On a sublime night, Braves can’t summon comeback magic

Billye Aaron and Hank’s former teammates and Gov. Brian Kemp watch the Jumbotron during the 50th-anniversary celebrations of Hank Aaron’s 715 home run record at Truist on Monday, April 8, 2024. 
Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Billye Aaron and Hank’s former teammates and Gov. Brian Kemp watch the Jumbotron during the 50th-anniversary celebrations of Hank Aaron’s 715 home run record at Truist on Monday, April 8, 2024. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

The Braves seemed on the precipice of another storybook rescue. The charged crowd at Truist Park, their eyes conditioned to witnessing the unlikely, seemed to sense it.

As he waited for his turn at bat in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Harris II held the faith. Yet another comeback win, this one on the night when the club observed the 50th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth – he liked his team’s chances.

“I felt like it was kind of scripted for us to win,” Harris told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

However, the Braves were reminded that not every comeback attempt is rewarded, even against the Mets. The 37,538 in attendance Monday, a gathering that included the late Aaron’s wife Billye and 10 of his teammates on the 1974 Braves team, experienced a moving pregame ceremony but also an 8-7 defeat to the Mets.

“I thought (the pregame ceremony) was awesome,” starting pitcher Charlie Morton said. “And to be able to be on the field (Monday night) was special. I just wish I could have done a better job.”

The loss did not tarnish the indelible moments that preceded it. A video tribute to the baseball great that featured Billye Aaron, broadcaster Bob Costas, Aaron teammates Dusty Baker and Ralph Garr, manager Brian Snitker and current Braves Harris and Spencer Strider touched the bases not only of Aaron’s sporting greatness but also his societal impact.

Having fans hold 715 baseball-shaped signs across the outfield – each numbered and dated for each Aaron blast (No. 715 was just beyond second base on the infield dirt) – was a vivid image to capture Aaron’s legendary feat. Three past winners of the Hank Aaron Award that was created in his honor – given to the top offensive player in each league – were on hand, Braves great Andruw Jones, Ryan Howard and last year’s winner, Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr.

Besides Billye Aaron, great grandson King Aaron and grandson Raynal Aaron took part, King throwing out the first pitch and Raynal bellowing the “It’s time for Braves baseball!” incantation.

“It was awesome,” Snitker said.

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Having Aaron’s teammates on hand was a nice touch. It seemed clear that it meant a great deal to them to be here to celebrate their greatest teammate and a beloved one on top of it. Some of them hadn’t seen each other in years.

“It’s a good feeling to see these guys,” said Ron Reed, the starting (and winning) pitcher in the No. 715 game.

Their gray hair, thinner frames and slower gaits testified to the passage of time. But the kinship and friendship had withstood the years. Prior to the game, dressed in Braves jerseys and back in their team’s dugout, they chatted and joked with each other, visited with Braves coaches Sal Fasano and Eddie Perez and, in some ways, acted like no time had passed at all.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said Craig Robinson, the starting shortstop for the 1974 Braves, his arms clasped over the dugout railing.

It was a reunion Aaron, who left us in January 2021 at the age of 86, surely would have loved to have been part of.

“There’s something about when you’re on a team that camaraderie kind of forms a little bond between the members of that team, and if you’ve ever been on a team no matter what kind of team it was, you know what I’m talking about,” said Reed, who lives in Lilburn. “And that bond will always be with this group right here from 1974.”

Credit: Ryon Horne

In 2014, Hank Aaron talked with the AJC about his legendary career.

Reed mentioned the extended length of time since he had last seen Tom House, referring to him as “the young man that caught Hank’s home run.” House will turn 77 on April 29.

Monday night, Marcell Ozuna hit a two-run homer to left center, as did Aaron for his record breaker. Both were part of four-run innings. And, if the Braves had been able to defeat the Mets, they would have done so in comeback fashion, as the Braves did 50 years ago Monday. It is largely forgotten to history that Aaron’s home run actually played a significant role in that specific game, tying the game at 3 in the bottom of the fourth before the Braves went on to defeat the Dodgers 7-4.

Trailing 8-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Matt Olson doubled to left, bringing Ozuna to the plate. He lofted a fly ball deep to left. Tyrone Taylor tracked it to the warning track, leapt and … caught the ball.

“I thought it was out (of the park) as soon as he hit it,” Snitker said.

Harris singled sharply to right to score Olson and cut the lead to 8-7. He then daringly stole second, shaking his head after being called safe.

“No chance (of getting thrown out), no chance,” he said, explaining the gesture with a laugh.

There was one out. Orlando Arcia popped to first. Travis d’Arnaud lined a ball to the opposite field with the chance to score Harris and tie or win the game.

“I thought it was for sure going to get down or get out of here,” Harris said.

But it was caught to end the game. The scripted ending was crumpled up and tossed aside. A team that over the weekend had overcome a 5-2 eighth-inning hole and a 6-0 first-inning deficit was bested on this night, pomp and all.

“That’s not how the dice rolled (Monday night),” Harris said. “But back at it (Tuesday). It’s a long season.”