The Braves clinched their spot in the 2019 postseason after a four-run seventh inning pushed them past the Nationals, but there was no jubilation in the clubhouse on Saturday.
Utilityman Charlie Culberson entered to pinch-hit in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game. Attempting to lay down a bunt, he was hit in the face (around the right eye) by a pitch from Fernando Rodney. Culberson quickly hit the ground and was checked on by team trainers and coaches. He was carted off after a few minutes, with the trainers trying to slow his bleeding with towels.
Culberson was alert and aware at the hospital, the Braves said. They won’t have a further update until Sunday.
“You have one of your teammates that everybody loves in this room,” said manager Brian Snitker, who couldn’t finish his thought as he fought off tears during an emotional post-game interview. “So we’re just praying for Charlie.”
Minutes after Culberson was hit, Ronald Acuna ripped a two-run double to left. The Braves would add another pair that inning and four more on the night, going on to win 10-1 and taking their final series in Washington. It secured the Braves’ place in the postseason for a second consecutive year and dropped their magic number to clinch the National League East to four.
The seventh inning turned into the team’s rallying point. When Culberson left the field, the umpires called his play a strike rather than a hit by pitch. Snitker angrily argued until he was ejected by first-base umpire Bill Welke. It was the 13th ejection of Snitker’s career.
“I’m sitting here looking at this guy pouring blood on the ground and I’m like, ‘come on,’” Snitker said, electing not to elaborate further. Plate umpire Tim Timmons explained the process to a pool reporter after the game.
“Dave Martinez, the Nationals manager, was saying something to me, and I couldn’t hear him, so I walked over and said what’s going on,” Timmons said. “He said, ‘We’d like you to check if (Culberson) offered at the pitch.’ I said ‘OK, I understand that.’ ”
Welke ruled that Culberson offered at the pitch. Snitker responded with evident frustration, which Timmons reiterated he understood, but “the rules are the rules.” Catcher Brian McCann referred to the call as “ridiculous.”
Nine runs after Culberson was hit, the Braves locked down a postseason spot.
Adam Duvall struck out to finish Culberson’s at-bat, but Acuna and Ozzie Albies followed with extra-base hits. Nick Markakis finished the frame with an RBI single, his second of the game and third run knocked in since returning Friday.
Mike Foltynewicz returned to the place where he melted down in late June. Foltynewicz allowed eight runs in that outing, forcing the Braves to demote him to Triple-A.
The former All-Star has since looked revived. He allowed one run Saturday via Anthony Rendon’s RBI double in the first inning. He retired 11 consecutive hitters to end his afternoon, not allowing a National to reach after the third frame.
He finished at six innings, lifted because of the Braves’ golden offensive opportunity in a 1-1 game. Foltynewicz, who threw 89 pitches, held the Nationals to four hits, walking one and striking out five.
After the game, Foltynewicz sent his best wishes to Culberson and spoke about his inspirational teammate.
“People don’t know the human being,” Foltynewicz said. “He’s just one of the best teammates you could have. I look up to him as a father. He has three kids. It’s his kid’s birthday today, one of them. He’s an awesome father. I look up to him and want to be like him as a father. So when you see that kind of stuff happen, a lot of things go through your head. But first off, we want him to be alright. He’s as good a human being as there is.”
It was another promising outing for Foltynewicz, who owns a sub-3.00 ERA since returning from his demotion. It’s yet to be seen how the Braves will handle their postseason rotation, but Foltynewicz is building a case to be part of it.
Left-hander Max Fried will face former Brave Anibal Sanchez in Sunday’s series finale. The Braves are trying to sweep the Nationals by winning their fifth consecutive game in the nation’s capital.
Their NL East lead, which is far less relevant than the magic number at this point, is 10-1/2 games over the Nationals, who hold the first wild-card spot.
“We came into this series - when we played them at home, that was a huge series,” McCann said. “We answered the bell. We came here and did the same thing. This team is for real and we’re excited.”
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