Braves' 9th-inning rally all for naught

September 18th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are a lot of ways to describe the downright lunacy of what occurred on Friday night at Oracle Park, but Braves manager Brian Snitker summarized it succinctly.

“Maybe the best win of the year turned into the toughest loss,” Snitker said.

On an evening in which both teams traded home runs in the ninth, the intentional walk became Snitker’s extra-innings tool of choice. Kevin Gausman, a pitcher, hit the game-winning, walk-off sacrifice fly and the Braves fell to the Giants 6-5 in 11 innings. It was, in short, a loss that was equal parts bizarre and brutal.

“It definitely hurts,” said starter Ian Anderson, who allowed a career-high three home runs, with seven strikeouts, in 5 2/3 innings.

Before Gausman stepped to the plate and delivered the greatest offensive feat of his career -- he described it as a top life moment on par with the birth of his two children -- there were the ninth-inning theatrics by and Donovan Solano.

Atlanta entered the ninth inning down two runs. Its offense had been quiet all game, and Tyler Rogers was in to shut the door for the Giants. Those plans quickly changed. Austin Riley and Adam Duvall smashed singles on the first pitches they saw from Rogers, putting the tying run on base. Eddie Rosario lined out, but that set the stage but d'Arnaud’s towering, go-ahead three-run homer.

The ball was hit high, but not far, hanging in the air for seconds that felt like an eternity to the thousands in attendance. With the wind barely blowing, d'Arnaud’s blast had just enough juice to sneak over the left-field fence. The home crowd was stunned, rendered silent -- save the scattering of groans.

The jubilation in Atlanta’s dugout, however, was short-lived as the Giants, who lead the National League in home runs, also have a penchant for the dramatic.

With the Giants down to their last strike, Solano, who hadn’t seen a pitch since Aug. 24 after being sidelined due to COVID-19, hit a pinch-hit home run to tie the game at 5. Oracle Park erupted. It was a new ballgame.

Neither team scored in the 10th inning.

With lefty Tyler Matzek on the mound, the Braves intentionally walked Buster Posey and, after Austin Slater’s groundout, Kris Bryant, loading the bases, but getting a more favorable matchup. Matzek ran a full count on Brandon Crawford, but got the All-Star shortstop to ground out.

The Braves, now 7-for-49 at the plate in extra innings, went down in the 11th without advancing the free runner on second base, giving the Giants another chance.

A San Francisco win seemed all the more certain when Jacob Webb’s errant pickoff attempt allowed Crawford -- the automatic runner -- to advance to third with no outs. Evan Longoria was subsequently walked, as was Solano, loading the bases with one out. With the pitcher’s spot due up and the Giants out of position players, manager Gabe Kapler sent out Gausman, their “best” available option.

Gausman was the ultimate free out, but he was not content to go down quietly. Webb got ahead in the count 1-2, but Gausman then took a pair of close pitches to run the count full. Webb had to come in the zone to Gausman, lest he walk home the game-winning run. He did just that.

Webb’s payoff pitch was a middle-middle fastball that Gausman skied into shallow right field.

With one out and Brandon Belt due up next, it would’ve made sense for Crawford to err on the side of caution and stay put. Crawford did not do that; he went for broke. Right fielder Joc Pederson’s throw wasn’t on time. Crawford scored. Gausman was the hero. The Braves had only delayed the inevitable.

“Definitely a swing of emotions,” d'Arnaud said. “It’s baseball.”