If there was a defined strength of the Atlanta Braves roster coming into the season (and in the early going, honestly), it was the bullpen. With the end-of-game trio of Eric O’Flaherty, Jordan Walden, and Craig Kimbrel, the opposition should be in constant fear of entering the 7th inning with a deficit. On Friday night, however, the New York Mets broke through the bullpen barrier and generated 4 runs off of the triumvirate that resulted in a 7-5, 10-inning win.
Atlanta was able to grab a 1-run lead at two different points in the late innings, as they generated runs with a Andrelton Simmons RBI groundout in the 7th, and an Evan Gattis home run in the 8th. Following those advances, however, the Mets countered with home runs from Marlon Byrd (in the 8th off of Eric O’Flaherty) and David Wright (in the 9th off of Craig Kimbrel) to force extra innings. Following those huge swings, Atlanta failed to scratch in the bottom of the 9th (we’ll come back to this), and New York put the game away with two RBI singles in the top half of the 10th inning from Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy.
In addition to the issues of the bullpen, there was some pretty questionable management of the game from Atlanta. Fredi Gonzalez will take criticism for a number of different things, but among them were his decision to pull Mike Minor after 7 innings (and only 90 pitches) and his never-ending penchant for the sacrifice bunt. The most talked-about play of the game will likely be Gonzalez’s decision to bunt with Reed Johnson in the 9th inning, as the Braves wasted a lead-off double from Ramiro Pena (who is hitting out of his mind) after the bunt by Johnson brought Jordan Schafer to the plate before Schafer failed to drive in the winning run.
Personally, I didn’t have an issue in bunting in that particular spot, as it is the only time in the game (bottom of the 9th inning) where 1 run is as good as 2 runs. With that said, the fundamental issue would be that Gonzalez wasted a position player in Johnson over simply bunting with a starting pitcher (i.e. Tim Hudson) to preserve his bench. In the grand scheme, this is a minor blip, but with Twitter and the pundits discussing it, the move has become scrutinized.
One personnel note from Friday night is that Juan Francisco left the game early with a reported right ankle sprain. He is considered to be day-to-day from all reports, but if he has to miss any stretch of games, the Braves will be without their most potent left-handed bench option.
On the bright side for Atlanta, Mike Minor threw another solid game (7 innings, 3 runs, 0 walks, 4 strikeouts) and it was fantastic to see 2 hits a piece from Dan Uggla and BJ Upton as they attempt to break out of season-long slumps. After the Gattis home run that took the lead in the 8th inning, it looked for all the world as if the Braves would slam the door, but virtually everything went wrong after that, and it was clearly not the Braves night.
As game two with the Mets arrives on Saturday, it’ll be important to forget that wild loss on Friday night as a “fluke” and simply perform up to a normal level. Frankly, Atlanta is the better team in this series, and with Sunday being a less-than-advantageous pitching match-up (with Matt Harvey on the rubber for NY), it will be critical to get a win on Saturday. Stay tuned.