Then, in the ninth inning, Melancon allowed four runs on four hits, including two-run doubles by Marcell Ozuna and Kolten Wong. That gave the Cardinals a 7-3 lead, which was large enough to hold up through the Braves’ three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.
“They made solid contact on two 0-2 pitches there,” said Melancon, referring to Dexter Fowler’s single and Ozuna’s double. “Wong made a nice hit down the line with good contact (on the first pitch of an at-bat). So it just comes down to execution on my part.
“I tip my cap because it was a good job by them. … But in my mind those pitches have to be better.”
The Braves turned the game over to their bullpen with two outs in the fifth inning, when starter Dallas Keuchel was lifted after allowing a run that tied the score 1-1. The bullpen held up for a while. Darren O’Day got the final out of the fifth. Shane Greene worked a scoreless sixth despite a leadoff double. Max Fried pitched a 1-2-3 seventh with two strikeouts, and by then the Braves led 3-1.
“We had the whole thing set up right where we wanted it,” manager Brian Snitker said.
But then it all went wrong, the bullpen allowing six runs over the final two innings. Eight of the Cardinals’ 14 hits in the game came during the eighth and ninth innings.
Snitker’s plan had been for Chris Martin to pitch the eighth and Melancon the ninth. Martin took the mound to start the eighth but was removed with left oblique tightness during his warm-up pitches.
“It just kind of throws everything for a loop right there,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said of the untimely injury.
Luke Jackson entered the game unexpectedly and surrendered a 446-foot home run to left field by the first batter he faced, Paul Goldschmidt, to trim the Braves’ lead to 3-2. Jackson retired the next two batters, but then allowed back-to-back singles. Enter Melancon, who lost the lead in the eighth (on a run charged to Jackson) and the game in the ninth.
“The (rest of the) bullpen did good in my opinion,” Melancon said. “It was me that did bad.”
Now the bullpen must rebound from the late-inning implosion as the Braves try to get the series back on track.
“It’s something we have to move on from,” Melancon said. “We saw what our offense can do in the last inning there.”