Wins over National League West opponents have been rare for the Braves this season, and they let one get away in stunning fashion Saturday night at SunTrust Park.
The Braves led 3-0 with two out and nobody on base in the top of the ninth inning, but they wound up losing 5-3 to the Colorado Rockies in 10 innings -- surely one of the season’s worst losses.
After closer A.J. Minter retired the first two Colorado batters in the ninth inning on ground balls, the next four got hits, tying the game at 3-3. The Rockies won with two runs off reliever Luke Jackson in the 10th.
“Just pretty pathetic on my part,” Minter said after the game. “I was coming in to get three outs ... with a three-run lead -- and couldn’t get the job done. I’m going to have to wear that one.”
The bullpen meltdown dropped the Braves’ record against NL West teams to 9-17, much to the disappointment of a record SunTrust Park crowd of 42,143.
The loss was the Braves’ third in a row to the Rockies, who will attempt to sweep the four-game series in Sunday’s finale. The Braves carried a lead into the ninth inning in two of the three losses.
Saturday’s game marked just the third time in the 26-year history of the Colorado franchise that the Rockies won a road game in which they trailed by at least three runs in the ninth inning. The others came in 2001 at Cincinnati and 2015 at San Francisco, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Minter said a small cut on the outside of his left thumb, which occurred as he faced the Rockies’ first batter in the ninth inning, did not affect his performance.
“First or second pitch, (the) finger nails cut the side of my knuckle,” Minter said. “(It had) nothing to do with the outcome of the game.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker and trainer George Poulis went to the mound to check on Minter after the first out, because they saw him looking at his pitching hand. “I told them, ‘This has nothing to do with the way I’m throwing the ball,’” Minter said.
The Braves had taken a 2-0 lead on a two-out two-run single by Nick Markakis in the third inning and had stretched the lead to 3-0 on an RBI single by Freddie Freeman in the eighth inning. But Colorado’s four straight two-out hits in the ninth -- a double by Trevor Story, a single by David Dahl, a two-run double by Ian Desmond and a one-run pinch-hit single by Gerardo Parra – wiped out the night’s work by the Braves as Minter struggled to locate his pitches. No one was throwing in the Atlanta bullpen until after Desmond’s double.
“Throw it down the middle, they’re going to make you pay for it,” Minter said. “That’s major league baseball. It was pretty pathetic, especially when Folty (starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz) pitched the game he pitched and the hitters did their job.”
Snitker said of Minter’s performance: “He’s still a work in progress with the command thing. It hasn’t been great for a few outings, really. ... The biggest thing was, we didn’t get the lefties. Dahl’s was a big at-bat, and obviously Parra.
“I’m sure he gets amped up,” Snitker said of Minter. “He’s not a veteran closer. This is all new to him. ... He’s still trying to figure things out and how to do it.”
After Colorado tied the game in the top of the ninth, the Braves stranded a runner at third base in the bottom of the inning when Dansby Swanson struck out, swinging at a 3-2 pitch off the plate.
Colorado took the lead for the first time of the game in the 10th inning on a home run to center field by DJ LeMahieu off Jackson. The Rockies added another run on a double by Carlos Gonzalez and a single by Nolan Arenado.
Before the bullpen collapse, Foltynewicz held the Rockies scoreless on four hits through seven innings, striking out nine and walking none. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter after throwing 113 pitches.
“It’s kind of a tough pill to swallow,” Foltynewicz said of the game’s outcome, “but try to get them tomorrow.”
Despite the loss, the Braves remained in first place in the NL East, a half game ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Phillies and seven games ahead of the third-place Washington Nationals. The Phillies and Nationals lost Saturday to the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, respectively. But the Braves certainly squandered a good chance to gain ground.