ST. LOUIS — They say this is who they are. And have been all season long: a resilient team.
The Atlanta Braves stole victory from defeat on Sunday afternoon when they waited out a brilliant performance by St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, only to get to closer Carlos Martinez in the ninth inning — erasing a 1-0 deficit and turning it into a 3-1 win in Game 3 of their National League Division Series.
None of Atlanta’s late dramatics would have happened without a gem from their own starter, 22-year-old Mike Soroka, but a ninth-inning rally always overshadows everything — especially in a game that 10-year vet Freddie Freeman called the best win he’s ever been a part of.
Veteran Josh Donaldson started things off for the Braves in the ninth, hitting an 0-1 changeup down the left-field line for a double. The Braves were feeling good about their chances to tie the game until Nick Markakis and Adeiny Hechavarria both struck out. Pinch runner Billy Hamilton stole third as Hechavarria whiffed on a checked swing.
“At the time you want to get to third with one out, so that was a bad break,” the speedy Hamilton said afterward. “But getting to third even with two outs, what if Martinez bounces one in the dirt? I could score. And maybe he has to pitch the next guy differently.”
We’ll never know if it made a difference but Martinez’ next pitch — after the Cardinals intentionally walked Brian McCann — was a high slider to Dansby Swanson, which he deposited off the left-field wall.
Tie game, 1-1.
“I saw it coming, even just getting ready in the dugout, just how the inning was playing out, that that could definitely be a possibility,” Swanson said of the McCann walk. “God blessed me with good hand-eye coordination. In those situations, you just try and breathe and relax. It’s easier said than done.”
The Cardinals played the odds. McCann is a lefty, while Swanson was 0-for-6 against the right-handed Martinez, including a Game 1 strikeout on Thursday.
“I was ready for that move,” Swanson continued. “And I would have been — I personally would have been surprised if they would have pitched to [McCann] just because of his postseason experience and everything. So I was ready from the moment I started putting my batting gloves on in the dugout.”
Said McCann: “At that point the Cardinals start doing game management and then Dansby came up clutch.”
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt simply went by the numbers.
“Consensus was … rather take a shot at Swanson, 0-for-6 at that point with Carlos,” he said.
Perhaps the most confident person in the stadium was Swanson’s manager. He understood the move to walk McCann — and wasn’t unhappy with it.
“I love Dansby in those situations,” Brian Snitker said. “I always have. That kid lives for that moment.”
But the Braves weren’t done. Adam Duvall, the Game 2 hero, did it again, this time with a two-run single on an 0-2 pitch. And again, it was a slider from Martinez. It probably would not have been called a strike.
“The pitch before that was 99 miles per hour, kind of in,” Duvall explained. “So the ball I hit was probably a little bit off. But at that moment you kind of have to protect, you can’t necessarily leave it in the umpire’s hands there.
“It was close enough for me that I thought I could get the barrel to it. So I made the move on it.”
Duvall got good wood on the ball, sending it into center field for a no-doubt, two-run single, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead.
“What he did this year to go to the minor leagues and regain his stroke, he’s come up humongous for us,” McCann said of Duvall, who hasn’t started either game that he’s had such a big impact on. He homered off the bench in Game 2 and won Game 3 with a two-out, two-run single.
“I’m just trying to be ready,” he said. “I’m getting ready from about the second or third inning on. Just so that when they call my name I’m fully ready to go into the game and prepared.”
Like all good teams, the Braves simply believe they’ll pull things out. It took 8⅔ innings on Sunday, but they never gave in. Swanson and Duvall may not have the same star power as Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Freeman, but they’re as responsible for the Braves’ two wins as anyone.
“The one thing that we’ve talked about all year and that makes this team so special is we come out and we play tomorrow’s game,” Swanson said. “We don’t worry about what happened tonight; we’re not worried about what’s happening in the future. We always stay where our feet are [in] that moment [and] come out each inning, each pitch, and hopefully be able to come out of here with a victory.”
And now the Braves are one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time in nearly two decades. Oh, what a ninth inning it was.