Sandy Alcantara certainly got the Braves’ attention. The hard-throwing right-hander yielded a leadoff homer to Ronald Acuña Jr. and plunked him with a sinker his next time up, as emotions began to boil in the third inning.
Alcantara regrouped and made it into the seventh. But after manager Don Mattingly removed Alcantara with two batters on and no outs in the seventh, the Braves were able to pounce on the Marlins’ bullpen. Marcell Ozuna came through with a game-tying RBI single before Travis d’Arnaud delivered the gut punch with a three-run homer off Yimi García to hand Miami a 9-5 loss on Tuesday in Game 1 of the best-of-five National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park.
The setback was an all-too-familiar one for the Marlins, who finished second in the NL East but have closed the gap with the reigning three-time division champion Braves. To overtake Atlanta and rebound in the series, Miami must find a way to close out late-inning leads.
“I thought Sandy was pretty good all day,” Mattingly said. “In the seventh, I thought he was our best guy in the game. He was in a pretty good spot and got a couple of fairly weak ground balls that just found holes. At that point, I was hoping that Yimi would be able to stop it.”
A tightly played game had tensions ramp up after the latest incident of Acuña being hit by a pitch.
“Something happened,” Alcantara said. “I just tried to go inside against him, and I hit him. I don’t know why they are always thinking every time we hit Acuña it’s on purpose. We all the time try to pitch inside to him. We keep throwing inside to him, no matter what happens.”
The next time the two squared off, Alcantara struck out Acuña with a 98 mph sinker to end the fourth inning, stranding two runners. But in the seventh, Acuña’s single up the middle ended Alcantara’s day after 95 pitches.
From that point, the Braves broke things open.
“That was frustrating, because I wanted to throw my seven innings,” Alcantara said. “But they take me out of the game. I have to respect that decision. I have to keep positive and keep working hard to get better.”
Miami likes its chances against anyone because of its starting pitchers. But its bullpen has been questionable. In the NL Wild Card Series sweep of the Cubs, Marlins relievers threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings. But in the regular season, the bullpen’s 5.50 ERA ranked 26th, and its 118 walks were tied for fifth most.
Alcantara did his part, striking out eight in six-plus innings. However, he was charged with five runs, including two inherited by García, in the Braves’ six-run seventh.
García has arguably been the Marlins’ most dependable reliever. In 15 regular-season innings, he allowed one earned run, with 19 strikeouts to five walks. He didn’t surrender a homer.
“We felt like Yimi was our next best guy in that part of the order and just went there,” Mattingly said.
But with one out and two on in the seventh, d’Arnaud crushed a three-run homer to center, making it 7-4.
"I can’t say enough," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of d'Arnaud. "He’s been unbelievable. Great for our club, just the person and player. He’s gotten a lot of big hits for us this season."
Atlanta tacked on with Dansby Swanson’s two-run shot off James Hoyt.
“Both of those guys have been great for us all year long,” Mattingly said. “Today it didn’t work out, but we still have confidence in both guys knowing they’ve been our best guys all year long. We’ll be right back to them.”
Anderson went 3-for-4 with an RBI after going hitless in nine at-bats in the Wild Card Series against the Cubs.
“Guys are just trying to absorb what happened today,” Anderson said. “Obviously, we did pretty good offensively, put up some runs early, especially off Fried, got him out of the game early, got to their bullpen. Just made a couple mistakes pitching wise. They’re a good team over there. They put good at-bats together, and they were able to hit some out of the park today.”