BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: BRAVES 4
(3) – 4 GIANTS
Knowing very little about the 2016 Atlanta Braves, I do a little searching and find what looks like a murder scene, red streaks dripping down a wall in long, pitiful rows. The wins and losses of each MLB team, on Baseball Reference, are arranged by color (green or red) and by degree (height or depth) and, well, if the first-place Cubs are like a forest canopy of tall green trees, the Braves are a teeming collection of underground worms, tunneling deeper than even they know how.
I search further, remembering some string of great-teams/bad-luck over the years, and it’s worse than I’d thought.
After winning the 1995 World Series, amid a decade of dominant pitching, they sink into a string of first-round playoff exits: 2000, 2002, ‘03, ’04, ’05, missed the playoffs for a few years, then another loss in the 2010 NLDS, a massive collapse in 2011, followed up by a heart-breaking, enraging, bottle-tossing Wild-Card loss in 2012, another first-round exit in 2013, and they haven’t been back since.
This team’s got some demons.
But there’s a rebuild of sorts underway, and a new stadium set to become home in 2017. Goodbye Turner Field: opened with a pair of gold medals from Michael Johnson, ended with twenty years of unfinished baseball business.
So down a run against the first-place Giants tonight in Atlanta, with a record of 15-36, a ballpark fanbase dwindling with each additional loss, they’re in need of a win. A stroke of luck. A miracle. A wild, gangly arm from a pitcher quickly losing all control.
Freddie Freeman comes up first, draws a 2-2 count, Santiago Casilla throwing high heat on the mound. And he whiffs on a fastball whipped onto the outside corner. One out. A half-assed “Tomahawk Chop” gets going, then dies out.
But up comes Adonis Garcia, and who else but he to start a rally? Adonis, the Greek god of desire and beauty—which must have some sort of transfer value on the baseball diamond. He’s in a dead tie, by the way, with the other two Greek heroes of major-league rosters, Arquimedes Caminero and Socrates Brito, thinking of nothing but besting the other two, as he strides up to the plate.
He’s already got a leg up on ’11 Charlie Sheen. Tiger blood. Adonis DNA.
Casilla winds up on the mound, gripping the ball in his glove, and gathers his 35-year-old self for another pitch. He cranks his knee up in a tense robotic triangle against his back leg, whips his arm across his body, and fires home.
Right into the forearm of Adonis, just below the elbow on the back arm as he unfurls the bat into a check swing. Garcia flings the bat away in pain, throwing his throbbing arm up like he’s at some sort of rave. And makes his way down to first base.
Now, finally, the “Tomahawk Chop” gets going.
Nick Markakis comes up now, and bloops a single into the gap behind shortstop, no man’s land. Gregor Blanco can’t quite get there—and Adonis sprints around second as Casilla’s screaming livid at the outfield to throw to third. His arms waving like crazy. Covered in sweat. Screaming some more. And Adonis slides safely into third-base.
Adonis Garcia HBP, then Nick Markakis drops a single into left center to put runners on the corners with 1-out in the 9th. #Braves down, 4-3
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) June 2, 2016
The crowd sings out, evern louder: Ooohhh, oh oh-wo-woohh, oh oh… oh oh—yeah, that tune isn’t quite coming through in text…
So it’s still a 4-3 game, the Braves having been down 4-1, brought back to life with a six-inning rally. And here we are in the ninth inning: man on third, one out, Kelly Johnson at the plate. Batting .212 on the year. One home-run.
We’ll need a little luck here.
Casilla winds up. Still peeved, still irked, irate, sore and ticked. And on the first pitch, he lets one go. Way inside. Low. Past the reach of a diving Buster Posey. Bouncing under his shoulder, just over his gloved arm, and it flies toward the backstop.
It’s a wild, wild pitch. Posey runs after it, Adonis runs home, and it’s a tie game in Atlanta—the smallest of luck finally swinging back the Braves’ way. A group of fans with red visors flipped inside-out all high five, the look a throwback to… I can’t quite say.
Posey takes off his helmet, his smooth, combed, gelled hair shaking back and forth, glaring out at his pitcher. Bad day for the Giants, bad day for Posey—a handful of pitches away from an easy win.
And two innings later, in the bottom of the 11th, Freddie Freeman comes back up and walks it off with a solo homer. Braves on top, 5-4, surprising even the most faithful of fans.
This might just bode well for the remaining swan song season of Turner Field. First-place well out of reach, but some glimpse of good fortune on the way.