LONG BALL

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

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - ROB LONGLEY’S news and notes on the NLDS rlon­g­[email protected]­media.com Twit­ter: lon­g­ley­sun­sport

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.)

RO­TAT­ING RO­TA­TION

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.

USA TO­DAY

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.

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