Cul­ber­son’s pinch-hit, walk-off homer lifts Braves over Nats

Calhoun Times - - SPORTS WEDNESDAY - By Mark Bow­man

— As the Braves ex­ited what has been their most daunt­ing stretch of the sea­son and found them­selves still atop the Na­tional League East stand­ings, it seemed only fit­ting that they were cel­e­brat­ing yet an­other walk- off vic­tory sup­plied by the man who has mas­tered the art of hit­ting a gameend­ing home run.

There was cer­tainly a sense of awe and won­der­ment when for­mer Cal­houn High star Char­lie Cul­ber­son ended this home­s­tand the same way he started it with yet an­other of his walk-off home runs. His lat­est vic­tim was Na­tion­als right-han­der Tan­ner Roark, who was forced into a re­lief role be­fore al­low­ing Cul­ber­son to hit a twoout ninth-in­ning homer that kept the Braves in first place with Sun­day’s 4-2 win at SunTrust Park.

“Man, it hap­pened again,” Cul­ber­son said when asked about his im­me­di­ate thought. “That’s pretty cool. It re­ally is. The fans were re­ally into it. I heard them chant­ing my name. I was think­ing this is a neat situation. To be in it again, I was like, ‘just put a good swing on it, get a good pitch and try not to do too much. And it hap­pened. I’m like, ‘Wow.’ It’s pretty neat.”

Cul­ber­son has to­taled eight homers in his big league ca­reer, and four of those have been walkoff shots. He stands as the only player in MLB his­tory to tally this many game-end­ing shots with fewer than 30 ca­reer homers. Chris Jones, a jour­ney­man from the 1990s, tal­lied 30 ca­reer home runs, five of which ended games.

“He just has a knack for do­ing it,” Braves short­stop Dansby Swan­son said. “You can’t say enough about him. He’s a phe­nom­e­nal guy and phe­nom­e­nal team­mate. Ev­ery day, whether he’s play­ing or not, he’s the same guy. He makes ev­ery­one around bet­ter. When you have guys like that around, the sky is the limit.”

When Swan­son capped a six-run ninthin­ning rally with a walkoff sin­gle against the Marlins on May 20, the Braves were star­ing at a daunt­ing 14-game stretch that would pit them against the Phillies, Red Sox, Mets and Na­tion­als. Those who viewed this as a chance to de­ter­mine whether they were le­git now have to be do­ing some be­liev­ing.

The Braves split those 14 games. But with three wins dur­ing this four-game set against the Na­tion­als, who came to town with a six-game win­ning streak, At­lanta is still atop the NL East stand­ings, sitting 1 1/2 games ahead of Wash­ing­ton.

“They an­swered a lot of ques­tions,” Braves man­ager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t think it’s a mis­take. We’re a good ball­club. We’re in ev­ery game. They never quit. That grit and guts they show is go­ing to show up ev­ery day. I’m very pleased with where we are.”

Within this eightgame home­s­tand, the Braves tal­lied three of their six walk-off wins. The first was claimed when Cul­ber­son con­cluded the first game of Mon­day’s dou­ble­header against the Mets with one of his walk-off homers. “At­lanta is not gonna go away,” Na­tion­als man­ager Dave Martinez said. “They’re re­ally good. They are.”

Martinez had to scram­ble when a right ham­string strain chased start­ing pitcher Jeremy Hel­lick­son with one out in the first in­ning. This prompted the en­try of Je­fry Ro­driguez, who com­pleted 4 2/3 score­less in­nings as he made his MLB de­but just three days af­ter to­tal­ing 87 pitches in a start for Dou­ble-A Har­ris­burg.

Af­ter Trea Turner gave the Na­tion­als an early lead with his tworun homer off Ani­bal Sanchez in the sec­ond in­ning, Swan­son tied the game with his sev­en­thin­ning lead­off homer off Shawn Kel­ley. The Braves short­stop also recorded a hus­tle dou­ble to set the ninth-in­ning stage for Cul­ber­son, who smacked Roark’s 0-1 fast­ball over the left-field wall and then rein­tro­duced him­self to that ma­jes­tic gameend­ing stroll around the bases.

“You can’t script it,” Swan­son said. “It truly is amazing how this team com­petes. No mat­ter the score, we do what we do. We’ve got all the faith in every­body in here. It’s like a fam­ily. It’s spe­cial to be a part of.”

Avail­able and de­pend­able: Snitker took some heat when he opted to rest both Arodys Viz­caino and Dan Win­kler dur­ing Satur­day’s 14- in­ning loss, which was suf­fered af­ter Mike Foltynewicz had gone the dis­tance in Fri­day’s win. But his deter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect his play­ers proved valu­able Sun­day when Win­kler worked a per­fect eighth and Viz­caino pitched around trou­ble dur­ing a score­less ninth.

“We got to the two guys we hadn’t used yes­ter­day,” Snitker said. “That will ben­e­fit us the next three days be­fore we get to the off-day.”

The Braves con­tinue to ben­e­fit from their de­ci­sion to pro­vide a Mi­nor League deal to Sanchez near the end of Spring Train­ing. The vet­eran sur­ren­dered Turner’s home run, but proved per­fect in four of the seven in­nings worked against this ca­pa­ble Na­tion­als of­fense. He has al­lowed two earned runs or fewer in three of his four starts, and the Braves have won each of those three games.

“He’s got a great feel for pitch­ing and knows what he’s do­ing,” Snitker said. “I think his stuff is bet­ter than what I was led to be­lieve when we signed him. He’s sneaky. He knows what he’s do­ing. He can change speeds, and he lo­cates the fast­ball well.”

When Swan­son drilled his game-ty­ing home run in the sev­enth and dou­bled in the ninth, he was think­ing about two of his for­mer friends from Van­der­bilt.

Dai- Jon Parker drowned while tub­ing around this time of year in 2015, and this week marked the twoyear an­niver­sary of the drowning death of Donny Everett, who was one of Swan­son’s col­le­giate team­mates.

“Dur­ing these mo­ments and these times, it’s like there’s some­body watch­ing over me,” Swan­son said. “It’s pretty emo­tional and amazing. I was walk­ing in here [ af­ter Sun­day’s game] think­ing, ‘I can’t make this stuff up.’ The day Dai- Jon passed away, two days later I had a game-win­ning homer [for Van­der­bilt]. That same an­niver­sary, my first [pro­fes­sional] year, I hit a homer. Last year, in [ Cincin­nati] on the an­niver­sary of Donny pass­ing away, I hit a homer. There’s just some­thing about this week. You can’t make it up. If you ever need con­fir­ma­tion that God is real, for me, it’s just like look at these mo­ments and it’s like mir­a­cles hap­pen.”

JOHN AMIS / The As­so­ci­ated Press

At­lanta’s Char­lie Cul­ber­son fol­lows through with his swing on his two-run walk-off homer on Sun­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.