NLCS Game Two: The mighty are falling

For the second NLCS game in a row, Freddie Freeman hits one out to start the Braves’ scoring.

Another entry from our Tales of the Unexpected Dept. The Atlanta Braves have a clean shot at shoving the Los Angeles Dodgers into early winter vacation without seeing Clayton Kershaw poke his nose out of his hole even once.

They were supposed to deal with Kershaw in Game Two of their National League Championship Series, until Kershaw’s back decided not so fast, bub. So there he was confined to leaning on the Dodger dugout rail and watching his mates under the thunder of the Braves’ stellar pitching. Again.

The spasms that scratched him from his scheduled Game Two start were the talk of Tuesday—at least until the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Three of the American League Championship Series pushed the Houston Astros to the elimination brink.

The Dodgers were counting on the resurgent Kershaw, the future Hall of Famer who became their best pitcher again this season and who’d been his future Hall of Fame self in two previous postseason gigs this time around. They needed him take the sting out of their Game One bullpen meltdown.

They needed him to find some way, any way of telling the Braves’ opportunistic and unsinkable hitters it was time to get sunk. When his back spasms told him and the Dodgers not to even think about it, the Braves must have thought Christmas came early and Santa’s sleigh was overloaded.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided Game Two was the perfect time to hand young Tony Gonsolin his first-ever postseason start in Globe Life Park, Arlington, the Texas Rangers’ brand new playpen, the hangar that was supposed to be a hot tub for pitchers.

The Braves decided Game Two was the perfect time to hand young Gonsolin and every Dodger pitcher to follow their heads on plates, while pitching the Dodgers’ ears off the way they’ve been doing to every challenger all postseason long thus far.

Yet again, what the Braves have been doing pretty much all postseason long. Pitching the opposition’s ears off. Hitting the opposition’s pitchers as if discovering new and heretofore untapped human resources for batting practise. And, beating the Dodgers 5-1 in Game One and 8-7 in Game Two.

Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ first baseman who may well be this irregular season’s National League Most Valuable Player in all but the formal announcement and plaque presentation, decided it was too good to resist doing in Game Two what he did in Game One.

Monday—Freeman provided the first Atlanta hit and score when he took Dodger starter Walker Buehler into the right field seats with one out in the top of the first. Tuesday—Freeman provided the first Braves hit and score again, this time with Ronald Acuna, Jr. on board with a leadoff walk ahead of him, ending Gonsolin’s three-inning, three-and-three cruising, with a full-count blast about halfway up the right field seats . . . in the top of the fourth.

The Show’s government decided to let fans into the Globe Life stands on a limited and socially distanced basis for this NLCS. After a half summer of seeing nothing but cutouts in the seats, it was jolting to realise Freeman’s Game One launch was the year’s first live baseball souvenir.

Gonsolin lasted into the top of the fifth Tuesday night. He was lifted after Cristian Pache’s one-out RBI double and a followup walk to Acuna. In came Pedro Baez, the Dodger reliever who often threatens to hijack long-ago Cleveland first baseman Mike Hargrove’s nickname, the Human Rain Delay.

Up came Freeman again. He singled Pache home and set up first and third while he was at it. Baez then walked Marcell Ozuna to load the pads for Travis d’Arnaud, who walked right behind him to push Acuna home. Ozzie Albies then whacked a sacrifice fly to left to push Freeman home.

On a night Braves rookie Ian Anderson did what Max Fried and most company did well enough in Game One, the Braves didn’t have to play long ball to paint the scoreboard. About the longest ball other than Freeman’s fourth-inning flog from there looked to be Dansby Swanson bouncing d’Arnaud home with a ground-rule double in the seventh.

Then the Dodgers finally started making things extremely interesting in the bottom of the seventh. When they set up first and second right out of the tunnel against Braves reliever Darren O’Day and, after O’Day managed somehow to get a swinging strikeout out of Mookie Betts, Corey Seager hit one into the Braves’ bullpen behind the center field fence.

