In a rain soaked bottom of the 9th inning at Citi Field in New York, Jason Heyward made a catch to save the game that was nothing short of amazing! Mark Bowman commented on Twitter that it was reminiscent of Andruw Jones‘ sensational diving catch to save Tom Glavine‘s pitching gem in Montreal. Glavine pitched a four-hitter for his 22nd career shutout back in May of 2002 to lead the Atlanta Braves to a 2-0 win over the Montreal Expos, and Andruw Jones diving catch in the 9th to save that game is a moment every Braves’ fan remembers. Heyward’s diving catch in center off a hit by Justin Turner was just as amazing as the Mets had runners on first and second base with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. Turner was just inches from a gapper that would certainly have at least tied the game and sent it to extra innings if not for Heyward’s Gold Glove caliber catch just inches off the grass.
Craig Kimbrel came in for the save in the bottom of the 9th after the Braves were able to put together a two run rally in the top of the 9th to take a 2-1 lead over the Mets. The rain that had began to fall toward the end of the game increased with each pitch, and Kimbrel was trying to find any dry piece of clothing he could to dry his hands and maintain control of his delivery. Kimbrel got the struggling Ike Davis out on strikes, plunked John Buck (Buck’s 2nd plunk of the game), struck out Juan Lagares, and then walked Omar Quintanilla. With two on, two outs, and the rain an increasing issue, Justin Turner came in to pinch hit for reliever Bobby Parnell, and smacked a liner that had gapper written all over it! No, No, said Jason Heyward, making a diving, mud and rain soaked catch that was an absolute thing of beauty! It was one of those catches that rivals any walk-off win! Heyward commented after the game that it was the best catch of his career. I concur.
While not a Glavine-like shutout, Julio Tehran pitched a pretty good gem himself, going six innings and allowing only one earned run on four hits, while striking out six batters and walking only two. It wasn’t easy facing the Mets’ Dillon Gee either, as Gee went seven innings and allowed only two hits and three walks. The Braves have had trouble all year producing with runners in scoring positions, and had trouble again in game 1 leaving eight runners stranded, and being pretty much shut down until the top of the 9th inning.
In the 9th inning though, the Braves began to hit the way I hope they will every game. Yes, they have a well-earned reputation for swinging for the fences, but the kind of patient, hitting for contact we saw for the late rally was refreshing to say the least. Brian McCann was able to hit against the shift (a rare thing for him) on a pitch outside that Brian stayed with well and delivered to left-center. Evan Gattis followed that up fighting off a pitch to deliver a soft single. Chris Johnson didn’t try to do too much, and made good contact for a sacrifice to drive in a run. Then Reed Johnson stayed within himself as well and singled to drive in another. What was refreshing about the top of the 9th was seeing several consecutive Braves’ hitters not trying to do too much, not swinging for the fences, but just making contact and hitting the balls where they were pitched. Homeruns are all well and good, but going down the stretch I want to see the Braves’ keep hitting through 9 inning games like they did in that half inning tonight.
After a first half of ups-and-downs, the Braves came into the 2nd half shockingly losing the series to the Chicago White Sox, and the late win tonight will hopefully give the Braves some degree of momentum going forward. With two more games against the Mets before facing the Cardinals, and a majority of games at home the rest of the season, it will be vital for the Braves to start concentrating on simple, small ball, run production, and a focus on doing whatever they can to stop the downhill slide of leaving so many runners stranded. The pitching has been good, and while it appears there could be some changes on the horizon with the starting rotation, and moves that will be made by the trade deadline for stability in relief, the problem continues to be the Braves’ need for simple, productive base hitting, good base running, and much better defense. With a seven game lead in the NL East, if the Braves can put those things together a touch better, the sky’s the limit.