Ozuna saves the day with his first Braves HR

After new slugger ties it in 9th, Swanson delivers go-ahead hit

July 26th, 2020

’s first big moment with his new team introduced Braves manager Brian Snitker to the thrill of experiencing MLB’s new extra-inning rule.

“It’s one of those changes we might end up liking,” Snitker said. “It made it interesting.”

But Ozuna was the one who truly made things interesting with his game-tying homer off Mets closer Edwin Díaz with two outs in the ninth that helped finally wake the Braves’ slumbering offense near the end of the 5-3, 10-inning win at Citi Field on Saturday afternoon.

“Yesterday, [Díaz] struck me out on a fastball away,” Ozuna said. “I couldn’t reach it. It was too far. So today I was talking to my teammates. I said if I get in a situation like that with two strikes and tries to go away, I’m going to try to hit it straight at him or to the opposite field.”

Ozuna’s clutch homer forced both teams to confront the new rule, which calls for a runner to be placed at second base at the start of each extra inning, for the first time. Dansby Swanson immediately scored Adam Duvall with a single and rookie catcher William Contreras added to Mets reliever Hunter Strickland’s woes when he capped the three-run 10th with an RBI double, his first Major League hit.

Luke Jackson pitched a scoreless ninth and then limited the damage to one run after the Mets loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the 10th. But Snitker's decision to leave Jackson in for two innings raised questions about why closer Mark Melancon or Shane Greene weren’t used. The manager revealed after the game that Melancon had tweaked his back earlier in the day and Snitker wasn’t ready to use Greene on a second consecutive day after pitching an inning in Friday’s loss.

But that kind of stress Snitker was more than willing to deal with after Ozuna gave the team life, showing off that same powerful stroke that has produced at least 29 homers two of the past three seasons.

“He’s one of those guys that no situation is going to faze him,” Snitker said. “That guy can hit. We’ve all seen it for a long time. That was huge for us.”

When Ozuna reached across the plate and drove Díaz’s 97.6 mph fastball over the right-field wall, he showed why the Braves were willing to give him a one-year, $18 million deal to compensate for the departure of Josh Donaldson to Minnesota.

Of course while the Braves were celebrating the value from an offseason investment, the Mets were left to once again question the big December 2018 trade they made to get Díaz (and veteran Robinson Cano) from Seattle after his sensational ‘18 season. The Mets' closer has allowed 16 homers (one every 14.5 at-bats) while posting a 5.55 ERA over 60 innings for New York.

“Today is not a day that I'm going to lose my confidence over,” Díaz said. “At the end of the day, I located my pitch exactly where I wanted to put it. At the end of the day, I was also facing a hitter that's a tremendous hitter, so I have to tip my cap to him because he hit the ball. But that was the exact location where I wanted to put it."

Ozuna got ahead with a 3-0 count and swung through a 3-1 slider before using his quick, powerful wrists to generate a 104.7 mph exit velocity on the opposite-field shot. The Braves’ only previous run through the first 17 innings of this series came in the second inning on Saturday, when Duvall homered off an otherwise dominant Steven Matz.

Game-tying blasts like this one will not silence a hometown crowd this year. But they do create a new experience for guys in the clubhouse who can now actually hear the roar from the dugout before seeing the slightly delayed feed on the clubhouse television.

“You heard a little bit of commotion,” Braves starting pitcher Max Fried said. “You didn’t really know what had happened. But you see it on the TV and we all started cheering from in here. He put together a pretty good at-bat there and obviously hit that ball pretty well.”