Suddenly the Braves advantage was cut to four runs. No wonder Ozzie Albies decided like State Farm to be the good neighbour in the top of the ninth, sending Adam Kolarek’s 2-1 service into the same bullpen.

Where Braves reliever Mark Melancon made a running catch of the ball, a little fancier than just standing there in Game One when Albies hit a two-run homer for which Melancon had only to raise his glove for the catch. In Game Two, the gags started pouring forth that the Braves could stick Melancon in for late-game defense when he wasn’t going to be a bullpen factor.

As it was, Melancon’s thoughts of a Game Two night off vaporised in the bottom of the ninth. He had an unexpected (we think) Dodger uprising to thank for that, when Seager slashed reliever Josh Tomlin for an RBI double and Max Muncy smashed Tomlin for a two-run homer. Unfortunately, Melancon’s ruined off-night opened in near-ruin in its own right.

An infield error allowed Will Smith aboard before Cody Bellinger sent one to the back of right field to triple him home. Leaving Melancon to deal with A.J. Pollock and lure him into grounding one to the hole at shortstop that Swanson picked off to throw him out and finish it with the Braves escaping to within an inch of their lives.

Melancon was less than thrilled when a Braves beat reporter named David O’Brien faced the righthander as though the team blew a lead. “We didn’t blow the lead,” Melancon said, slightly in shock, knowing the Braves won the game by a single run. “I don’t really understand your question.”

He didn’t really approve of it, either. And you couldn’t blame him.

“Can you still take something positive out of this?” O’Brien promptly asked. When a team survives an eleventh-hour uprising to take a 2-0 NLCS lead, do you expect them to take something negative about it? If I’d asked a question like that in my own newspaper and radio reporting days, I’d have been broiled, basted, and braised—and then my subject and my editors would have gotten mad.

O’Brien’s silliness spoiled Melancon’s jovial mood from talking about his bullpen home run catches, when another reporter reminded him he’d just caught more homers than he’d surrendered all year. “That’s more home runs than I’ve caught in my entire life, never mind  one season,” he said through a mischievous grin.

Don’t go thinking that late uprising means that vaunted Dodger firepower’s about to make mincemeat out of these exuberant, relentless Braves just yet. Four-game LCS winning streaks aren’t exactly easy to deliver against teams that don’t know the meaning of the word “quit.”

Especially when you don’t know for sure whether Kershaw will recover in time for Game Four. And, when you may suspect in your heart of hearts that that late-Game Two uprising came a little too little, a little too late, against the weaker side of a bullpen that’s normally anything but generous with runs.

The Dodgers hit .220 when the Washington Nationals blasted them out of the postseason last year. They hit .180 in the 2018 World Series, .205 in the 2017 Series, and .210 in the 2016 NLCS. They’re hitting .206 in this LCS after hitting .287 to knock San Diego out in the division series.

This has been their burden during their National League West ownership. When the bigger of the big stages invite them, the Dodgers don’t look so fierce at the plate. Good pitching staffs can take them. These Braves, National League East owners, have a terrific pitching staff, and their own hitters don’t wilt on the larger stage. Yet.

Cut the crap

Sandy Alcantara’s pitch ricochets off Ronald Acuna, Jr. in the third.

So far as the Miami Marlins seem concerned, the heir apparent to Freddie Freeman as the Atlanta Braves’s franchise face doesn’t wear a Braves uniform. He wears a target. Especially after he hits home runs, in the postseason and otherwise.

Here we went again Tuesday afternoon. Game One, National League division series. And, yes, it was weird enough that the Braves and the Marlins played in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, with the Braves as the home team.

Then Acuna hit the second pitch from Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara over the right field fence opening the bottom of the first. As is characteristic of the ebullient outfielder, he watched for the briefest moment before flipping his bat to one side on his way up the first base line to run it out.

