If not for the events of the eighth inning, tonight’s game would have been a frustrating loss: once again, our starter got rocked (Bryce Elder‘s second straight start of exactly 3 2/3 innings); Dansby Swanson came back to Atlanta for the first time in a new uniform, got a standing ovation, then stole a base and scored his team’s second unanswered run of the game; and our offense was held scoreless through the first five innings by an as-advertised Justin Steele.
Well, at least he was as advertised through five. In the sixth inning, the Braves went to work on him, and after a leadoff homer by Kevin Pillar, followed by a double, a walk, and an RBI single, his night was done, further blemished by the RBI double yielded by the man who relieved him. That crooked number cut the lead in half to 6-3.
The next inning, after a leadoff walk by Sean Murphy, Ronald Acuña poked one just 344 feet over the right field wall; he’s hit ’em 150 feet further than that, but they all look the same in the box score. That cut the lead to 6-5, and that was the last of the Braves’ earned runs.
The Braves benefited, however, from a number of unsolicited gifts from the Cubbies. The first came in the fourth, as Bryce Elder was finally removed in the fourth inning after giving up his seventh hit and fifth walk of the night. But Jackson Stephens came in and didn’t even need to retire a man to get out of the inning, as Sean Murphy caught rookie Pete Crow-Armstrong *trying* to come home on a delayed double steal; Murphy faked the throw to second and then got Crow-Armstrong in a rundown. I imagine his manager won’t let him quickly forget the error of his ways, as he made the third out of the inning at third base.
(Dansby Swanson had successfully stolen second base in the second inning with a man on third, clearly trying to bait the Braves into chasing him into a rundown; instead they let him take the base.)
Then came the eighth inning, which could haunt the poor Cubbies in their desperate hopes to clinch a playoff spot. Drew Smyly was pitching, and he started out in vintage fashion: leadoff walk, wild pitch, strikeout, wild pitch, walk, strikeout, stolen base. At that point, the Braves had the tying run on third, the go-ahead run on second, and Sean Murphy lifted a fly ball to right-center field, as right fielder Seiya Suzuki and converged with center fielder Cody Bellinger – who started the game at first and just shifted to center at the beginning of the inning.
Suzuki called him off, raised his glove to catch it, and then… he whiffed. The ball dropped right behind him for a backbreaking two-run error. Suzuki had a single and a two-run triple earlier in the game, so he wasn’t a complete goat; while his misplay cost his team the game, his triple (the Cubs’ only XBH of the evening) had previously accounted for his team’s margin.
There’s a reason it’s a cliche to say you’d rather win ugly than lose pretty. Of course you would. A win’s a win, and as the Dodgers split their doubleheader today, the magic number for the best record in the league stands at 1. (The Orioles beat the no-help Natspos 1-0 tonight, so the magic number for best record in baseball is at 3.) Absolutely none of the questions surrounding this team were answered, and absolutely none of the critics were silenced, and who the hell cares? We won!
As the Insane Clown Posse sagely observed:
I’ve seen miracles in every way
And I see miracles every day
We’ve got 101 wins! Ain’t it great?