In a wild, up-and-down game at Citi Field, the Atlanta Braves fell silent against Mets starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, exploded against New York’s middle relief, and then once again went quietly through the final few innings. As a result, Mike Minor‘s solid efforts were wasted and the sanity of the Atlanta fan base was tested, as the Braves dropped an 11-inning loss, 4-3.
Atlanta produced five hits and six total baserunners in the first three innings against Matsuzaka, but the bats weren’t able to come through in high leverage spots, and from that point, Dice-K settled in. The veteran right-hander from Japan has been much maligned in recent seasons, but he entered with a respectable 3.72 ERA in 58 innings, and the 33-year-old was able to build on that success in the series opener.
All in all, Matsuzaka navigated seven innings of shutout ball, and the Braves offense managed only six hits and two walks while being set down on strikes on three different occasions. Fortunately, the Mets bullpen was up to the “challenge” of giving the lead away, and the combination of Vic Black, Josh Edgin and Jenrry Mejia did the job in the top of the eighth inning.
Freddie Freeman, who was easily the best offensive player on this this night with a 3-for-4 showing, began the onslaught with a 1-out double, and after a Justin Upton groundout, he was brought to the plate via a wild pitch from Black. Then, Jason Heyward came through with a single, Chris Johnson rifled a 400-foot double to bring him to the plate, and rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt vaulted the Braves to a 3-2 lead with an RBI single to right.
In run prevention, it was a very positive game for the Braves and that was largely due to a bounce back effort from left-hander Mike Minor. Last week, we broke down Minor’s well-chronicled struggles in the recent past, but Monday night could be the start of the road to redemption, as he pitched seven strong innings. A 2-out RBI double from Travis d’Arnaud put the Mets on the board with a 1-0 lead in the second and that was followed by a solo home run by David Wright in the eighth, but following that blast, Minor retired 13 consecutive batters on the way to a very nice outing.
It certainly looked as if Minor’s efforts would be picked up by the offensive surge in the eighth, but unfortunately the biggest hole on the Atlanta pitching staff was exposed. Luis Avilan entered to start the bottom half of the inning, and while that decision was mind-boggling on the part of Fredi Gonzalez with right-handers Ruben Tejada and Eric Young coming up, he manage to retire both hitters. However, that success was short-lived, as he promptly allowed a game-tying home run to Curtis Granderson and, for good measure, allowed Daniel Murphy to reach base before being unceremoniously yanked.
The combination of Jordan Walden, Shae Simmons (who had an adventurous ninth inning highlighted by umpiring incompetence that saw Fredi Gonzalez handed an early exit) and Anthony Varvaro pushed the game to the 11th inning with the score knotted at 3-3, but that was as long as the bullpen could hold. Juan Lagares smacked a 1-out double to left-center, advanced to third base on a sacrifice fly, and was finally driven across the plate on a 2-out, walk-off single from Ruben Tejada.
Because of the length of the game, madness of the ninth inning and the gruesome way in which the Atlanta Braves lost this game, this one could sting for a while, but there were positives (Mike Minor, etc.) to take away as well. The Braves will look to halt this mini-streak by sending All-Star right-hander Julio Teheran to the mound on Tuesday night, and he will be opposed by New York’s Jacob deGrom. Stay tuned for all the latest coverage.