SAN DIEGO -- One week after referring to Charlie Culberson as “Charlie Angels in the Outfield,” Luke Jackson once again breathed a sigh of relief when Nick Markakis arrived just in the nick of time to make what might have been a game-saving catch in the Braves’ 7-5, 10-inning win over the Padres on Saturday night at Petco Park.
“In that situation of the game, you’re all in,” Markakis said in reference the catch he made as he crashed against the right-field wall to rob Francisco Mejia of a double that would have scored at least one run with one out in the 10th inning.
On a night when Padres closer Kirby Yates suffered just his second blown save in 32 chances this year, the Braves were not able to celebrate until their closer, Jackson, erased some self-inflicted stress by getting Padres reliever Luis Perdomo to look at 3-2 fastball with the bases loaded.
Knowing the Padres were out of position players, the Braves intentionally walked Manuel Margot to load the bases for Perdomo, who had tallied two previous at-bats this season but had recorded four triples among his five hits during the 2017 season. Had the reliever delivered a hit, he would have extended the excitement in this seesaw affair, during which San Diego possessed a 78 percent win probability, per Fangraphs, before Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a game-tying solo homer with two outs in the seventh.
“That’s the way we’ve been playing all year,” Markakis said. “When we get in the seventh inning, we’re pretty tough. We like our chances just as well as anybody late in the game. We’ve just got to continue what we’re doing and have timely hits late in the game.”
There’s no denying the potential possessed by the Braves, who have MLB’s best record, 38-17, dating to May 10. The six-game lead they have gained in the National League East has been built on the strength of an offense that has become even more powerful as Josh Donaldson has tallied 13 of his 22 home runs and produced a 1.125 OPS over his past 27 games.
Following Friday’s two-homer performance, Donaldson gave the Braves an early lead with a two-run homer in the first inning Saturday. He then drew the leadoff walk that fueled the decisive, three-run 10th inning. Ozzie Albies delivered a go-ahead single to right and Tyler Flowers extended Perdomo’s woes by adding some necessary insurance with a two-run double.
As the Braves have matched a franchise-record run total through 93 games (503), they have feasted on pitching in the late innings. They have scored a NL-best 180 runs in the seventh inning or later. The Nationals rank second with 156 runs.
“They kept pushing on us, but we pushed harder,” Albies said.
As the Braves look toward the July 31 Trade Deadline, acquiring a frontline starting pitcher still appears to be the greater need. But despite the fact they have produced an MLB-best 2.81 bullpen ERA dating to May 18, there should still be a desire to add some late-inning experience to this inexperienced relief corps.
A.J. Minter has made some strides since returning from a Minor League demotion, and he might have escaped Saturday’s seventh inning unscathed had Freddie Freeman’s throw to second base not allowed Manuel Margot to score on a double steal. The Braves quickly erased that deficit when Yates saw his six-out save opportunity evaporate with Austin Riley’s game-tying sacrifice fly in the eighth.
As for Jackson, there is no denying the fact he has proven he can be a very valuable bullpen asset. But as he has allowed at least one run in 10 of his past 22 appearances, he has created further reason to question whether he should be the closer for a championship-caliber club.
Jackson was fortunate Culberson made the impressive throw that prevented a game-tying run during the ninth inning of last Sunday’s win over the Marlins. After Jackson allowed Manny Machado’s solo homer in the 10th in this latest outing, he was saved yet again by Markakis’ defensive gem.
“I knew if it stayed in the park, he’d catch it,” Flowers said. “He seems to find a way to crawl up walls and run into them and catch it. It was either game over or the second out.”