“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
That phrase from Dickens might well describe the season and postseason for the Atlanta Braves. They had an outstanding season with a 97-65 record, winning a second straight National League East title by defeating the San Francisco Giants 6-0 at SunTrust Park. The pitcher in that game was Mike Foltynewicz, who allowed just three hits in seven innings, while right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. hit his 41st home run and scored three runs. The outlook never seemed brighter for the team. But the finale would be shocking.
The division title was the 19th for the Braves and tied the New York Yankees for the most since Major League Baseball created two divisions for the 1969 season. It also secured home field advantage for the Braves in the National League Division Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. But there was no advantage in Game 1, which the Cardinals won 7-6 in the ninth inning. In Game 2, Foltynewicz delivered another masterpiece, allowing only three hits over seven innings to cruise to a 3-0 victory and tying the series. Atlanta won Game 3 in St. Louis 3-1, breaking a 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth on a two-out double by shortstop Dansby Swanson and a two-run homer by Adam Duvall. Pitcher Mike Soroka went seven innings with no walks and retired 17 batters in a row. In Game 4, the Braves seemed on the verge of winning the series, leading by a score of 4-3 in the fifth inning, but Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina played the spoiler with a tying single in the eighth and a sacrifice fly in the 10th to give St. Louis a 5-4 victory, sending the series back to Atlanta for decisive Game 5.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said the team would be ready for the finale on their home field. But they could not be ready for what happened in the first inning. Mike Foltynewicz was on the mound carrying the high hopes of the Braves and their fans, but suddenly everything unraveled. Foltynewicz loaded the bases with one out and Freeman had a hard-hit ball bounce off his glove, negating a possible inning-ending double play. Foltynewicz lasted one-third of an inning, followed by ace Max Fried who couldn’t stop the onslaught, walking the pitcher. In the first inning, 14 Cardinals went to the plate, scoring 10 runs before the Braves even had a turn at bat. The final score of 13-1 left the Braves with a 10th straight postseason first-round loss. For the players and manager Brian Snitker, it hurt deeply. “Disappointing,” Snitker said, echoing the feelings of the fans. On top of that, longtime catcher Brian McCann, a favorite of the fans, announced his retirement.
For perspective, consider this: The Braves brought another season of excitement and entertainment to thousands of fans who attended the games at SunTrust Park and millions more via the electronic media. As for the Game 5 score, although it will “live in infamy,” as one sportswriter put it, the players are resilient and many of them will be back at spring training next year ready to push 2019 far behind them and take on the challenges of a new season and, hopefully, postseason. The Braves have the nucleus of a very good team and the management has been adept at acquiring players who strengthen the team.
The Braves made a remarkable run in the past two years and they may continue the trend, making the coming seasons among “the best of times.”