An infield single by the pitcher. A throwing error. An extra-base hit. An unlikely bounce. Consecutive liners to right field. A 1-1 tie spiraling into a 4-1 deficit.
Sometimes it’s just not your inning.
That series of unfortunate events led to the Braves losing to the Nationals 5-3 on Saturday at SunTrust Park. It also snapped an eight-game win streak with Mike Soroka on the mound.
“There were a couple balls that (fifth) inning,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Anibal (Sanchez) got it started with a swinging bunt. It was just one of those innings you have every now and then.”
It was a 1-1 game when the fifth began. Sanchez’s infield single sparked the fire, when he reached and advanced on a Josh Donaldson throw that extended beyond Freddie Freeman’s reach at first. Trea Turner belted the next pitch – a slider down the middle – for a double that plated Sanchez.
Soroka, so good at escaping peril, couldn’t overcome the forces at hand. Adam Eaton chopped a ball for an infield single. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto lined singles at Nick Markakis. The Nationals took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“That’s always going to happen,” Soroka said regarding bad-luck innings, especially as a ground-ball pitcher. “Then you’re going to have nights where every ball is hit to everybody. It’s one thing you’re aware of as a guy who gets the ball on the ground. You just have to keep pitching.”
Soroka had won 10 consecutive decisions and the Braves had won his last eight starts. But since June 12 in Pittsburgh, the All-Star has cooled considerably. Soroka owns a 4.37 ERA in his last seven starts (37 innings). Granted, his last start before Saturday featured seven shutout frames and nine strikeouts in San Diego.
Luck didn’t favor the Braves’ offense either. Their snake-bitten fifth wasn’t limited to defensive mishaps. The Braves loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning against Sanchez. Shortstop Turner, who’s accustomed to tormenting the Braves, made a leaping grab to snag Markakis’ liner. He then fired to first for an inning-ending double play.
“He’s a good player, a live-body player,” Snitker said of Turner. And if that ball eludes his grasp, perhaps the game looks quite different.
Later in the night, Ender Inciarte stole second with two down in the eighth, positioning the tying run with a red-hot Ronald Acuna at the plate. Sean Doolittle struck Acuna out on five pitches.
Brian McCann pulled the Braves within a run in the sixth, golfing a home run just over the right-field wall. The Braves otherwise left 10 men on base.
The Nationals tacked on an insurance run against lefty A.J. Minter in the eighth. Minter, who was demoted to Triple-A for struggles earlier in the season, simply hasn’t found his groove. He’s walked 12 in his last 12-2/3 innings (15 appearances) and allowed five runs in his last four outings.
“He got a save the other day and was really good, but it’s just been up and down for him,” Snitker said. “He just has to keep fighting. He’s been through this before. He’s closed games, pitched high-leverage innings. He just has to get back to believing in his stuff. Don’t try to do too much. Stay on the attack.”
The Braves will go for a series split on Sunday night on ESPN. Kevin Gausman is returning from the injured list and making his first start since June 10.
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