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McCann gets 1,000th RBI with walk-off single

Braves win eighth straight, increase NL East lead to 2 1/2 games
@mlbbowman
June 15, 2019

ATLANTA -- Maybe it wasn’t as exhilarating as winning a World Series, and maybe the thrill didn’t necessarily match what Brian McCann felt when he homered off of Roger Clemens in his first postseason at-bat. But the 35-year-old catcher was still understandably feeling a tremendous sense of joy after he

ATLANTA -- Maybe it wasn’t as exhilarating as winning a World Series, and maybe the thrill didn’t necessarily match what Brian McCann felt when he homered off of Roger Clemens in his first postseason at-bat.

But the 35-year-old catcher was still understandably feeling a tremendous sense of joy after he recorded his 1,000th career RBI via a walk-off, two-run single that capped the latest of the improbable comebacks produced by the Braves, who overcame a five-run, seventh-inning deficit in Friday’s 9-8 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.

“That was one of the best moments I’ve ever had,” McCann said. “To be able to get the win and the fashion that it happened was something I’ll always remember.”

Box score

This was certainly another of those many memorable nights the Braves have created on the way to gaining a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Phillies in the National League East. Atlanta has won eight straight and routinely erased seemingly insurmountable deficits throughout this season.

The Braves erased a four-run, ninth-inning deficit during an April 20 win in Cleveland and overcame a three-run, ninth-inning deficit in St. Louis on May 26.

But the most memorable of these comebacks will likely be the one McCann completed when he hit Héctor Neris’ 2-2 splitter to the left-center-field gap. Instead of allowing their rivals to move within a half-game of first place, the Braves were celebrating a milestone moment with their beloved veteran backstop, whose return to his hometown team has proven to be every bit as special as he’d envisioned.

“He’s probably one of the greatest humans I’ve ever been around,” Braves rookie Austin Riley said. “I can’t say enough about him.”

Just 8 years old when McCann made his Major League debut for the Braves in 2005, Riley has performed like a seasoned vet through the first month of his career. The 21-year-old slugger improved his OPS to .952 when he lined Neris’ 1-2 splitter down the left-field line for a two-out RBI double that put a pair of runners in scoring position for McCann.

“To come back here and do what he’s done for our club, I can’t say enough,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I told the guys you’ve got to do something right to get 1,000 RBIs in the big leagues. You’ve got to play a long time and do it right.”

To continue to be productive, you have to be willing to make the sacrifices and adjustments that McCann has made since returning from right knee surgery late last season with the Astros. He hit to all fields while earning seven All-Star appearances during his first stint with the Braves (2005-13) and then became pull happy with the Yankees (2014-16) and their short right-field porch.

“I just changed my approach this offseason,” McCann said. “Things that my brother [Brad] and I did are working.”

McCann’s willingness to rededicate himself to hitting the ball to all fields has helped him hit .286 with six homers (three in his last 13 at-bats) and an .824 OPS, which would be his highest mark since 2010. More importantly, it gave him a chance to drive the low-and-away 2-2 splitter thrown by Neris, who blew his first save opportunity in 17 chances dating back to last year.

“We didn’t think that ball was blistered by any stretch,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “We thought he made a good pitch. At the end of the day there’s no discounting that was very difficult to watch.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for Snitker to watch Max Fried surrender home runs to Bryce Harper and Scott Kingery before exiting his 4 2/3-inning start having allowed five earned runs. Nor was it easy for him to work with a short bullpen while accounting for recent workload and the fact he’ll need all hands on deck when Sean Newcomb enters Saturday’s start restricted to a pitch count between 75-80.

Rhys Hoskins’ two-run, seventh-inning homer gave the Phillies a 7-2 lead, and Kingery’s double off Josh Tomlin led to another insurance run in the eighth. But McCann sparked the unexpected rally when he cut into a five-run deficit with his seventh-inning leadoff homer against Nick Pivetta, who had also surrendered solo shots to Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman.

“It would be real easy to check it off and move on to the next game and you could live with it,” Snitker said. “These guys can’t live with that. It’s unbelievable. They don’t operate that way. Their DNA isn’t that, and it’s been that way for a long time here.”

Even after Charlie Culberson added to his clutch collection by capping a two-run eighth with an RBI triple, there was reason to doubt the Braves would do it again. But anticipation certainly grew when Dansby Swanson began the bottom of the ninth with a single and Nick Markakis drew a two-out, four-pitch walk.

Once Riley cut the deficit to one with his double, there was certainly reason to believe something special was going to happen. McCann has repeatedly said he returned for moments like these and his teammates appreciate the fact his upbeat approach has further nurtured the never-say-die approach that helped the Braves win the NL East last year.

“I’m so glad that he’s here and he’s back and he was able to do what he did,” Swanson said. “You can’t script it any better.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.