Then again, if you had averted your eyes, you’d have missed this nifty comeback against the reigning World Series champs. Down 6-0 after 5 1/2 innings, down 8-7 after 11 1/2, the Atlanta Braves won 9-8 on a walk-off homer by Adonis Garcia, of whom nobody in this city had heard two weeks ago.
We should note that this rally was achieved without their two best everyday players — Andrelton Simmons, who has a sore a thumb, and Freddie Freeman, who was lifted midway after tweaking his oblique. (He’s day-to-day, as they say.) Into the first-base breach stepped Chris Johnson, who isn’t really a first baseman and lately hasn’t been much of a ballplayer, but darn if he didn’t galvanize this game twice.
First, Johnson led off the seventh with a home run to center field on a 0-2 fastball thrown by the heat-bringer Hunter Strickland. Giants catcher Buster Posey wanted the pitch off the plate, but Strickland’s delivery proved fat enough for Johnson to launch this roughly as far as Posey had driven his third-inning homer. (Johnson’s was the first home run Strickland has yielded in a regular-season big-league game. He did, however, yield six — six! — in the 2014 postseason.)
Johnson’s homer brought the Braves within 6-5, and here you thought, “Hmmm.” With two out and nobody aboard in the ninth, you thought, “Game over.” The Giants had added a ninth-inning run on three consecutive two-out singles off Andrew McKirahan. Javier Lopez retired Nick Markakis to open the bottom of the inning. Santiago Casilla got Eury Perez. Up stepped Johnson, the one Johnson not traded by the Braves over the past fortnight, the one they’d hoped most to trade.
Doggone if he didn’t single to left, which prolonged matters for A.J. Pierzynski. Casilla’s 1-1 pitch was a fastball. (On this hot night, everybody was hitting 100-mile-an-hour fastballs 100 miles.) It landed in the right-field seats. Casilla knew at the moment of impact, dropping to his haunches. The Braves, who’d seen their front office give up on this season, hadn’t given up on this game.
Which hadn’t started at all well. Mike Foltynewicz was throwing 97 mph to no effect. Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford lined back-to-back opposite-field homers in the second. Posey hoisted his two-run blast in the third. Crawford homered again in the fourth. (To be fair, Belt’s homer and Crawford’s second smacked the top of the wall. Had the smallish Perez been a bit taller, he might have done the Otis Nixon bit twice. But he isn’t and he didn’t.)
It was 6-0 and all but done. Except it wasn’t. Jace Peterson gave the Braves life in the sixth, lifting a three-run homer to right-center off Matt Cain, who’s coming off elbow and ankle surgery, after flared singles by Pierzynski and Cameron Maybin. Markakis, who spent the evening slapping singles to left field, slapped an RBI single to left field. It was 6-4. Some life in the ol’ Bravos, huh?
From the fourth inning on, the Braves were the sharper team. They turned double plays in the fifth, sixth, 10th and 11th. Pierzynski, who’s 38, threw out Edhire Adrianza, who’s 25, trying to steal to end the 11th. If we hadn’t known that the Giants were chasing another postseason berth and the Braves were kindling hope for 2017 and Cobb County, you’d have thought these were simply two good teams embroiled in a big-time game.
For the home side, it came undone in the top of 12th. Ross Detwiler yielded a single to Kelby Tomlinson, who was making his big-league debut. Then Detwiler plunked Gregor Blanco. Posey delivered a two-out single off Arodys Vizcaino to make it 8-7. But the Giants left the bases loaded, leaving the door ajar. San Fran needed three outs to win three but was running low on pitchers. (That can happen when you deploy five relievers to get from the sixth through the ninth.)
The Giants summoned Ryan Vogelsong, once an All-Star starting pitcher but lately reduced to long relief. He got no outs, though he should have had one. Peterson reached on Crawford’s bad throw to open the inning. Garcia won it with a screamer over that wall in right-center. Not only had the Braves spotted the Giants six runs and prevailed, they’d spotted the visitors four homers and matched that. And this, as we’ve often noted, is the team that ranks last in the majors in home runs.
Which only goes to show: Baseball is weird. You can’t, as the saying goes, run out the clock. You have to get 27 outs to win. The Giants, playing for the playoffs, got 26 and spit the bit. The Braves, playing for nothing except a paycheck, kept going. Good for them.