Acuna had reason enough to celebrate even before the Braves demolished the Marlins with a comeback 9-5 win. He became the youngest man in Show history to hit a leadoff bomb in a postseason game. He and the Braves got to enjoy it until the bottom of the third, with the Marlins holding a 4-3 lead and Acuna at the plate with one out.

Alcantara threw at and hit Acuna on an 0-1 count with a 98 mph fastball. At least Alcantara waited until Acuna greeted him again instead of going completely infantile and drilling Freeman following Acuna in the first. That may be the only thing to his credit.

Acuna might have said after the game that he’s kinda, sorta, kinda getting used to being Fish fodder, but that didn’t mean he was necessarily thrilled to be so high on their hit parade when the third-inning pitch struck. He took a few steps forward, toward the mound, holding onto his bat a bit, and both Braves coaches and umpires surrounded him before he entertained any ideas about relieving Alcantara of his head or any other extremities.

“I looked over to their bench,” Acuna said post-game. “I said it’s been five times. At this point, I think we’ve become accustomed to it.” Not necessarily. If that were true, the Braves wouldn’t have engaged in a chirping contest with the Marlins before Acuna finally dropped his bat and took his base.

They also might not have answered the Marlins’ three-run top of the third with Marcell Ozuna doubling Acuna home following Freeman’s followup fly out and Travis d’Arnaud doubling Ozuna home to bring things back to within a run.

And they wouldn’t have bided their time, chased Alcantara out of the game in the seventh with a pair of inning-opening infield singles, one by Acuna himself, before Freeman forced Acuna at second with Yimi Garcia on the mound, Ozuna singled home Austin Riley to tie the game at four, and d’Arnaud hitting a 2-0 grapefruit far enough over the center field fence.

Nor would Ozzie Albies have followed d’Arnaud’s demolition with a base hit to chase Garcia in favour of James Hoyt, whose first service to Dansby Swanson disappeared over the center field fence, too.

That’s where the score stayed other than Matt Joyce’s excuse-me RBI single in the top of the eighth.

“I think it woke us up,” d’Arnaud said of Alcantara drilling Acuna. “And we took advantage of the momentum.” Said Braves manager Brian Snitker, “You better be good at going in and not hitting [Acuna] after a homer.”

Alcantara wasn’t, obviously. Nor was he especially good at covering his tracks after the game. Any expressions of the-ball-got-away-from-him/the-dog-ate-his-homework got vapourised when he added, referencing Acuna’s brief but interrupted advance to the mound, “If he’s ready to fight, I’m ready to fight, too, no matter what happens.”

Cut the crap.There was only one reason Acuna might have been ready to fight, and that was getting drilled his next time up after hitting one out and—oh, the hor-ror!—showing his pleasure over his feat.

Cut the crap. He’s hitting for a .318/.414/.665 slash line against them since he first faced them in 2018. It couldn’t possibly be that the Fish are fed up with Acuna making tuna salad out of them so far in his career.

Cut the crap. It doesn’t matter that has a .182 lifetime batting average against Alcantara into the proceedings. Maybe Acuna also felt like celebrating finally having something more to show than two walks, two strikeouts, and nothing else off the Miami righthander in ten previous plate appearances. Since when does that give Alcantara a license to drill when the first hit he surrenders to Acuna is a parabolic opening launch?

Jose Urena, whose 2018 drilling of Acuna after a bomb-flip got Urena suspended six games, has decent performance papers against Acuna otherwise, if not quite those of Alcantara’s: five strikeouts, three walks, four hits including that lone bomb, and a .235 batting average against him. But Acuna also has a .409 on-base percentage against Urena in 22 plate appearances. And he’s been hit twice in the bargain.

Cut the crap. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You don’t want Acuna turning his bat into a helicopter rotor when he hits one out against you, stop throwing him cantaloupes to hit in the first place. You want to be a Fun Policeman, wear a police uniform and not a Marlins uniform on the mound.

