Braves fall apart in eighth and ninth innings, as Cards win opener of NLDS ... Ozuna’s double puts visitors on top ... Braves’ opening-day rotation overhauled
ATLANTA — It is one of the most state-of-the-art stadiums in baseball, a destination area ringed with bars, restaurants and more bars to enhance the fan experience.
Given the Braves’ lack of success in playoff action in recent years, and coupled with the fun factor of their new home, Suntrust Park, the change to the suburban locale was welcomed by some.
The latest results, however, told the same old story in a dramatic conclusion to a wild and sizzling Thursday Georgia afternoon and evening.
Having trouble hitting the ball out of the outfield for much of the night, the Braves fell apart by allowing a combined six runs in the eighth and ninth innings. The result was a 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening game of the best-offive National League Divisional Series. A dreadful night of plodding, sloppy baseball suddenly turned electric in the ninth inning with the Cardinals scoring four runs and the Braves almost matching with three in a failed, but exciting, comeback bid.
The defeat will make for nervous times for general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the followers of the Braves, who have lost their past nine consecutive postseason series, the secondmost in MLB history.
And it gets worse. The popular franchise is just 3-16 when dropping the opener of a playoff series while the Cards are a formidable 11-3 all-time in five-game series and will send surging righthanded Jack Flaherty to the mound for Friday’s Game 2. Though the Braves were opportunistic at times in the opener, they generated far too little offence. Two of their runs were unearned and none of them came as the result of balls hit out of the outfield until Ronald Acuna Jr.’s two-out home run in the ninth to cut the St. Louis lead to 7-5.
For a high-flying offence led by stars such as Acuna, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman, it was an opening game come-comeuppance for the NL East champs. Though the Braves never trailed until the ninth inning, the longer this one went, the more they seemed vulnerable.
And sure enough, a fourrun outburst in the ninth — led by a bases-loaded double from Marcell Ozuna put the visitors on top.
The Braves weren’t done, however. A two-run homer by Acuna and a solo shot by Freeman pulled this to within one, in a scintillating comeback bid that came up just short. The importance of claiming the first game in these short series is obvious, of course, but perhaps of even more urgency to the Braves given their recent post-season struggles.
Settled into their spiffy new ball park (which regrettably still houses the Tomahawk Chop, the Tomahawk Taphouse and more) the Braves seem determined to reverse field.
A sellout crowed of 42,631 filled the joint on Thursday in anticipation of the Braves building off their record 19th division title (matched only by the New York Yankees in all of MLB.)
As defending NL East champions, the Braves were considered serious contenders to repeat prior to the season. They did just that, albeit with a starting rotation starkly different than what it was on opening day.
Consider that Game 1 starter Dallas Keuchel was still a free agent (eventually signed in June). Game 2 starter Mike Foltynewicz was on the injured list and Canadian rookie Mike Soroka, slated to start Game 3 in St. Louis, was at triple-a Gwinnett.
“When we left spring training, we pretty much didn’t have our rotation at all,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It took a while to heal that.
“We’ve been really good organizationally at filling those holes and having guys that made an immediate impact.”
AROUND THE BASES
Keuchel, who played a key role in the Houston Astros’ World Series run two years ago, battled at times but held the Cards to just one run on five hits through 4.2 innings.
The heat was definitely on in Hot-lanta, a record in fact. The first pitch temperature of 36 C was the hottest ever recorded on Oct. 3.
Like the Braves, the Cardinals have been regulars to the post season, advancing to October baseball seven times since 2009.
Tyler O’neill, the 24-year-old outfielder from Maple Ridge, B.C., was left off the Cardinals roster for the Braves series. O’neilll was up and down with the Cardinals this season appearing in 60 games and batting .262 with five home runs and 16 RBIS.
Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna celebrates on second base after hitting a two-rbi double in the ninth inning to give St. Louis its first lead of the game last night in Atlanta. The Cards then hung on to win Game 1 of the NLDS 7-6.