The Braves were trailing 8-7 with one out remaining Friday night. Brian McCann was down to his final strike after whiffing on would-have-been balls three and four.
A sold-out crowd of over 41,000 at SunTrust Park anxiously awaited what would become a monumental hit in franchise history.
McCann dropped a ball into left-center, driving home two runs, and the Braves defeated the Phillies 9-8. The second run was McCann’s 1,000th RBI, making him the 13th backstop to reach that mark.
And he did it in a Braves uniform, representing his family, which was the most important aspect.
“That was one of the best moments I’ve ever had,” he said. “To be able to get the win, and the fashion (my 1,000th RBI) happened, it’s something I’ll always remember. It’s everything.
“This is home for me. This town, this city means a lot to me. It’s where I grew up. To be able to come back home and do this is right up there as one of the best moments I’ve ever had.”
The Braves trailed 7-2 in the eighth inning. Their offense had achieved little against Nick Pivetta. They spent most of the night trying to crawl out of a hole after Max Fried was hit for five runs in 4-2/3 innings.
Even in the most improbable circumstances, the Braves give themselves a chance. That’s how they crushed expectations a season ago with a division crown. That’s how they’re 41-29, 2-1/2 games up on Philadelphia in the National League East. That’s why the team owns MLB’s longest current winning streak at eight games.
McCann homered earlier in the game, his third this week. He’s been every bit the integral piece the Braves expected when they brought him back in November. The 35-year-old Georgia native will file Friday’s heroics among his fondest memories, including homering in his second career game and winning the 2017 World Series with the Astros.
“It’s the perfect storm,” manager Brian Snitker said. “For him to get his first RBI and his 1,000th RBI with the Atlanta Braves is pretty special. To come back here and do what he’s done for our club, I can’t say enough. What he brings, the experience, the credibility, the work ethic. You have to do something right to get 1,000 RBIs in the big leagues. You have to play a long time and do it right in order to get that. What great punctuation for 1,000, walking a team off.”
The Braves staged their ninth-inning rally against Phillies closer Hector Neris – spoiling his birthday. Dansby Swanson opened the inning with a single. Neris retired Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson before walking Nick Markakis.
Austin Riley doubled, bringing the Braves within a run. McCann’s single dropped in front of Jay Bruce and the game was over.
“B-Mac saved the day,” Riley said. “I can’t even grasp it because I’m just beginning my career. Just to see that, it’s something special. I’ll look back and remember it the rest of my life.”
McCann is a true Braves icon. Debuting with the “Baby Braves” of 2005, he emerged as one of the game’s premier catchers. He’s beloved by fans, not only for being one of their own, but for his character and how he embodies what the Braves want to represent.
That’s why for him to achieve this feat in front of the largest crowd of the season, on a Friday night showdown with their chief division rival, was the optimal stage.
Swanson, a fellow Georgia native, watched McCann growing up. What happened Friday, he felt, was the appropriate outcome as McCann chased his latest milestone with his beloved organization.
“He personifies the ultimate baseball player,” Swanson said. “More than his physical ability of being able to hit – and the guy can hit – his ability behind the plate, to control the pitching staff, to call and control games is special. But all the intangibles that, I know I don’t have kids, but that you’d want your kids to be like on the baseball field. The things he sees, the things he takes pride in, the details that he looks into that qualify you to be a championship team and put you in those moments.
“Those are the things I can’t thank him enough for, just for the value it brings to our team and for us to personally learn from and understand the importance of the preparation. More than just generic presentation, how you can dive deeper.
“In this day and age, everyone knows analytics is a big part of the game. He does such a tremendous job with that balance of analytics, but also what a baseball mind would say. I’m so glad that he’s here, he’s back and that he was able to do what he did tonight. You can’t script it any better. Tremendous.”
The Braves have a knack for producing those movie-worthy scripts, especially in the past two seasons. Markakis began last season with a walk-off shot off Neris on opening day, and it hasn’t stalled since. For a team fresh off a rebuild – and out of it sooner than most expected – the mental fortitude the franchise demonstrates is a rare display across sports.
That’s why McCann seamlessly fit as if he never left. He returned to a team better than any of his prime. He returned to a team that, as more days peel off the calendar, looks more and more like a serious threat in the National League.
McCann was given a Gatorade bath and celebrated in the clubhouse after the game. The Braves are a tight-knit group, led by a manager who values chemistry over all else, and by players such as Freeman and McCann, who make camaraderie easy.
“They had a little thing for me,” McCann said about his teammates. “It’s these things I’ll remember forever. Making memories. I’m at a loss of words to be honest with you. This is incredible.”
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