It ruined Alcantara having a solid outing otherwise, until the Marlins bullpen—whose main men are the proud possessors of a 2.72 irregular season ERA—got dismantled in the seventh. It also put a little smudge on the Marlins’ 2020 reputation as a pleasant surprise who missed winning the National League East by finishing four behind these Braves.

But it also reminded close observers that Acuna has been bitten twice as often by the Fish as he’s been by any other major league team. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman was kind enough to point out that Acuna’s been drilled by Miami pitching once every 41.2 plate appearances—and once every 80 plate appearances by everyone else’s pitching staffs.

Acuna answered on social media after the game too. “They have to hit me because they don’t get me out,” he said in one tweet. “I’d like to take this time to apologize to absolutely NOBODY,” he insisted in an Instagram post. I’d like to take this time to say Acuna owes apologies to absolutely nobody.

Waste not, want not

Like Trevor Bauer in Game One, Luis Castillo’s Game Two effort was wasted by the Reds’ absentee bats and futile running.

Joey Votto said going in that his Cincinnati Reds in the postseason, however rough and tumble things had to be to get them there, would be a “[fornicating] nightmare.” He just didn’t bargain on every man in a Red uniform at the plate or on the bases being their own worst nightmares.

If the Reds wish to remain postseason competitive, waste management means waste avoidance. Because if you don’t avoid waste, no matter how efficient your pitching might be, you’ll get wasted the way the Atlanta Braves wasted the Reds late but imperatively Thursday afternoon.

The Reds’ irregular season’s grind just to claim one of this year’s ten wild cards got wasted, too, even worse than Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall wasted relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias’s canteloupes.

Nobody wants to take anything away from the National League East-winning Braves. They clung stubbornly in their wild card set, held on to win Thursday, 5-0, and didn’t let the Reds’ stellar starting pitching blow the spirit out of them no matter how long it took. The Reds made it a little too simple for them in the end.

The Reds won’t live this one down too readily. They’re going to have to try explaining how they became the first team in Show history to be shut out for an entire postseason set, 22 innings worth, even if it was a mere best-of-three.

They’re going to have to try explaining how Trevor Bauer in Game One struck out twelve Braves without walking a soul or surrendering a run, without getting credit for a win, but with the Reds losing in the thirteenth inning on the game’s only run—on a measly RBI single by likely National League Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman.

They’re going to have to explain how Luis Castillo’s first-ever postseason start produced seven strikeouts in five and a third innings, only one run surrendered, only one batter walked, and Iglesias getting blown up in the eighth after Lucas Sims spelled Castillo with an inning and two-thirds of spotless relief.

Ronald Acuna, Jr. doubling home Austin Riley off Castillo with two out in the fifth only made it 1-0. But Iglesias walking Freeman to open the eighth was flirting with death. Death accepted the invitation when Ozuna found a 1-0 meatball so irresistible he yanked it into the empty left center field seats.

Walking Ozzie Alibes after striking Travis d’Arnaud out following that launch wasn’t advisable, either. How inadvisable came too clear when Duvall licked his chops at an even meatier, 0-2 meatball, and sent it out down the left field line.

“Such a professional hitter,” Braves rookie starting pitcher Ian Anderson said of Ozuna after the game, calling Ozuna the life of the club all year long. “Loves the big moment. And I know it was getting to him a little bit, the way his at-bats had unfolded up until that point. Yeah, he couldn’t have been happier, and we couldn’t have been happier for him. That was a huge hit for the team. You could kind of sense that the dugout relaxed then, just a little bit.”

The Braves now wait to see who wins the win-or-be-gone game between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, which might have been played Thursday but for the rain saying “not so fast.”

The Reds are also going to have to explain why they couldn’t find more than two hits off Anderson but found their way to nine strikeouts against the rook making his first postseason start following six irregular season assignments and a shimmering 1.95 ERA.

Those thirteen runners the Reds stranded need some explaining, too. So does having nothing to show against three Braves relievers from the seventh through the ninth.

