A Braves winning streak that had crackled with energy, drawn national attention and captured the imagination of the team’s fan base, ended rather quietly Saturday against the lowly Marlins.
Adeiny Hechavarria hit a leadoff triple in the ninth inning and scored on Jordan Walden’s wild pitch to hand the Braves a 1-0 defeat at Turner Field, ending their winning streak at 14 games.
Rookie Alex Wood pitched six scoreless innings of two-hit ball, but the Braves mustered only three hits in their first loss since July 25 and first home loss since July 14. It was the longest winning streak in major league history to end on a wild pitch, and the 1-0 score was the same as the Braves’ April 17 loss to Kansas City to end a 10-game winning streak.
“It stinks,” Wood said. “I mean, it was bound to end sometime. What we’ve done the past three-fourths of a month, whatever it’s been, has been pretty special. We’ve been playing great ball from every aspect – hitting, pitching, defense. And tonight we pitched well and played great defense, and the bats just weren’t there.
“So it’s just one of those days in baseball. Get back to the grind tomorrow and hopefully start a new winning streak.”
Paul Janish struck out to end the game after Evan Gattis’ two-out single in the ninth. Janish had replaced third baseman Chris Johnson after the National League batting leader was ejected following a first-inning strikeout.
“It’s hard when the guy who’s leading the league in hitting gets thrown out of the game,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But you can’t control your temper sometimes. It’s competitiveness, and he’s probably the No. 1 competitive guy we have on our club.”
Said Johnson: “I’m one of those guys that wants to be in the game the whole time, and wants to be in that spot. So yeah, I’m kicking myself a little bit.”
Janish is the only backup third baseman on the current roster. Gonzalez didn’t want to use rookie outfielder Joey Terdoslavich, a good hitter and former minor league third baseman, because he would’ve been a defensive liability at that position if the game continued.
“And you feel good that Pauly’s going to give you a good at-bat,” Gonzalez said. “It was never a situation where he could do something that he does well, either hit-and-run or bunt. That scenario never came up. You know, it is what it is. We had some other guys who had some opportunities.”
Wood had his best start for the Braves, and the bullpen was typically solid in the seventh and eighth, including three consecutive strikeouts by David Carpenter. But the Marlins pulled out a win on Hechevarria’s drive to the left-center gap, and a 1-2 wild pitch in the dirt to the next batter, Ed Lucas.
“It was a slider down,” Walden said. “Tough break, man.”
The winning streak was the fourth-longest in Braves franchise history and second-longest since the team moved to Atlanta, behind only a 15-game streak in April-May 2000.
Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi allowed just one hit and three walks in seven innings, with eight strikeouts.
“You’ve got to tip your hat if a guy throws well enough to keep you to one hit for that long,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “A loss is a loss. You don’t want to lose. You try not to give away games, try not to give away at-bats. Tonight’s over. Fourteen games. Great job. We’ll just come back tomorrow and play some more baseball and take care of winning this series.”
Walden left the game with two out in the ninth after getting hit in the right hand by a groundout. There was some swelling, but X-rays were negative and he wasn’t expected to require time on the disabled list.
Wood shrugged off a 54-minute rain delay between the first and second innings and allowed just two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. The rookie left-hander continued the steady improvement he’s made in four starts since moving into the rotation. (He also made an earlier spot start in a June 18 doubleheader).
His performance was matched by counterpart Eovaldi, who cooled what had been a sizzling Braves lineup.
The Braves’ second hit was Andrelton Simmons’ infield one-out infield single off reliever Chad Qualls in the eighth. The Braves brought in hot-hitting Brian McCann to pinch-hit — he was out of the lineup to rest a sore knee — and the Marlins countered with lefty Mike Dunn, who struck him out before inducing a inning-ending ground out by Heyward.
After Christian Yelich started the game with a single, Wood didn’t give up another hit until Jeff Mathis’ two-out single in the fifth. The other other Marlins to reach base did so on a first-inning walk and a sixth-inning throwing error by Dan Uggla.
Johnson was ejected after striking out on three pitches to end the first inning, then spiking his helmet and saying something that home-plate umpire Jim Joyce deemed unacceptable.
“I’m sure there were a couple of things I said that he didn’t like, so he said that was it for me,” Johnson said.
He watched the first two and seemed to check his swing on the third, though that, too, was listed as a called strike on the official play-by-play.
“It wasn’t the last pitch; I thought I swung at the last pitch,” Johnson said. “Just the whole at-bat, I thought maybe there were some pitches in that at-bat that weren’t strikes. In a big situation. Obviously we didn’t have that situation come up much in this game, off a really good pitcher.”
He was replaced by defensively superb, light-hitting infielder Janish.
In Johnson’s past 71 games before Saturday, he hit .350 with 17 doubles and six homers, including .404 (23-for-57) with two homers and 12 RBIs during the winning streak.
“You feel good about Janish catching the ball,” Gonzalez said. “He made a couple of nice plays defensively. But yeah, you’d rather have C.J. getting three or four at-bats.”
Moments after Johnson was tossed and Gonzalez came out to discuss the situation with Joyce, a downpour ensued and the tarp was quickly brought out to cover the infield.
After the rain delay, Wood was not only on the mound, he was sharper than before. He retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings, and Mathis’ single in the fifth ended a string of 12 consecutive batters set down by Wood.
Wood said the rain delay allowed everyone to regain composure.
“From the top of the first, a couple of pitches I threw — especially the first one to Yelich, I thought was a strike,” he said. “And then obviously C.J., when he got tossed in the bottom of the first. I think (the delay) let everyone cool down a little bit and kind of re-focus. It was probably good from my standpoint and the guy behind the plate tonight. He ended up doing an awesome job, too.”
The only time the Marlins had two runners on base against Wood was the first inning, when he struck out Placido Polanco after a Logan Morrison two-out walk.
It was another step in the development in the first full season of pro ball for Wood. He allowed eight hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Mets on July 25, his first game filling in for Paul Maholm and the last game the Braves lost.
He worked seven strong innings (six innings, three runs, one walk, seven strikeouts) against Colorado in his next start for his first big-league win. At Philadelphia on Sunday, he allowed two hits and one run in six innings and got another win.
And on Saturday, the former University of Georgia standout raised his performance again.
“That was pretty darn good by both (starting pitchers),” Gonzalez said. “Eovaldi was really good, and Woody matched him zero for zero, we just couldn’t get anything going. I thought Woody really did a good job, for a kid experiencing this for the first time. Rain delay, sitting around for an hour, going back out there. I thought it was a big start for him.”
Just as Wood shut down a punchless Marlins lineup made weaker by the absence of Giancarlo Stanton (day off), Eovaldi did the the same against the Braves, who’d batted .293 and averaged nearly six runs per game during the 14-game streak.
Their only hit against him was Freddie Freeman’s two-out single in the first. Gattis followed with a walk before Johnson’s strikeout and ejection.
From that point, Eovaldi recorded 19 outs in the last 20 batters he faced. He allowed only two walks in that span, and Heyward was erased after a leadoff walk in the third when Justin Upton grounded into a double play. Upton’s 13-game hitting streak was also snapped Saturday.
Eovaldi had only two wins in nine starts before Saturday, through no fault of his own. All but one of the right-hander’s outings was a quality start, and he allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of those games. Eovaldi had a 1.42 ERA in his previous three starts, but only an 0-1 record in that stretch thanks to a complete lack of run support.
The Marlins had failed to score even a single run while he was in any of his past four games before Saturday.
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