return from injury is September. Hernandez decided against playing this season.
Perhaps top prospect Ian Anderson eventually factors into the equation. Maybe a trade market develops ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline. For now, the Braves have to make the most of what they have. They need starters besides Soroka and Fried to step forward. Newcomb, thus far, hasn’t done so.
Winning cures all, as the cliché goes. Friday’s win certainly was worth a smile, but the Braves have bigger aspirations than regular-season wins. They know to advance in the postseason, they’ll need significantly better starting pitching.
Notes from Friday:
- It was d’Arnaud’s third career five-RBI game. He also had one last season with Tampa Bay after the Mets released him last May. The Braves are thrilled with d’Arnaud since he returned from a five-game absence to start the season.
- Second baseman Ozzie Albies was out of the starting lineup. He’d experienced some right-wrist soreness, and with the Braves in the midst of 20 consecutive games to begin the season, Snitker opted to rest him. He pinch-hit in the eighth and played second in the ninth inning.
Hechavarria made his first start of the season in Albies’ place. He went 1-for-4, with his one hit sparking the five-run blitz.
- Swanson collected another two hits and two RBIs. He’s hitting .387 and is tied with Nelson Cruz for the most RBIs in the majors. His 11 are also the most by a Braves shortstop through eight games in Atlanta history.
- Catcher Travis d’Arnaud stole a base in the fourth inning. It was his second career steal and first since 2014. He also had his first two-hit game and second RBI with the Braves in his second start.
“That was big,” Snitker said. “The former team card played well tonight. As we get Travis stretched out, it’s going to be good – we’re just trying to work our way to back-to-backing him after being off (due to exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms). … He’s going to add a lot to this club.”
- Designated hitter Matt Adams has met expectations. ‘Big City’ has added power to the middle of the lineup and had two RBIs Friday, bringing his total to six in seven games. The Braves signed Adams days before opening day after the Mets let him go.
- Hechavarria, d’Arnaud and Adams are all ex-Mets, even though the latter didn’t appear in a regular season game. The trio went 6-for-11 with seven RBIs, two runs scored and a stolen base on Friday.
- Lefties Tyler Matzek and Grant Dayton were suburb in their 2-1/3 innings following Chacin. The duo combined to allow one single, keeping the Braves within striking distance.
“Awesome,” Snitker said. “Dayton, Matzek too. Both of those guys threw the ball extremely well.”
- The Braves have taken three of the first four games against the Mets. They have three more in the coming days, beginning with Saturday, which will feature Toussaint versus Michael Wacha.
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