They’re also going to have to explain why a team with baseball’s worst collective batting average (.212) despite a few offensive upgrades last winter couldn’t find ways to avoid becoming baseball’s first to be shut out of an entire postseason series.

How many times did the Reds answer opportunity’s knocking with “Go away, we gave at the office?”

When they greeted Max Fried in Game One with back-to-back singles giving them first and third and nobody out, only to see Votto—Mr. On-Base Machine—ground out to first, Eugenio Suarez line a badminton shuttlecock to Ozzie Albies at second base, and Mike Moustakas ground out?

When manager David Bell thought he could get away with a play that even the Little League won’t try all that often, having Kyle Farmer on first and Aristedes Aquino on third try a double steal the Braves could smell from about five minutes prior to attempt, with Aquino bagged in an even more kiddie-looking rundown?

When Bell sent spaghetti-bat veteran Freddy Galvis out to pinch hit for Shogo Akiyama with two out and two on in the top of the twelfth, despite Akiyama hitting well enough down the stretch to earn the opportunity, and Galvis rewarded Bell for his unexpected faith by looking at strike three right down the middle?

When they spent Game Two with no non Venezuelan-born Red getting a single base hit, and no Red from any geography reaching base between Galvis’s walk in the second and his off-the-pillow base hit up the first base line in the fifth? When no Red from there got so much as a hit by pitch to reach base and seven out of the final thirteen Red batters struck out?

Their number one irregular season issue, their inability to hit in multiples in most innings, swallowed them deeper than the Braves’ own pitching turned out to do.

“You can look at the defensive positioning, you can look at hard-hit balls that didn’t go for hits,” Bell said after the Game Two loss. “But, it’s something we have to take a closer look at because all teams are really good at defensive positioning and can hit into bad luck at times. Why did that happen for us? We just have to really take a close look at it. We did all year. Yeah, I say, we absolutely do believe in our guys, we made adjustments as much as we possibly could. But we have to find a way to get better.”

Right he is. Every Reds position player except for three will be back in 2021, and enough of them will be on the far enough side of thirty years old. They’ll still have most of their solid pitching, though the Braves didn’t get to see Sonny Gray this week, but Bauer could walk into the free agency market this year with as many potential suitors as a debutante.

Another, older Ian Anderson, leading a British band known as Jethro Tull, sang the epitaph for this year’s Reds a little over half a century ago: It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now.

The Braves get the lucky thirteenth

Freddie Freeman finally drives in the only run of the game . . . in the bottom of the thirteenth.

Put Commissioner Nero and his itch to fix what isn’t broken plus his allergy to fixing what might be to one side. The second loveliest word pair in the English language is “extra innings”—right there behind “play ball!” The Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves certainly believed in lovely word pairs Wednesday afternoon.

We just didn’t think they’d take it to a 12.5 inning shutout extreme while they were at it, before the Braves finally won 1-0 in the bottom of the thirteenth.

Neither did we think fourteen pitchers would combine for 37 strikeouts that only began with Braves starter Max Fried’s five in seven innings and Reds starter Trevor Bauer’s 12 in seven-and-two-thirds. That would mean twelve relief pitchers combining for 25 strikeouts.

It also meant history’s first Show postseason game that ever went scoreless for 12.5 innings. Not to mention Bauer become first in Show ever to throw seven-plus shutout innings with no walks and twelve or more strikeouts.

Now, Fried and Bauer were masterful. No question. But then they were also smart enough to exploit a pair of teams whose diets are dominated by long bombs. Teams who also spent six part of their first National League wild card game trying to hit eight-run homers and half a dozen parts running the bases like Dick Van Dyke trying and failing to avoid somersaulting over the ottoman after he’s only three steps through the front door.

Try not to miss the free cookie on second base to start each team’s extra half inning, either. It’s not part of the postseason, but still. Until Freddie Freeman knocked home the winning run in the bottom of the thirteenth, these Reds and these Braves spent the day proving that if they did have the cookies they still would have stranded them.

