It was the first walk-off homer of Ozzie Albies’ nascent career, and he called it.
Before leading off the 11th inning against the Reds, the Braves’ dynamic second baseman told teammate Danny Santana that he, Albies, was going to end the game.
Right then, before it went any further past midnight than it already was.
“I told Santana it’s time to go long right now, it’s time to go deep,” said Albies, who also had two doubles. “So I went with one mentality of hitting a home run on that (at-bat).”
He did, ambushing right-hander Dylan Floro by reaching down to smash a first-pitch slider, driving it over the high brick wall in right-center field at SunTrust Park for a series-opening 5-4 win, snapping the Reds’ seven-game winning streak.
“It felt amazing,” Albies said. “One of the most excited times you can feel, when you do that for the team.”
It was the fifth walk-off homer of the season for the Braves but the first for Albies. The 21-year-old Curacao native is only 5-foot-7 and about 165 pounds, but leads the National League with 44 extra-base hits and leads the Braves with 17 home runs, tied for third in the NL behind Washington’s Bryce Harper (19) and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado (18).
Six of Albies’ 17 homers have come on the first pitch.
“He’s aggressive -- there’s no doubt he’s aggressive,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He hasn’t seen a pitch yet he doesn’t like. He’s on the attack. He’s an aggressive hitter. That’s what makes him what he is. He’s having a heck of a year.”
As soon as the ball cleared the wall, Braves poured onto the field to celebrate with Albies, waiting at home plate to jump on him.
“I was just smiling,” Albies said, “knowing they were going to hit me with dirt, powder, whatever they’ve got. It’s fun.”
Albies also is tied with teammate Nick Markakis for the NL doubles lead with 25.
“I don’t know, he just never ceases to amaze me,” Snitker said of Albies. “Some of the plays he made defensively, just the range, the accuracy in his arm. That last inning, that play was really good. And he’s started swinging the bat. He’s making adjustments and he’s been a real stellar guy.”
The wild home-plate celebration has become a walk-off ritual around baseball, and one that’s been enjoyed more frequently by the Braves this season than by most teams. The Braves and Cardinals are tied for the major league leads in walk-off wins (seven) and game-ending home runs (five).
Albies, the Braves’ and arguably the NL’s hottest hitter for much of April, has rebounded from a recent slump and is surging again in the 2-hole in the lineup along with a revived Ender Inciarte in the leadoff spot.
“It’s been great,” Albies said. “Hopefully we keep doing that for the team and be on base so the big boys can drive us in.”
Albies is 15-for-33 (.455) with six extra-base hits and a 1.168 OPS in his past seven games, after hitting .172 (17-for-99) with seven extra-base hits and a .502 OPS in 23 games from May 23 through June 16.
“I’m just thinking short and quick, and just try to hit the ball back to the pitcher,” he said of recent adjustments in his hitting approach. “I’m trying to just hit the ball where it’s pitched. If it’s a ball I know I can hit, try to put the quick swing on it.”
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