Atlanta – In a game full of rallies, the Braves ended up on the wrong side of a comeback bid.
Ahead for the majority of Thursday's NLDS opener at Suntrust Park, Atlanta's 3-1 lead slowly slipped away over the final six outs and despite a pair of homers from Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the ninth, the St. Louis Cardinals held on for a 7-6, Game 1 victory.
"That's how these guys are; I just wish we had got started a little earlier in the evening," Atlanta skipper Brian Snitker said of the failed rally. "We still came back and had the tying run at the plate when the game ended, after getting down really good.
"It was just a situation where you talk about how the ball bounces. There were some balls that were just inside the line over the course of the game. That's the way it goes."
Reliever Chris Martin was called off the mound during warm-ups ahead of the top of the eighth, as Luke Jackson had to sprint from the bullpen to cover. Martin's exit was credited to left oblique tightness, but it was at this point that St. Louis came to life.
"We had the whole thing set up right where we wanted it," Snitker said of the situation. "It's exactly what we were working toward, throughout the whole game. That was a big blow."
Paul Goldschmidt launched the first pitch Jackson offered into the second deck. Later with two outs, a pair of singles from Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong gave way to a Matt Carpenter double that tied the game. Wong was tagged out by Francisco Cervelli while trying to score the go-ahead run, ending the frame.
But the Cardinals were far from finished.
Closer Mark Melancon came into the game to relieve Jackson in the eighth, but St. Louis picked apart a familiar pitcher – Melancon played on National League Central foe the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2013-16 – with back-to-back leadoff hits from Dexter Fowler and Tommy Edman. Goldschmidt would walk to load the bases, before Marcell Ozuna gave the Cardinals their first lead of the game with a 2-RBI double. Two batters later, Wong would inflict the same damage and Atlanta had to call on Sean Newcomb to come in and record the final out of the frame.
Just short of tying it
Pinch-hitter Billy Hamilton walked to begin the bottom of the ninth, before Acuna launched a Carlos Martinez pitch into the left-center bleachers. Ozzie Albies then appeared to beat out a grounder and after the initial call was out, the Braves' replay appeal was denied.
Freeman then sent a solo shot over the fence – cutting the lead to 7-6 – but Josh Donaldson grounded out and Nick Markakis went down looking to end the comeback bid.
The game looked completely different in the early going. An errant toss on a potential inning-ending 4-6-3 double play by Kolten Wong with one out in the bottom of the first allowed Albies to score and gave Donaldson an RBI. Wong had not played since Sept. 19 after injuring his left hamstring.
Though the Cardinals would tie the game in the fifth – Harrison Bader reached on a leadoff infield single, moved to second on a Miles Mikolas sacrifice, then swiped third before scoring on Dexter Fowler's groundout – fielding woes would strike again in the bottom of the sixth.
It all started when Donaldson was hit by a pitch. Markakis would then double, before Dansby Swanson tapped a screamer to third base with two outs that got the better of rookie Tommy Edman, who had received the starting nod over Carpenter. The drive was ruled a hit, Donaldson scampered home, then the recovery throw to second by DeJong was low, allowing Markakis to dash across the dish.
No-decision for Keuchel
In his first postseason start since being signed as a free agent June 7, Dallas Keuchel went 4 2/3 innings. He gave up five hits and walked three Cardinals, but the playoff veteran did not record a strikeout, which also occurred during his last postseason outing, Game 3 of the American League Championship Series last year against the Boston Red Sox.
Atlanta is looking to get out of a playoff rut, as the Braves have not won a postseason series since 2001, when they swept the NLDS against the Houston Astros. The Braves have now lost nine-straight Game 1's and last went ahead 1-0 against the Mets in the NLCS in 1999.
"You've got to put it behind you; tomorrow's a new day," Snitker said of Thursday's loss. "We're going to come out and do everything we can to win. We've been through this a lot; we've lost a lot of tough games, came back and rallied and had good runs."
Game 2 will begin at 4:37 p.m. today. The Braves will turn to last year's Game 1 NLDS starter, Mike Foltynewicz (8-6, 4.54), while the Cardinals look to Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75).