It was a two-rookie debut night for the Braves with the Dodgers in town and a buzz among the Tuesday crowd of more than 32,000 at SunTrust Park, large for an early week game in Atlanta against anyone other than the Cubs, Cardinals, Yankees or Red Sox.
Second baseman Ozzie Albies and pitcher Lucas Sims weren’t enough to help the Braves end a losing streak that reached six games with a 3-2 defeat in a series opener against the Dodgers, but each made a good impression and the Braves made things interesting in the eighth when Albies drew a walk and fellow rookie Johan Camargo followed with a two-run homer.
The Braves, losers of 12 of 15 games since they got back to .500, had the potential tying run at third base when Freddie Freeman hit a soft flare to third base to end the inning.
“It was special,” said Sims, the former Brookwood High standout, who pitched six quality innings against the majors’ hottest and best team in his big-league debut. “Definitely a day I’ll never forget. Wish I could’ve executed a couple pitches better. Get back at it the next day.”
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The Dodgers are a stunning 20-2 since July 4, their only losses in that stretch coming against the Braves in consecutive games July 20-21. They won 11 straight before that and nine in a row since.
Sims allowed six hits and three runs in six innings with no walks and three strikeouts, and both he and Albies — 0-for-2, one walk — heard plenty of applause each time they were introduced.
“It felt great,” Albies said. “Didn’t expect that big applause. I was like ‘oh wow. It’s time to go.’”
Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “It’s exciting for all of us to see our young guys, and another one of our young guys got us right back in this ballgame with a two-run homer. So it’s good to see our players coming up here and doing well.”
All the promise in the air and thoughts of a brighter future for the Braves couldn’t help muster anything in seven scoreless innings against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda (10-4), but they broke through in the eighth after a leadoff walk from Albies against reliever Josh Ravin in Albies’ third MLB plate appearance (he grounded out and flied out in the first two).
Camargo followed with his third home run to cut the lead to 3-2, and Brandon Phillips kept the rally going with a first-pitch pinch-hit single off left-hander Tony Watson. Phillips advanced on an Ender Inciarte sacrifice and went to third on a ground-out before Freeman ended the inning.
Maeda didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning and limited the Braves to two hits and one walk with six strikeouts while not allowing a runner to reach second base. After Freeman drew a two-out walk in the first inning, the right-hander retired the next 10 batters before Tyler Flowers’ leadoff single in the fifth.
The Braves have lost nine of 10 games since their shocking wins in the first two games of a four-game series at Dodger Stadium, two of only seven losses for the Dodgers during a blistering 40-6 run since June 7 and their only consecutive losses in that period.
During that torrid stretch, they rank first in the majors in home runs and ERA in that stretch and first in the National League in scoring and OPS.
They built a 3-0 lead against Sims with a run apiece in the third, fourth and fifth innings. The first of those might have been unearned if a leadof double by Yasiel Puig in the third inning had been ruled an error by third baseman Danny Santana on a call that could’ve gone either way. One bunt later, Chris Taylor doubled for a 1-0 lead.
Cody Bellinger led off the fourth inning with a homer on a 2-2 pitch, the 29th for the overwhelming favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.
The Dodgers added a run in the third when Puig led off with a single, moved up on a sacrifice, then stole third and came home on catcher Flowers’ throwing error on the play.
“I thought (Sims) did a great job,” Snitker said. “He was aggressive. I loved the way he was getting after it.”
Since scoring 18 runs those two wins against the Dodgers July 20-21, the Braves have lost nine of their past 10 and scored three runs or fewer seven times in that stretch.
And after sweeping the Diamondbacks in the first three games coming back from the All-Star break to get back to .500 at the 90-game mark, the Braves have lost 12 of 15 and scored three runs or fewer in 10 of those games including two runs or fewer in six games.
“It’ll turn eventually,” Snitker said. “We just keep grinding through this thing and handling it and coming out every day and playing like that, we’ll be OK.”
And for one night, the disappointment over the final score was tempered a bit by the positive vibes generated by the two Braves rookied who debuted and the other rookie who hit a two-run homer.
“It was cool,” Sims said. “There was a little sense of comfort looking back there (to Albies at second base) and seeing a familiar face, a guy I’ve played with for a couple years now. Happy that I get to share the day with him.”