The Braves, clinging to a 7-5 lead in the 10th, thought the game was over. The Padres’ Francisco Mejia skied a pitch into the San Diego night, what surely appeared to be a winning three-run homer. It felt like everyone at Petco Park – players, coaches, fans, media – thought the home team would at least tie it, if not walk it off.
Nick Markakis caught the ball while slamming into the quirky-shaped right-field wall. After a walk, Padres reliever Luis Perdomo was forced to hit with the bases loaded because his team was out of position players. Luke Jackson struck him out, escaping with his latest adventurous save.
“I knew it was going to be close,” Markakis said of the catch. “I was just getting back there to time my jump. I’m just glad I came up with it and we won the ballgame.”
The 7-5 victory secured the Braves’ first series win in San Diego since 2011, a baffling stat given the Padres’ perpetual rebuild over that period. Yet this Braves offense, lately propelled by a rejuvenated Josh Donaldson, has made the team borderline unstoppable.
Now 9-0-1 in their last 10 series, the Braves are cementing themselves near the top of the National League’s upper-class. Their maturation has happened so quickly, much of the youth doesn’t recognize how swift a process it’s been.
It isn’t always pretty. Take Julio Teheran’s six-inning, three-run performance that was anything but aesthetically appealing. Or Sean Newcomb’s relief appearance, when he walked struggling Wil Myers to put two on with two down in the ninth yet struck out budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. to send the game to extras. Or Jackson’s performance, which was among his shakiest. He ran a full count to a batting relief pitcher (who tripled four times in 2017) but yielded a win.
“It’s right up there (among our most thrilling wins),” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “First time we’ve won a series here since ’11. That was an exciting game, my God. That was very exciting. It was big. Those guys were into it and when that last out was made, there was eruption. (The players) put a lot into that one. When you come back, especially against a good ballclub – there’s a lot of energy in the stadium. It was a big win for us.”
The Padres are much like the late-2017, early 2018 Braves. They’re flush with youth, exciting position prospects and an endless supply of arms. They have veterans to complement the core. They’re learning to win, and their crowds and atmosphere is returning with great enthusiasm and interest (over 43,000 filled Petco Park on Saturday).
This series is the latest example of why the Braves are so far beyond similar adolescence.
Donaldson has six RBIs in two games, homering three times. Ronald Acuna extended his on-base streak to 19 games with a home run. Ozzie Albies delivered the go-ahead hit in the 10th. Tyler Flowers overcame his poor night behind the plate with a rocketed two-run double that proved the difference.
The Braves tied a modern-era franchise record by reaching the 500-run mark in their 93rd game. They improved to 8-3 in extra-inning affairs, a testament to their mental and physical strength. They moved to 28-18 on the road.
And make no mistake, playing in front of energetic, sold-out crowds so regularly is a boon for a team hoping to avenge last year’s postseason failure.
“Lately in Atlanta, we’ve had (a playoff atmosphere) every day,” Albies said. “It’s good for us to always play in that, get used to it. It’s going to be huge.”
Mejia’s near game-winner will loom largest over the latest emotion tug of war. When the bat smashed the ball, it had the trajectory of a second-deck blast. Even with it dropping into the field of play, if Markakis misses or plays it off the wall, the game is tied.
Markakis came through with perhaps his best play of the season. As the Braves like to say, a different hero every night.
“I thought that ball was out when he hit it,” Snitker said. “I thought it was out and he made a great play.”
Albies added: “I thought that ball was gone off the bat. As soon as he caught it, if you saw me, I had my hands up. I couldn’t believe it. Great catch.”
Gone are the struggles in San Diego. Over the past two seasons, these Braves seem to constantly erase droughts. With each encounter of newfound success, they also erase doubts.
The Braves and Padres wrap up the series Sunday when a pair of Canadian friends face off: Mike Soroka versus Cal Quantrill. A win would push the Braves 20 games over .500.