Five HRs, clutch single lift Braves to wild W

September 10th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Following his team’s 7-6, 10-inning win over the Nationals at Truist Park on Thursday night, Braves manager Brian Snitker was asked if he had found a way to best define a game like this, during which teams repeatedly trade punches over the final innings.

“It was just mind-numbing and exhausting,” Snitker said. “I’m proud of the guys. They fought their rears off tonight in that game with the adversities. That was something.”

Joc Pederson ended the madness when he laced a walk-off single to left field off Wander Suero in the 10th. Pederson’s second career game-ending RBI ended a battle during which the two division rivals traded leads three times over the final six innings.

With a defeat, the Braves would have lost this three-game series against the Nationals. But by claiming their 14th win of the season against Washington, they moved 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Phillies in the National League East.

As the club bids for a fourth consecutive division title, it’s worth noting that at this same point last year, with 23 games remaining, the Braves' NL East lead was just two games.

“It’s a great team win,” Pederson said. “It shows the kind of group we have, to be able to come from behind after getting hit in the face a little bit and then get up and put up some runs. That’s huge. That’s what wins games in October.”

Here are five key moments from this thriller:

1) Pederson’s game winner: After the Braves' bullpen allowed a single run in each of the final four innings of regulation, Jacob Webb got through the top of the 10th unscathed. Suero loaded the bases by hitting Austin Riley on the ninth pitch of his plate appearance and then struck out Adam Duvall. But Pederson delivered an elevated cutter to left field for the two-out hit that led to him being mobbed around second base.

“There’s a guy who has been in these big situations and on the big stage his whole career,” Snitker said. “I don’t think any situation is ever going to overwhelm him.”

For Pederson, the decisive single served as retribution for his inability to secure Lane Thomas' leadoff triple that led to the Nationals tallying a run off closer Will Smith in the ninth. The veteran Braves outfielder briefly had the ball in his glove, but it fell out as his leap carried him toward the outfield wall.

“It's unfortunate they capitalized on that and scored,” Pederson said. “Luckily we won the game. But it's got to be an out.”

2) Eighth-inning homers: After Luis García gave the Nationals a lead with his eighth-inning solo homer against Rich Rodríguez, Freddie Freeman and Adam Duvall both hit home runs in the bottom half of the inning off Mason Thompson.

Freeman’s game-tying shot gave him 29 homers and Duvall set a new career high of 34 homers with his go-ahead shot. Duvall, who has an extra-base hit in seven straight games, set this mark on the one-year anniversary of him hitting three homers in a 29-9 win over the Marlins. He remains the only player in Braves history to have two three-homer games.

3) Matzek’s play: It was a rough night for Braves relievers as A.J. Minter allowed a run in the sixth and Luke Jackson surrendered one run in the seventh. But Tyler Matzek prevented any further damage in the seventh when he produced one of the best defensive plays you’ll see from a pitcher.

With runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, the Braves intentionally walked Juan Soto and then called upon Matzek to face Josh Bell. Bell responded with a sharp comebacker that hit the left-handed reliever’s foot and bounced toward the plate.

Matzek got to the ball, grabbed it with his left hand and flipped to the plate as he fell face first into the grass. The toss to catcher Travis d’Arnaud narrowly beat a sliding Thomas to the plate and kept the game tied.

“It was good in that situation that Matzek kept his wits about him and got the out,” Snitker said. “That’s a huge play, obviously.”

4) Vogt’s rollercoaster: Everything seemed to be going great for Stephen Vogt, who entertained the Braves by doing his famous referee imitation in the clubhouse before the game. The veteran backup catcher then produced his fourth career multi-homer game and first since June 30, 2017. He entered the day without an extra-base hit in the 74 at-bats he’d tallied since the Braves acquired him from the D-backs.

But Vogt’s good day ended in rude fashion when he felt something pop in his hip as he attempted to make a throw to third base in the seventh inning. He will be further evaluated, but it sounds like the Braves may need to bring William Contreras back to serve as d’Arnaud’s backup.

5) Soler’s power: Jorge Soler drilled a loud go-ahead shot off Nationals starter Erick Fedde in the sixth. Soler has hit .286 with 10 homers and a .926 OPS in the 35 games he’s played since being acquired from the Royals. He had tallied 13 homers in 94 games for Kansas City.