Shutout stops Braves' win streak at 14
Walden allows lone run on wild pitch in ninth; Atlanta held to three hits
ATLANTA -- It has been over 10 years since a team won 15 consecutive regular-season games, a testament to just how elusive qualities such as consistent starting pitching and unflagging offensive production can be, even in the Major Leagues.
The Braves' prolific offense went silent on Saturday night to spoil a strong effort from Alex Wood and put a remarkable winning streak in the record books for good, though it may have come up just short of even loftier superlatives. Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria scored from third on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning to deal the Braves a 1-0 loss.
Atlanta's 14-game winning streak, the longest single-season run since the Oakland Athletics won 20 games in a row in 2002, was snapped thanks in part to a confluence of oddities. Hechavarria's critical ninth-inning triple boosted the OPS of the typically light-hitting shortstop to just .589 on the season. Both Wood and Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi had to stay loose through a 54-minute rain delay that stopped play after just one inning. And National League batting leader Chris Johnson was ejected for arguing with home-plate umpire Jim Joyce after he struck out looking with two men on to end the first inning.
"It was bound to end sometime, you know?" Wood said. "What we've done the past three-fourths of a month has been pretty special. We've been playing great ball from every aspect -- hitting, pitching, defense -- and tonight we pitched well and played great defense, and the bats just weren't there."
After both teams left two men stranded in the first inning, neither offense was able to put a runner on second base until Hechavarria roped a triple to the wall in left-center off reliever Jordan Walden to lead off the ninth. Hechavarria would come home during the next at-bat on Walden's wild pitch in the dirt that eluded catcher Evan Gattis.
"I don't know what happened," said Walden, who had to leave the game one batter later when he was hit in the hand with a line drive. "It was a little up and away. He got me and he hit it."
Eovaldi made sure the Braves would not simply stroll to a historic 15th consecutive victory, tossing seven innings of one-hit ball. The Atlanta offense that had averaged nearly six runs over the course of its 14-game unbeaten streak was nowhere to be found for most of the night, although a long fly ball to center field off the bat of Dan Uggla brought the Turner Field crowd of 42,177 to its feet before dying at the warning track to end the seventh.
After Freddie Freeman took Eovaldi's 97-mph fastball to center for a two-out single in the first inning, the Braves did not get another hit off the 23-year-old right-hander.
"I definitely feel like he's tough on righties with the way his ball moves, wild movement on his fastball, but it's still around the zone," right fielder Jason Heyward said. "He spots up at times when he needs to. He's always had the velocity, and I feel like every time he's thrown, he's gotten better every time out, so you see him working really hard to improve."
After Simmons reached on an infield single in the eighth, pinch-hitter Brian McCann struck out and Heyward grounded out weakly to second base to quell what amounted to a serious scoring threat in a game where baserunners came at a premium.
While Eovaldi blazed through the Atlanta order with a heavy dependency on his upper-90s fastball, Wood found success with his changeup and fastball command to allow just two hits and match a career high with seven strikeouts over six innings of work.
"That was pretty darn good, both guys," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Eovaldi was really really good, and Woody was good. He matched him zero for zero, and we just couldn't get anything going. I thought Woody did a good job for a kid experiencing for the first time a rain delay for an hour, going back out there. I thought it was a big start for him."
The Braves' offense was certainly not helped by Johnson's early exit. Paul Janish took over Johnson's defensive responsibilities and made a pair of sparkling plays ranging to his left in the fourth inning to keep Wood's outing rolling, including a diving stop to rob Placido Polanco of a base hit. But Janish went 0-for-3 at the plate and was called out on strikes to end the game with the tying run on first base in the ninth.
"You feel good that Paul is going to give you a good at-bat," Gonzalez said. "There was never a situation where you could do something that he does well, either hit-and-run or bunt. That scenario never came up, but it is what it is. We had other guys have some opportunities. With one run, the way our offense is, you could put a crooked number up in a hurry, and we didn't tonight."
A Braves win would have tied the 2000 team for the franchise's longest winning streak in the modern era. Instead, the Marlins snapped a six-game losing streak midway through a trying nine-game road trip against three of the hottest teams in the league in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Kansas City.
"These guys are red-hot," Miami manager Mike Redmond said. "I knew we would need another great pitching performance, and we got that. [Eovaldi] was outstanding. We were fortunate enough to get a big hit by Hech at the perfect time. We scored on a wild pitch. That's Fish style, right there."
With their bid for history done in by the team that sits 26 games behind them in the standings, the Braves had little choice but to chalk it up to an off night and look ahead to staying hot as far down the stretch as possible.
"I don't think anybody in here thought that we were going to win out, you know what I mean?" Johnson said. "We have a lot of respect for that ballclub over there, a lot of respect for that guy on the mound who pitched tonight and did well."