The Braves had a little juice leftover from 2018 after all. A seven-run deficit was just another minor blockade in their latest last-out comeback.
After an uninspiring Game 1 loss, the Braves made the most of their Saturday nightcap in Cleveland. They scored five times in the ninth, defeating the Indians 8-7 in a development that was near impossible to conceive even an inning earlier.
“Our guys never quit,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve done it before. It’s always a possibility. Once the line kept moving, guys just kept having good at-bats. Nobody was chasing, that’s the big thing. They were taking their walks, which led to everything happening.”
It was the Braves’ largest comeback since 2012, when they rallied from nine runs down in an 11-10 win over the Nationals.
Trailing 7-3, the Braves discovered the ninth-inning mastery they displayed so often last season. Nick Markakis began the rally with his typical single. After Johan Camargo lined out, Dansby Swanson and Tyler Flowers drew walks. Ender Inciarte struck out with the bases loaded, leaving them in a two-out scenario.
Ozzie Albies hit a ball just over Jake Bauers at first, making it a 7-5 game. Freddie Freeman drew a walk, pulling the Braves within another run. Ronald Acuna, who’d been held in check through the day, doubled down the left-field line, chasing home the tying and go-ahead runs.
“Once it was my at-bat, I focused in,” Acuna said through team interpreter Franco Garcia. “We’ve never given up. We’ve never surrendered. We work hard until that 27th out is made. … With every victory, it helps our energy and confidence. Every win boosts the morale like that.”
This time it wasn’t the Braves’ bullpen that imploded. The Indians required four pitchers in the ninth, none of whom could close the door. Indians reliever Dan Ortero allowed Swanson’s two-run homer earlier in the evening that gave the Braves a small level of hope.
The Braves’ relief core, meanwhile, didn’t allow a run in Game 2. The combination of Shane Carle, Chad Sobotka, Dan Winkler, Luke Jackson and A.J. Minter was fruitful.
Carle was the unsung hero. The 26th man permitted for a doubleheader, Carle gave the Braves 3-2/3 scoreless innings. What was once a footnote in a blowout became a critical piece of a galvanizing win.
“You know your role when you’re the 26th man,” Carle said. “I was fortunate I got in the game as soon as I did. It’s been a while since I’d done that (thrown 61 pitches). So I’ll just go back to (Triple-A) Gwinnett tomorrow and be ready when they need me.”
It was a desperately needed victory – as far as April goes – for the Braves. They were swept at home by Arizona. They were outclassed in Game 1 in Cleveland. They were in a deep hole less than a half-hour into Game 2, with Trevor Bauer on the opposing mound.
The Braves have yet to click at once. The offense has sputtered at times. The rotation has been mostly excellent, outside the occasional Touki Toussaint or Sean Newcomb breakdown. The bullpen absorbs most of the criticism, though it certainly won’t for Saturday night.
This was the type of reminder that the Braves are the defending National League East champions. It’s a bit too early to panic.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Freeman said. “It was tough to get knocked down in the first two innings against Bauer. … I think when Dansby hit that home run, we said ‘Oh, we’ve still got a chance in this.’ When Nick got that lead-off single, you could feel the dugout get a little more energized. Things just started going our way, good at-bats. You just felt it was going the way it needed to go for us to come back.”
The Braves found themselves in the early deficit because Toussaint struggled mightily in his first start of the season, giving up seven runs in 1-1/3 innings. Toussaint threw 60 pitches (31 strikes) in his 1-1/3 innings of work.
He was charged with seven earned runs, undoubtedly marking his worst showing in the majors. Toussaint had a 3.33 ERA (10 earned runs across 27 innings) in his previous five MLB starts.
Toussaint, 22, didn’t make the opening-day roster largely due to his unpredictable command, which often manifests in the earlier innings. Until he reels it in, Toussaint will likely struggle to find a stable role on the big-league club.
Sunday night’s series finale puts lefty Max Fried against fellow emerging youngster Shane Bieber.
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