Wednesday was an afternoon of missed scoring chances and men stranded on base. The Braves just barely scraped by with their last chance.
In the ninth, Charlie Culberson sat at third with two outs for Tyler Flowers. Flowers grounded out to third, but first baseman Brandon Belt’s foot slipped off the bag as he received the throw. The call stood after a lengthy review, scoring the winning run as boos serenaded AT&T Park.
“With the naked eye, I thought (he was off the base),” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I did. I couldn’t tell on the replay. I didn’t see it well enough.”
However controversial, the 2-1 win secured a 6-1 western trip for the Braves, their best since 2011. It cut their magic number to 11. It completed a sweep of the downward-spiraling Giants, whose losing streak reached 11.
It was fair to wonder how the seven-game trip would play out, given the Braves’ spotty history out west. Instead the team went full throttle, winning several barnburners in route to their biggest divisional lead of the season.
“That’s big, especially after our last series at home (swept by Boston),” said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who extended his birthday hitting streak to eight. “To put that behind us, what we did on this road trip, that was big. We’ve been playing really good baseball. Our pitching staff, our starters, that’s the reason that we won today.”
Freeman was responsible for the Braves’ first run, knocking in Ozzie Albies after his double. The Braves loaded the bases with none out in the seventh, but couldn’t bring a runner to the plate.
Pinch-hitter Adam Duvall, who’s endured an elongated slump since joining the team, popped out in foul ground. He’s 4-for-42 with the Braves. Ronald Acuna then struck out, while Albies hit a weak grounder to conclude the team’s best scoring chance.
The Giants blew their own chance in the bottom of the frame, when Jesse Biddle’s throwing error would’ve put two on with none out. Instead, Alen Hanson had rounded first, but elected to stay put in fair territory. He was tagged out while strolling back to the base.
Biddle took advantage of the mistake. After intentionally walking Evan Longoria, he struck out Brandon Belt. Albies then made a spinning throw to first that nailed Brandon Crawford and left Joe Panik stranded.
Braves starter Anibal Sanchez worked through six innings only allowing a run, an impressive feat given how often he was forced to work his way out of peril. He walked a season-high five hitters, making Wednesday only the fifth time in 21 starts that he’s exceeded two walks.
“Today was one of those outings where I don’t have the command I’m used to having,” Sanchez said. “I don’t want to be around the middle of the zone. I didn’t have the best command today. But those guys, they helped me a lot. The defense did so much today ... that was the key to the game today.”
The Giants loaded the bases in the first, with Sanchez issuing back-to-back walks. He coaxed a double-play ball from Crawford to escape unscathed. He did so again in the fifth, drawing a double play from Panik.
Longoria’s single put the Giants up 1-0 in the third. Yet despite having a runner on every inning, Sanchez persisted. He was even taken to the ground in the sixth after Gregor Blanco stepped on his foot as Sanchez tagged first for an out.
The righty stayed in the game, striking out Gorkys Hernandez on with his butterfly pitch and retiring Hunter Pence on an infield pop-up.
“It scared me as soon as it happened,” Sanchez said of the play at first. “I felt like something worse happened. I felt a lot of pain in the moment. I tried to stand up and walk to the mound. I wanted to finish the inning and keep the score (at 1-1) so the team could do what they always do late in the game.”
In a season of gutsy performances, Sanchez’s may not be topped. Regardless of the Giants’ offensive struggles, for him to eat six innings and hold them to a run without his best stuff was the veteran-savvy showing for which he was acquired.
“He did a great job,” Snitker said. “Bend and not break was way overused. He made good pitches when he had to against good hitters. That’s the thing. ... He made big pitches when he had to.”
The Phillies began their game against the Nationals as the Braves wrapped up. The NL East lead could grow to 7 1/2 games, and the magic number fall to 10, with a Phillies loss Wednesday night.
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