Phew! Last night’s game was sort of a Rorschach blot: what you see as the main takeaways really depends on what you want to see.
Max Fried pitched an absolutely brilliant game, until. With 94 pitches through seven innings and nursing the gossamer-thinnest of 1-0 leads, Fried was sent out by Brian Snitker to start the eighth. Snitker, the players’ manager, often seems to do this, but maybe that’s in the eye of the beholder. Then the leadoff Giant scratched a bunt single on the first pitch, followed by a bloop single on an 0-2 count, and there were men on first and third with nobody out — the first runner to reach third base all game. Snit kept him in, at a pitch count of 98.
At that point, Max clearly did not have the sharpness he’d had earlier in the game. His first and third pitches were nowhere close; the second was close but clearly low, and the fourth pitch was a strike but missed the target by enough that d’Arnaud had to reach for it and the umpire blew the call, leading to a bases-loading walk. Snitker brought in Will Smith, and we all sharply held our breath.
He immediately induced a pop fly, and then he gave up a clean single — it was a 3-1 count, after he’d missed the zone a few times and then had to come back with a fastball down the middle to avoid walking in a run — but luckily, it went right to Michael Harris II, and he came up firing, and the Giants only scored the tying run; the bases stayed loaded, and the go-ahead run remained on third. And then, on a 3-2 count, with the seventh pitch of the count, Smith got a strikeout, and then a groundout to finally end the inning. So it was 1-1, but we all knew it could have been worse. Jansen had a similar tightrope walk in his frame.
The trouble was, Logan Webb had been as brilliant as Fried, and kept the Braves’ bats quiet. Most of all, Ronald Acuña, Jr. stayed quiet. It doesn’t seem all that long since he was blisteringly hot, but it’s been a tough week. Since June 12, he has just four singles and four walks in his last 38 plate appearances. Once again, as has been so often for the team, if they weren’t hitting home runs, they weren’t crossing the plate: d’Arnaud contributed a solo shot, and that was all the scoring the lineup mustered until their final at bat.
Of course, not everyone scuffled. Michael Harris II went 3-3 with two singles and a triple that missed being a homer by inches, was bobbled in the outfield, and the stadium booed when he was held up at third rather than waved home. But you don’t want to get thrown out at the plate with two outs and your best hitter coming to the plate. Ronald hit the ball hard, but it was easily fielded, and the inning ended with no runs scored.
The ninth inning involved some good work by players who have not always come through this year. Olson patiently worked a walk on four balls outside, each to the same part of the zone. After d’Arnaud flew out, Marcell came to the plate.
Phil Gosselin, pinch-running for Olson, would have stolen second base on a pitch Ozuna swung and missed, but Marcell’s long swing followthrough went and clipped the catcher, so Goose was called back for interference, which especially stung as Marcell hit a sharp single to left that probably would have been an RBI had there been a man on second. As it was, runners were on first and second with one out.
Duvall came up, and struck out, as he so often does. It’s what you have to accept along with his homers and his terrific defense — he made a spectacular diving grab earlier in the game. He is who he is, and as a defensive specialist batting seventh he’s perfectly good.
And then came Orlando Arcia. The Giants’ Camilo Doval got behind in the count, missing with the first two pitches — overthrown fastballs — and then he came back with a cement-mixer slider high in the zone, which Arcia sharply grounded right in between the shortstop and third baseman. Walkoff single. Phew.
Terrific starting pitching, pretty good if not quite lights-out bullpen relief, and iffy offense: that’s a sentence you could have typed a lot in Atlanta over the last couple of decades. You could pretty much take that formula to the bank in the regular season. Any time you get nine hits and a walk, it’d be nice to cash in more than two baserunners, but the 0-4 from leadoff man Ronald Acuña and the 0-3 from cleanup hitter Matt Olson don’t make that as easy as you’d like, and the important thing is the win.
So, am I concerned, or just elated? Like I said, it’s a Rorschach blot.