In a night of history, deGrom drew first blood. He became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out 13 and homer in two games across one campaign. He also did so April 3.
Acuna again etched his name in the record books with a steal in the eighth inning, awarding him a 30-30 season. With 36 homers and 30 steals, Acuna has a chance at the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history. Acuna is already the second youngest to reach 30-30, joining Mike Trout as the only players to do such before turning 22.
As for the game itself, Tyler Flowers walked to open the 14th. Hechavarria thought he’d brought him home for a lead, but the ball was stuck under padding and ruled a ground-rule double upon review. Rafael Ortega, a hero earlier this week against the Dodgers, struck out with both in scoring position.
Then came Hamilton, the man who wasn’t supposed to get much burn in the batter’s box. He joined the team earlier this week, appointed a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. He’d entered the game in the 10th to do just the latter.
Hamilton shot one between first and second, scoring Flowers and winning the game for his new team. The long-time Reds outfielder who spent most of this season with the rebuilding Royals had come through with a timely hit in a pennant race.
“One of the best feelings of my life besides my first stolen base in the major leagues,” Hamilton said. “That might be at the top, especially coming over here knowing I wasn’t getting as much playing time as I have in my career. Knowing my role over here. I got a chance to come in and run earlier and got a chance to stay in the game, which was exciting for me.”
It was Hamilton’s first hit and RBI for the Braves, who’ve won six straight. And perhaps it’s the beginning of another productive stint for a non-celebrated move under general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ regime.
The Braves believe their culture and environment brings the best out of whomever enters it. We’re seeing it with Hechavarria, who was dumped by the Mets one day before he was due a $1 million bonus. We’ve seen it with Charlie Culberson, Anibal Sanchez, Anthony Swarzak, Matt Joyce; there’s a lengthy list jotted down since last April.
Hamilton and Hechavarria are stopgaps, acquired as depth while the team persists through injury woes. They’re also a pair of veterans who offer a defined skillset that’s already winning the Braves games.
“I’ve been with a bunch of struggling teams, which were good, it was just bad timing,” said Hamilton, offering a diplomatic take. “Then I come over here to be with a team that already won a ton of games before I got here and has won a few since I got here. It’s just amazing to be part of this, especially coming from a winning family who’s very competitive. I fit right in with these guys. They’ve welcomed me right in so it makes it easy for me to come in here and not worry about getting to know a lot of guys, be all shy. I feel like I know all these guys. They all have fun. They all play the game the right way. They’re all competitive. I’m excited to be here.”
Hechavarria concurred (via team interpreter Franco Garcia): “It means a lot (to be here). It’s weird to say but it feels like I’ve been here for years. The way I’ve been treated by everyone since I’ve arrived, it’s been great. To be part of a playoff contender is a really cool experience and it’s great to be here.”
It’s that atmosphere on which the Braves hang their hat. They feel they can maximize their players, be it a defensive specialist, speed demon, one-dimensional slugger. Whatever the role, the Braves feel that player can not only showcase his best skills, but expand his game beyond expectations.
Lefty Max Fried starts for the Braves on Saturday. Fried will don “Love You Ty” on the back of his players weekend jersey, a salute to his late friend Tyler Skaggs who tragically died earlier this season. The Mets will start Georgia native Zack Wheeler.