It’s impossible to remember every detail about every regular season game. A full baseball season is 162 games in six months, and eventually they start to run together. The games come thick and fast, and there’s always another one to move on to within 48 hours of the last one, usually within 24 hours even, and that’s why we have this Braves Look Back series going on!
Every once in a while, a game in the middle of the grind sticks out. It becomes something you want to remember, and even a season-changing game in some cases.
For the 2019 Atlanta Braves, one regular season game stood head and shoulders above the rest. On June 14th, the Philadelphia Phillies invaded SunTrust Park 1.5 games behind the Braves for the top spot in the NL East.
Philadelphia led 7-2 in the seventh inning, but the Braves scored seven times in the final three frames and stole an improbable win thanks to a walk-off hit from Brian McCann. That’s the part everyone remembers.
But as they do in every baseball game—and especially regular season ones—things get lost in the shuffle leading up to the crescendo. Here are nine things that might have slipped your mind about one of the greatest regular season wins in recent Braves history.
Braves Look Back: Dan Winkler was the game’s unsung hero
The face Winkler made attempting to bunt in the fifth inning is one of the few parts of this game from innings 1-8 that has stuck in the memory, but Winkler’s work on the mound was incredibly clutch.
Braves starter Max Fried struggled all night, and he left the game with two outs in the fifth and the Braves trailing 5-1. Winkler came into the game to face Scott Kingery with runners on the corners, and picked up a three pitch strikeout to keep the Braves within touching distance.
He followed that up with a perfect sixth, and then ate up another inning by pitching the seventh. He did allow a two-run home run to Rhys Hoskins in the seventh, but neither of those runs were earned after J.T. Realmuto reached on an Ozzie Albies error that would’ve ended the inning.
Winkler finished with 2 ⅓ innings, allowing just one hit and striking out two. He got Atlanta’s bullpen back on track after a short start from Fried, and set the stage for the offense to take over late.
Braves Look Back: Austin Riley made a big throw from left field
The error by Albies was costly, but it could’ve been fatal without a great play from Riley just minutes earlier.
Jean Segura opened the inning with a walk, and then Bryce Harper flew out to Riley in left. Segura attempted to tag up on the inexperienced left fielder, but Riley nailed him for his second career outfield assist.
That meant the Albies error happened with the bases empty instead of a runner in scoring position, and the Hoskins homer scored two runs instead of three. Not bad for a third baseman by trade.
Braves Look Back: Josh Donaldson made an even bigger defensive play in the ninth
This one was so forgotten, it doesn’t even show up in the play-by-play. The Braves trimmed the deficit to 8-6 after eight innings, but needed a clean ninth to give the offense a chance to walk it off. The Phillies had runners on second and first with two out and Jay Bruce at the plate in the ninth.
Realmuto stole third on the 0-1 pitch, beating a poor throw from McCann. His throw was actually in the dirt, and it looked like trouble for the Braves. But Donaldson made a great sliding stop at third, snaring the ball on a hop to keep Realmuto at third.
“Great play by Josh to save that ball and in one motion try to apply the tag,” Chip Caray said on the broadcast.
He didn’t get the tag down, but he saved the ball from getting into left field and bringing Realmuto home. And in doing so, he probably saved the game for the Braves.
Max Fried had an epic plate appearance
Fried’s biggest contribution of the game didn’t come on the mound, but with his bat. Leading off the bottom of the third, the Atlanta starter drew a 13-pitch walk. He swung and missed at the first pitch from Nick Pivetta, then took the next three before missing on the 3-1 delivery.
From there he fouled off seven consecutive offerings, spoiling several good pitches and running Pivetta’s pitch count up. The marathon finally ended when Pivetta barely missed with a 3-2 fastball, as Fried took it just below his knees to earn a walk.
The Braves didn’t score in the inning, but those extra pitches proved to be very valuable later.
Pivetta started to tire just in time for the Braves
There wasn’t much doing on offense for Atlanta through the first six frames. Pivetta had allowed two runs—both on solo home runs—and was in total control with a 7-2 lead.
But he started to tire in the seventh, starting with McCann taking him deep to make it 7-3. He gave up a double to Ronald Acuña Jr. and a walk to Dansby Swanson later in the inning, before Gabe Kapler finally lifted him with 116 pitches.
Fried’s 13-pitch battle from back in the third definitely played a role, as Pivetta ran out of gas seven outs from the finish line. And with Philadelphia’s shaky bullpen, seven outs was enough for the Braves.
Hector Neris wanted no part of Nick Markakis
On Opening Day of the 2018 season, Markakis took Neris deep for a walk-off home run to right center.
That was clearly on his mind when he faced Markakis as the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. The Phillies were one out away from the win with an 8-6 lead. Markakis was 0-for-3 in the game and mired in something of a mini-slump with two hits in his last 12 at-bats.
The smarter move for Neris might’ve been to just attack Markakis with the red hot rookie Riley on deck, but that was the last thing on his mind. Neris issued what was effectively an intentional walk, throwing four pitches that really weren’t close.
Neris walked the tying run onto base, brought Riley up, and turned the pressure of the inning way up. Riley and McCann were ready for it.
McCann’s hit was his 1,000th career RBI
Just four days earlier, Markakis picked up his 1,000th career RBI in a 13-7 win over the Pirates. McCann was at 993 at the conclusion of that game, but he immediately picked up four the next night with a pair of home runs in another win over Pittsburgh.
His seventh inning home run against the Phillies took his total to 998, and then his two-run hit in the ninth completed both the game and the road to 1,000 in the sweetest way possible.
The Braves scored their final six runs with two outs and two strikes
The innings just wouldn’t end. The Phillies couldn’t shut the door. Most people remember that McCann’s game-winner came on a 2-2 pitch, but the Riley double that brought him to the plate came on a 1-2 offering after he swung through two of the first three pitches.
And Charlie Culberson’s triple just past an outstretched Harper that made it 8-6 in the eighth? He battled back from 0-2 in the count to keep that at-bat alive before shooting a ball into the right field corner.
Albies was also down to his last strike when he knocked Markakis home with an RBI single to make it 8-5 just before Culberson’s triple, and Freeman had to turn an 0-2 count around before he could serve a base hit into center field for an RBI single in the seventh.
Total it all up, and you get eight times where a Philadelphia pitcher delivered a two out, two strike pitch to an Atlanta hitter in at-bats that resulted in RBI hits for the Braves over the final three innings.
Eight chances to put out the fire, eight times the Braves managed to keep the inning alive.
The win extended Atlanta’s winning streak to eight games
From 2015-2018, the longest winning streak for any Braves team was seven games in September of 2016. The last time the Braves had won at least eight in a row, the streak started on June 27th, 2014. Ironically, that streak started against the Phillies.
The comeback the Braves pulled officially made it their longest winning streak in half a decade, and it gave them a 2.5 game lead in the division.
They never looked back from there.
Here’s the video in case you want to re-live the memory!
Thanks for reading Alan’s Braves look back at a key victory of 2019. If you enjoyed this piece, take a look at this piece on the 1992 Braves NLCS.