It was an up and down night for Atlanta Braves centerfielder Cameron Maybin as he committed a fielding blunder that would lead to a run, but them had the ultimate redemption as he hit a chopper over the third baseman to walk it off against the Washington Nationals and perhaps the best pitcher going in Max Scherzer.
After losing nine-straight games against the first place Nationals, Atlanta has won two-straight leading to a series win. This is the Braves first series win since June 21st where they swept the New York Mets. The Braves are hanging in there as they are within striking distance of the aforementioned Nationals five games back.
For the second-straight night, Atlanta has leaned on rookie pitchers to get the job done. Tonight it was Manny Banuelos who was promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett and made his major league debut. Banuelos, 24, was phenomenal as he matched Scherzer pitch-for-pitch. He only went 5.2 innings because he left the game with what diagnosed as “cramping” and “dehydration.” The once heralded pitching prospect of the New York Yankees allowed only two hits without allowing a run, while striking out seven batters. Banuelos didn’t walk a batter but before he left with the injury he hit two batsmen.
Scherzer (9-6, 1.82 ERA) was fantastic despite taking the loss. In 8.1 innings he allowed two runs on five hits and struck out nine batters without walking anyone. His command was unbelievable as he through first pitch strikes to 22 of the 29 batters faced. What makes Scherzer so dominant during this hot stretch, where he is 4-1 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts, is his fastball command and ability to change speeds. Early on he sits around 92 MPH but as he goes deeper in the game he ramps it up around 97 MPH. Scherzer has been special this year and he comes away with another tough luck loss.
“The way you lose like that – an infield single with Ciriaco being able to beat it out and then a ball that chops right over third base – what are you going to get mad about?” Scherzer said postgame. “I thought I executed my pitches in those situations. They just got hit. Baseball’s a funny game sometimes.”
After minimal base runners in the first half of the game, Braves third baseman Juan Uribe would inject some life in the lineup as he led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double. After Kelly Johnson flied out to shallow right field, Andrelton Simmons would battle against Scherzer and slash a bloop single to left field to score Uribe, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead.
Washington would answer in the seventh inning as Bryce Harper led things off with a double to center field, where Cameron Maybin looked to have the line drive secured in his glove but fluttered out on his way to the ground. Wilson Ramos came to the plate next and guided a single past Johnson at first base to drive home Harper, tying the game at one.
Atlanta’s bullpen would shut down the Nationals lineup just as Scherzer continued to mow down the Braves. That’s a very confident sign from the Braves bullpen as they’ve struggled immensely this season. The former AL CY Young Award winner would go out to pitch the ninth inning and was greeted by Pedro Ciriaco with an infield single to the shortstop. Jace Peterson followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved Ciriaco to second base, putting him in scoring position for Maybin who was batting .381 with runners-in-scoring-position leading to that at-bat. That average would continue to climb as he battled hard against Scherzer and was able to hit a high chopper over third baseman Yunel Escobar that stayed just fair before the third base bag scoring Ciriaco and giving Atlanta a 2-1 walk-off victory.
Maybin has two career walk-off hits, both have come against the Washington Nationals.
The Braves bullpen pitched 3.1 innings allowing one run, but they didn’t walk a single batter and would strike out three. Jason Grilli (3-3, 2.93 ERA) pitched a scoreless ninth and picked up the win.
Manny Banuelos is just one of the many young players that have come to the big leagues this year and produced. At one point in this game the left-hander retired 13-straight hitters, but then he accidently plunked Denard Span and Danny Espinosa before he was removed. So far, Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart looks like a genius as he acquired Banuelos this winter from the Yankees for relief pitchers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Washington will face the San Francisco Giants starting Friday night. They will send left-hander Gio Gonzalez (5-4, 4.41 ERA) to the mound who has been great against the defending champs in his career to the tune of a 2-2 record and 2.59 ERA in seven starts.
Atlanta will hope Julio Teheran (5-4, 4.94 ERA) can turn his season around Friday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. This seems like a favorable matchup for Teheran to do so because in seven career starts he is 3-3 with a 2.92 ERA.