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Donaldson says checkmate in SunTrust slugfest

Albies cranks pair of solo shots, Freeman continues on-base streak
@mlbbowman
April 28, 2019

ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson did what he’s paid to do and Luke Jackson did what nobody expected he’d be asked to do, as the Braves prevented a three-game series sweep with an 8-7 comeback win over the Rockies on Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park. “It was a game we needed

ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson did what he’s paid to do and Luke Jackson did what nobody expected he’d be asked to do, as the Braves prevented a three-game series sweep with an 8-7 comeback win over the Rockies on Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park.

“It was a game we needed to win,” Jackson said. “It was crunch time. I got warmed up pretty quick and I really don’t remember much.”

Once the adrenaline wore off and Jackson was able to digest what had just occurred, he likely had fond memories of what happened. He prevented A.J. Minter from tasting ninth-inning despair for a second straight day and preserved the lead that Donaldson had provided with his two-out, go-ahead homer against Seunghwan Oh in the eighth inning.

“I felt I hit a couple balls lately, late in the game, that I thought had a chance, and they didn’t go out,” Donaldson said. “So, today for it to go over and help our team win the game, that means a lot.”

While must-win games do not exist a month into the season, the Braves knew they needed this one, especially after Minter had blown a save during Saturday night’s five-run ninth. They began this series finale auspiciously with a three-run first inning that included the first of Ozzie Albies’ two homers and a two-run shot from Freddie Freeman, who has reached safely in each of the club’s first 27 games, matching the season-opening Atlanta record J.D. Drew set in 2004.

But Kevin Gausman surrendered five runs over five mediocre innings, Dan Winkler surrendered an Ian Desmond homer and left fielder Johan Camargo’s lackadaisical attempt to glove an eighth-inning single gave the Rockies a 7-5 lead. Albies extended the bottom of the eighth with a two-out single and Donaldson took advantage by going up out of the zone to drill Oh’s 1-1 fastball into the right-field seats.

“He’s been hitting the ball real hard in big situations that have been getting caught,” Freeman said. “But sitting on the on-deck circle right when he hit that, I knew it was gone. It was a big spot.”

Donaldson started slowly, but he has produced a 1.233 OPS and tallied three of his five home runs over the past seven games. In other words, the former American League MVP, who signed a one-year, $23 million deal in November, is starting to realize the results expected from somebody who entered Sunday with MLB’s 12th-best hard-hit percentage (54.0), which accounts for every ball hit with a 95-mph plus exit velocity.

“When I’m at my best, I’m hitting the ball hard and it’s in the air,” Donaldson said. “I still feel like I’m a little inconsistent, not taking the swings I want every time I’m at the plate. But you know, I’m trying to be patient with myself and go about my work the way that I do. Hopefully, I’ll get to be where I want to be soon.”

If many Braves fans would have had their way, Jackson would have been anywhere but on Atlanta’s roster after he surrendered a grand slam to Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins on Opening Day. But since then, the easy-going reliever, who was designated for assignment, has become the only reliable piece within the Braves’ bullpen. He has made 12 consecutive scoreless appearances, with the most influential likely being his latest.

“I’m happy for him,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s been in attack mode. That was a big moment right there. That shows you a lot about him and where he’s come and how he’s grown.”

The moment was one Snitker didn’t necessarily want Jackson to have to experience. The right-hander had thrown two scoreless innings Saturday night. But because he had totaled just 17 pitches in the process, he was available once Minter began Sunday’s ninth by allowing consecutive singles ahead of Daniel Murphy’s flyout.

With a pair of left-handed hitters out of the way, Jackson was called upon to face the always dangerous Nolan Arenado. The Rockies' third baseman hit the fifth consecutive slider thrown to him to shallow left field, where Ronald Acuna Jr. made a sliding grab.

“Fortunately, I jammed Arenado on a backup slider that was middle in,” Jackson said. “If I could take that pitch back, I would. But sometimes, baseball happens and it works out in your favor.”

Now all that separated the Braves from victory was left-handed hitter David Dahl and the nervous throw that Jackson made after fielding the left fielder’s weak comebacker in front of the mound.

“He hit a comebacker and I had probably the most nervous PFP [pitchers fielding practice] I’ve ever had,” Jackson said.

Though the process might have been nerve-wracking, the result was memorable, much like the past month has been for Jackson.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.