Through eight innings at Turner Field on Saturday night, the Atlanta Braves looked to be utterly helpless at the plate, thanks in part to a dominant outing from Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Garrett Richards, and in serious trouble on the scoreboard. However, there was no quit in the offense, as the Braves put together a mighty comeback in the ninth inning to tie the game to force extra frames. Unfortunately, though, Atlanta came up short in the end, as the Angels put up a crooked number in the 13th inning to claim an 11-6 decision.
For most of the night, the biggest story looked to be the performance of the aforementioned Garrett Richards. Richards entered with the reputation of being a hard-throwing right-hander with quality off-speed offerings, and he certainly didn’t disappoint in shutting down Atlanta’s offense. Richards navigated six innings of shutout ball while allowing only four hits and three walks, but the ugliest part of things from the perspective of the Braves was the fact that Richards racked up ten strikeouts.
However, Atlanta did have some success against the bullpen, and Evan Gattis got things going by smashing an 8th-inning home run off of Joe Smith to break the shutout. Then, Los Angeles closer Ernesto Frieri took to the hill to “slam the door” with a 4-run lead, and he promptly surrendered three consecutive singles, including one from Jason Heyward that drove home Andrelton Simmons to slash the lead to three runs.
As the threat began to materialize, B.J. Upton ratcheted up the intensity with a 2-RBI triple to right field, and with perhaps the fastest member of the team on 3rd base with no outs and Freddie Freeman coming to the plate, Braves Country was alive. Then, Freeman connected on a ground-rule double that scaled the right field wall, and in the blink of an eye, the score was knotted at 5-5 with Justin Upton heading to the plate with no one out. Upton’s strikeout signaled the end to the brief onslaught in the ninth, though, as Chris Johnson followed things up with a “timely” double play to send the contest to extra innings.
At that point, there was a great deal of optimism, but the goodwill quickly evaporated. Craig Kimbrel allowed a lead-off double to Albert Pujols in the tenth, and when Josh Hamilton guided a bloop single to right field, the go-ahead run crossed the plate. In the bottom half of the inning, Tommy La Stella led off with a single and advanced to second on a (hilarious) balk, and he was quickly brought to the plate on a broken-bat RBI single from Jason Heyward to, once again, tie the game. Sadly, B.J. Upton grounded out and Justin Upton was robbed of the game-winner on a diving catch by Kole Calhoun, setting up even more baseball action.
All was quiet until the top of the 13th inning, but at that point, the wheels came careening off for David Hale and the Braves. After Erick Aybar reached on a single, pitcher C.J. Wilson (who was pinch hitting) attempted to sacrifice bunt, but was walked by Hale after Gerald Laird committed a passed ball, and immediately following Wilson’s walk, Hale struck catcher Chris Iannetta with a pitch to load the bases. Kole Calhoun broke through with an RBI single to centerfield, and that was followed by a 2-run double by Mike Trout to break things wide open. Albert Pujols capped the scoring with a 2-run single off of Shae Simmons, who was supposed to be unavailable, and mercifully, the barrage ended.
Offensively, it was a mixed bag. Evan Gattis had the most successful night with three hits and the team’s lone home run, while Tommy La Stella reached base four times (including an intentional walk) and the duo of B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward each netted two hits. Negatively, Justin Upton and Chris Johnson combined for an 0-for-11 evening that featured six total strikeouts, and the double play from Johnson in the ninth proved to be damning.
On the run prevention side of things, it wasn’t a disastrous night for the Atlanta Braves, but it certainly wasn’t ideal even despite the final, positive result. Gavin Floyd allowed four runs, including back-to-back home runs from Pujols and Mike Trout, across six innings of work, but aside from the blip from Kimbrel, the rest of the staff had a productive evening until Hale’s late collapse. Defensively, only B.J. Upton’s two-base error in the eighth inning stands out as an atrocity, but when the gaffe led directly to a run, it is hard to overstate its importance.
Simply put, Saturday night’s contest is, at the very least, in the discussion for “Game of the Year” status for the Braves. In the end, it became a multi-run margin in favor of the road team, but the massive comeback from Atlanta was worth the price of admission, and it was semi-encouraging to see the team battle to the very end despite some unfortunate circumstances. As usual, a portion of those circumstances was created by managerial gaffes (sigh), but the Angels simply made plays down the stretch, and that was that.
The Braves and Angels will wrap up their three-game series with another nationally televised broadcast on Sunday night, as ESPN will broadcast the finale live at 8:00 pm ET. Stay tuned. Los Angeles Angels vs. Atlanta Braves tickets are also available if you’re looking to attend.