Except for the top of the tenth and the bottom of the eleventh in Truist Park, neither side could get anyone home even if they’d paid ransom remands. The Reds even stranded the bases loaded in the eleventh and the thirteenth. Atop an afternoon aboard which the Reds went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and the Braves went 1-for-10 likewise.

Freeman’s was the one that counted. With Amir Garrett on the mound for the Reds, and pinch runner Cristian Pache plus Ronald Acuna, Jr. aboard with one out, he lined a slightly hanging slider into right center field far enough for Pache to hit the plate unmolested.

For the Braves first baseman who prayed COVID-19 wouldn’t get him an early transfer to the Elysian Fields before the irregular season opened, it had to be the single most satisfying hit of his career to date.

It was the least Freeman and his mates could do after reliever Shane Greene left successor A.J. Minter with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the thirteenth. Thanks large for lunch, you could imagine Minter thinking as Aristedes Aquino checked in at the plate, I was dying for a jam sandwich, anyway.

Aquino wrestled Minter to 1-2 including four foul-offs before Minter lunged for and missed a changeup that broke so far low and away Aquino would have needed a search party to make serious contact. Then Minter served Jose Garcia just enough to hit a grounder up the middle that forced Mike Moustakas out for the side.

Memo to the Reds and the Braves hitters: When beasts like Fried and Bauer are on the mound, it’s wise men who heed the wise advisory, “Please don’t feed the animals.”

And, memo to everyone banging Reds manager David Bell for not putting Freeman aboard with a base open and only one out—Freeman may be the National League’s Most Valuable Player in waiting, but he’s far less effective against lefthanded pitchers (.250 batting average against portsiders this year) than righthanded. (.341.) And Garrett this year kept the lefthanded swingers to hitting .043 against him.

Lurking behind Freeman? Righthanded Marcell Ozuna, his 1.067 2020  OPS, and his penchant for demolishing lefthanders like condemned buildings and righthanders close enough to that. (.345 batting average against lefthanders this year; .333 against the starboard arms.) You want to pitch to that with the bases loaded, instead of chancing your man luring Freeman into a double play? Cream Puff the Magic Dragon Ozuna ain’t.

So Bell made the only move he could have made and left his lefthander in to face the lefthanded. You give Freeman all the credit on earth for jumping Garrett’s hanging slider. For better or worse there are times when doing the right thing isn’t as right as the other guy doing it.

Better that Reds fan is frustrated by Adam Duvall and Austin Riley collaborating on nailing Nick Castellanos at third in the sixth, when he tried taking the extra base on a single and Duvall thre the kind of strike requiring nothing but the best tag Riley could get down on Castellanos.

Or, by Aquino channeling his inner Little Leaguer with two out in the seventh, getting himself canned in a rundown between third and home. To think he reached base in the first place after a swing and a miss that dropped him on his can before singling to left with one out.

Now the Reds get to play Game Two hoping they can drop Ian Anderson and the Braves on their cans, instead of ending up singing, “It was a new day yesterday/but it’s an old day now.”

Fish fouled

Adam Duvall has just low-fives third base coach Ron Washington after helping the Braves to an eleven-run second and a 29-9 slaughter.

Not even Joe West’s umpiring crew working the game could prevent it. For all anybody knows, maybe even Country Joe himself took pity on the Miami Marlins and called the Hague–or, at least, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources—himself, to file on their behalf against the abuses they suffered in Atlanta Wednesday night.

Or, at least Marlins manager Don Mattingly might have slipped a note to Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, asking only partially puckishly, “Brian, could we have the bottom of the second back? Pretty please? With tartar sauce on it?”

Call it the Fish Fricasee. But call the Braves’s 29-9 cleaning, scaling, and fileting the arguable nastiest combined attack of ground troops, close-cover strafing, aerial assault, and strategic bombing ever committed by them, their 29 runs setting a new franchise record.

