You wouldn’t know it by looking at the final score, but this was actually a very close game until the bottom of the 8th inning. Only then did the Braves blow it open and, in the process, leave legions of fans breathing heavy sighs of relief. For those of us who have been watching closely these past few weeks, that inning was a long time coming.
Up until then the game had all of the hallmark qualities of a miserable Braves defeat: an opposing pitcher looking mediocre, at best; the Braves scoring a handful of runs, yet nevertheless stranding hoards of other potential runs on base; an Atlanta starter who coughed up the lead almost as soon as the lineup handed it to him; and a handful of managerial decisions that could have gone either way, only this time they went awry. I’ll spare you the details. You either watched the game and know what I’m talking about, or you didn’t watch yet still know what I’m talking about. When the wary Braves fan saw the Diamondbacks take the lead in the top of the 8th, all-too-familiar groans emanated from that fan’s mouth.
But then the bottom of the 8th inning happened, and all the frustrations about the offense these past few weeks found release. Coming into today, Atlanta had scored a mere 87 runs in 26 June games – only four other teams had scored fewer over the same time frame – but it wasn’t for lack of chances. The team’s .324 OBP in June actually puts them in the top-10 in the league. The trouble has been that with runners in scoring position, the hits just haven’t been coming. The Braves have been getting them on and over, but not in. And so we have wept.
Thank goodness, then, that in the bottom of the 8th inning, 7 Atlanta base runners crossed home plate without the benefit of a home run. In fact, the Braves batted around that inning – they actually sent 11 men to the plate, two of them twice – and 8 of the guys who came to bat reached base at some point in the frame. Only BJ Upton didn’t, and his out nevertheless plated a run (his second sac fly of the game). Altogether, it was a deeply satisfying half hour. This is how we expect them to hit. Nevermind that Tim Hudson didn’t have his best stuff; forget that the normally-reliable Jordan Walden served up a monster home run in a tie game. The Braves hitters bailed out their pitchers, and we haven’t seen much of that since April.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see more hitting in the future, either. Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have been hitting well all season, but now Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, and the older Upton are all looking pretty good at the plate. Justin Upton is also showing a few encouraging signs of life. Today we saw what they can do when they’re all clicking: 11 runs on 11 hits. Let’s hope they can do it again tomorrow, when in a matinee performance Atlanta will be going for the sweep.