The 2023 National League East champs flew to Miami with heads full of excitement and accomplishment, hoping to ride the momentum of the previous night’s bout of champagne and zip through a quick series with Miami.
That’s the thing about division-rivalry games, though; quite literally anything can happen. Records don’t matter, stats don’t matter, nothing black and white matters at all; the only thing that matters, in the eyes of both sides, is whoever ends up coming out on top.
Anything can happen in rivalry games, and these two teams reminded us of that very plainly.
The Miami bats were the first to get hot in this anything-goes type of matchup, seeing former .400 candidate Luis Arraez send a ball into the right field seats.
Jake Burger and Bryan De La Cruz reminded us that hitting is, indeed, contagious, with Burger lining a double to left followed by a De La Cruz single to send him home.
Trouble reared its ugly head early and often for Elder, who put up as many runs as he did outs in the first, plating three Miami runners and giving the Braves plenty of catchup work to do.
The fire didn't start for baseball's best bats until the top of the third, which kicked off by way of an opposite-field blast by sophomore sensation Michael Harris II, earning him his 17th knock on the season while putting the Braves on the board.
What's that thing I said about hitting being contagious? I don't remember.
Anyway, the Harris homer proved to be the surge this Braves lineup needed, as a pair of singles shortly followed off the bats of Riley and Acuna, adding another run and cutting the deficit in half.
Elder settled in following a rough start on the bump, holding the Miami offense stagnant through the fifth and reminding fans everywhere just why he was chosen to be an All-Star.
Something had to give for either side as the sixth inning loomed and the score stayed even at 4-4. The back-and-forth style play that dominated the majority of the game carried over into our back half of the evening, shining a spotlight on both sides and their pitching staffs who, for most of the evening, have been letting their respective teams down.
Both sides needed a shift in energy; someone needed a moment.
Enter best friends and former roommates, Ronald Acuna Jr and Ozzie Albies.
Acuna singled to start the frame, playing chicken with David Robertson in an attempt to nab his 67th steal of the season. Garnishing a sizable lead from first, he was off to the races, met quickly by a single up the middle from Albies.
I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next; but, I think I'm going to anyway.
In a stunning show of elite baserunning, while already on his way to second via a stolen base, Acuna scored all the way from first on a routine single to center field, gaining ground on Orlando Acria crossing the plate, doing his best Ron Washington impression all the way home.
As we've seen them do countless times over the season, the Braves regained control of the game, emphasizing their usual breed of big bats and bigger moments that all but seemed to cement the game for Atlanta, who rank eighth in baseball in runs scored in the 7th inning or later, according to Fangraphs.
Our central theme of the evening is that anything can happen in a rivalry game; all logic flies right out the window, leaving both sides with nothing but true grit and determination to lean on. The very fact that the 96-50 Braves are playing against the 75-72 Marlins gives the mind one idea about how the action will inevitably turn out.
As I keep saying, anything can happen in a rivalry game. Anything; and Miami gave the Braves a very staunch reminder of that fact.
Once the stretch rolled around and Elder was swapped out for Pierce Johnson, the hot bat of Luis Arraez got hotter, blasting his second home run of the game and cutting the deficit back to one. The scales continued to tip back and forth, giving command to either team almost on an inning-by-inning basis.
A single by Chisholm and a double by Hampson flipped things back up in the bottom of the seventh, evening the score to 6-6, resetting the momentum that each side was desperately trying to claim for themselves and turning it back to anybody's game. As quickly as he came into the game to replace Johnson, Brad Hand had loaded the bases and saw himself looking down the barrel of a bolstering Miami offense.
A single down the line off the bat of Jacob Stallings cleared the bases, giving Miami a three-run lead and, once again, giving the Braves, who are historically a "late-inning" type of team, more than their fair share of ground to cover should they want to earn their 97th win on the year.
The back end of the Miami bullpen had other plans for the now six-time NL East division champs, however, silencing the bats and solidifying Stallings' bases-clearing double as the nail in the proverbial coffin on this evening's proceedings.
Inevitably with a chip on their shoulder, baseball's best Braves will look for a reversal of fortune Saturday afternoon as game two of the series kicks off at 4:10 PM. Starters have yet to be announced by either team.
PITCHERS OF RECORD:
W: Puk (6-5), 4.17 ERA
L: Hand (4-2), 5.07 ERA
S: Scott (9) 2.18 ERA
MIA: Luis Arraez, 2, 1st Inning (Solo), 7th Inning (Solo);
ATL: Michael Harris II, 3rd Inning (Solo)
Johnson: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR
Hand: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Jimenez: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
Saturday, Sep. 16th vs Miami, 4:10 PM