Sure, the Milwaukee Brewers de-clawed the Detroit Tigers 19-0 in Comerica Park earlier in the day. Only they did it in gradual clips and snaps, a couple of runs here, a few there, a few more yonder. Who the hell needed that nonsense from rude guests when you had the hosts in Truist Park treating their oceanic guests like a shipment of cat food?

What started as a 2-0 Marlins lead got vaporised by fourteen Braves batters including four repeaters before Ender Inciarte showed the Fish mercy and cast his line for an inning-ending ground out to first base. The carnage only began with Dansby Swanson singling his way aboard against Marlins starter Pablo Lopez.

Lopez’s next two mistakes were back-to-back walks to Austin Riley and Adam Duvall. And then it began:

* Ozzie Albies returning from a month on the injured list pushed Swanson home with a ground out to first.

* Inciarte sent a sacrifice fly to the deeper region of left center field, tying the game at two.

* Duvall took third on the play and the Marlins called for a review to see whether third baseman Brian Anderson got the tag on the sliding Duvall’s leg before or after a) Duvall’s foot hit the pillow and b) Riley crossed the plate. The review said no, sir, umpire Hunter Wendelstedt making the emphatic safe sign.

* After Lopez walked Ronald Acuna, Jr., Freddie Freeman hit a line drive to right that diving Marlins right fielder Monte Harrison couldn’t grab, the ball bouncing under his blue glove, scoring Duvall and sending Acuna to third.

* Marcell Ozuna floated a pop to shallow left near the line that hit the grass before Miami left fielder Lewis Brinson could reach it, sending Acuna home. “And the Braves are first-and-thirding the Marlins to death,” crowed Braves broadcaster Chip Caray after the fourth run rang in.

* Travis d’Arnaud, the former Met, checked in with first and third yet again. He hit the first-pitch hanging changeup into the first empty row of the left field seats. The blast ended Lopez’s evening and it’s not impossible that the only thing the Marlins righthander could say when Mattingly came forth to end his misery was, “What took so long, Skip?”

Exit Lopez, enter Jordan Yamamoto for the Fish. Swanson greeted him with a base hit to left, then Riley shot one right between shortstop and third basemen trying to converge to send Swanson home. Then Duvall hit yet another first pitch into the right center field bullpen.

Yamamoto finally said too much was enough about the Braves’ first-pitch hitting and wrestled Albies to an eighth pitch. Unfortunately, it was finally ball three and a full count, forcing Yamamoto to throw a ninth pitch. And Albies drove it four rows up the empty center field seats.

A smooth-looking righthander otherwise, Yamamoto shares a surname with World War II’s Japanese Combined Fleet commander. What the U.S. Navy did to Admiral Yamamoto’s forces at Midway and beyond, the Braves did to the Marlins in the bottom of the second. They one-upped the ten-spot second under which they might have buried the Philadelphia Phillies two Sundays ago—but for the Phillies crawling back to make the Braves sweat out a 12-10 final.

Yamamoto the pitcher’s misery didn’t end when he and the Marlins finally escaped the second inning with what was left of their lives, unfortunately. He’d pitch two and two-thirds innings total and leave with twelve earned runs on his evening’s jacket. Making him only the second relief pitcher in seventy years to take twelve or more for the team, joining the sad company of Vin Mazzaro—who took fourteen from the Cleveland Indians for the Kansas City Royals in two and one third on 16 May 2011. He’d have had better survival odds if he was a World War II naval commander.

About the only thing the Braves didn’t do to the Marlins Wednesday night was drop the atomic bomb. Oops. Take that back. After a one-out single, a hit batsman, and a shallow base hit against another Marlins reliever, Josh A. Smith, Duvall—who also hit a three-run homer in the fifth—dropped the big one, slicing salami on an 0-1 meatball in the bottom of the seventh, for what proved the final four Atlanta runs.

Whoever files the report with the Hague, or with the Georgia department’s fisheries management, they’re going to have to include that. It might be the only time in history that a late atomic bomb did less damage and was less lethal than what happened earlier in the war.