The Braves acquired slugger Adam Duvall last trade deadline as an additional weapon in the 2018 pennant race. It took over a year, but the return on investment is through the roof.
Silenced by Adam Wainwright almost the entire day, Atlanta struck St. Louis closer Carlos Martinez for three runs in the ninth, stunning the Cardinals and taking Game 3 3-1 in St. Louis on Sunday. The Braves took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
» MARK BRADLEY: A classic game, a massive win
“This is what they do,” manager Brian Snitker said. “This has been their DNA for a couple years now. I said it's like an NBA game. You don't want to leave this team in the seventh inning because they could lay around dead in the water and everything happened in the last hour of the game or 30 minutes of the game. That's kind of what they do.
“They never quit. They never give up. The heart and desire and will is unbelievable in those guys. Doesn't always work out. But I know the DNA of this team is really, really good.”
The dramatic win moved the Braves within one game of advancing to the league championship series. They’re one win away from that elusive postseason series victory, from advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
It all started with their big free-agent addition. Josh Donaldson opened the ninth with a roaring double to left field. He was replaced by pinch-runner Billy Hamilton. Nick Markakis and Adeiny Hechavarria struck out, but Hamilton swiped third with two down.
Brian McCann was intentionally walked, setting up Martinez versus Dansby Swanson. The shortstop hammered the first pitch he saw, a slider, off the left field wall, evening the score at 1-1.
“I've never not liked him in that defining moment of a game,” Snitker said of the Georgia-born Swanson. “For some reason, I feel like he lives for that.”
It was unquestionably the most significant moment of Swanson’s career. He was held out of last year’s postseason due to a wrist injury. He wanted to make the most of his first trip, adding to the October history of the team he grew up cheering on.
“Never liked watching,” Swanson said, referencing last season’s NLDS. “I had to do it at points this year too (heel injury). It's not fun, but you can grow and learn in every situation you're faced with. In times of adversity you learn and grow the most. I'm thankful for the ups and the downs and it's kind of led me to this moment now. Like I said, just so thankful to be able to do it with these guys.”
The Braves weren’t finished. Pinch-hitter Duvall, who blasted a key two-run homer in Game 2, laced a single that dropped in center field. It scored two more runs, giving the Braves the lead and an insurance run.
It was another big moment from a player who didn’t even crack the team’s major-league roster until July. A player many thought would be non-tendered last winter.
On Oct. 6, Duvall cemented himself as an individual who will forever be remembered in Braves history.
“I'm just trying to be ready,” Duvall said. “I'm getting ready from about the second or third inning on. So just so that when they call my name I'm fully ready to go into the game and prepared. And like Dansby was saying earlier, that kind of lets me relax a little bit, knowing that I've put in the work before the game that way, just go out there and react. So I'll be ready whenever they need me.”
In came closer Mark Melancon for the third time in the series to wrap up the ninth. He held the Cardinals at bay, leaving a runner on third and collecting his second save in as many nights.
“I think that’s the best game I’ve ever been part of,” said first baseman Freddie Freeman. “That was a roller coaster of emotions right there at the end.”
Two days after Mike Foltynewicz perhaps saved the Braves with seven magnificent innings, Mike Soroka equaled him with his a masterful first-career postseason outing. Soroka went seven frames, allowing two hits – both to Marcell Ozuna – and striking out seven.
Soroka retired 17 consecutive Cardinals — a franchise postseason record — between Ozuna hits in the second and seventh frames. He didn’t issue a walk, an accomplishment he achieved seven times in his 29 regular-season starts.
“Everything was going,” Soroka said. “It was one of those days where everything shows up to play. You kind of gotta take advantage of those days. Come out early, understand what's working. We mixed right away. Kind of put them on their heels and just kept going after them.
“So we just stayed in rhythm. Mac and I did an amazing job of switching things up when we needed to and understanding their plan and how we were going to execute ours.”
Ozuna’s first hit loomed large, when the former Marlins slugger perfectly placed a hit between first base and right field, resulting in a double. He advanced on a grounder and scored on Matt Carpenter’s sacrifice fly.
Wainwright slightly outdueled Soroka. The Georgia native dealt 7-2/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits. He departed in the eighth, after 120 pitches, after allowing a Swanson single and walking Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies.
Then came the Braves’ potential breakthrough. They had Freeman up with the bases loaded and two out against Andrew Miller, who the Cardinals paid for that very situation. Two pitches later, Freeman popped a slider out to center fielder Dexter Fowler, ending the inning.
“We had opportunities and we didn’t get the hit; me personally, I didn’t get the hit in the eighth inning,” Freeman said. “So we were up and down emotionally. Right when we thought we were going to break through, we weren’t able to do it. But that’s why this beautiful game is nine innings long, and we took advantage of that ninth inning.”
The bullpen navigated a dangerous situation in the eighth after Max Fried issued back-to-back walks. He coaxed a flyout from Paul DeJong before exiting. Darren O’Day and Sean Newcomb finished the frame, helped by Harrison Bader getting caught in a rundown between second and third.
That set up the Braves’ ninth-inning rally, an event they’ve staged so many times under Snitker but never on the playoff platform.
It clearly isn’t the same team that appeared so overwhelmed a year ago against Los Angeles. The Braves are thinking World Series and, given their performance thus far, there’s little reason to refute the possibility.
But for now, the emphasis is on getting one more win.
The Braves and Cardinals will play Game 4 Monday with Dakota Hudson set to start for St. Louis. The Braves haven’t yet announced their starter, but it will likely be left-hander Dallas Keuchel on short rest.
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