Ozzie Albies’ double to the right center gap in the bottom of the eleventh inning off of reliever Michael Feliz was a walk off game winner, giving the Braves an improbable but seemingly inevitable 8-7 victory.
The game started five and a half hours earlier as a match of two young pitching phenoms. The Pirates’ Mitch Keller had been knocked around in the first inning of his only previous major league appearance but upon returning to the minors was as dominant as he’d ever been. The Braves’ Mike Soroka had only lost once in ten starts and had the second best ERA in the majors while having allowed only one home run.
By the time Soroka exited after five, the two had combined to allow eleven runs on twenty hits in eight innings, with Soroka serving up Starling Marte’s 10th long ball of the season.
Keller was throwing easy 96 to 97 mph gas in the first and broke some bats but some fell in. Not varying from fastballs away, the Braves soon adjusted and added a couple hard hit balls and after the opening inning the Braves led 3-0. Another awful first inning for Keller. But then another run in the second, and two more in the third.
The Pirates had strung together four singles in the second of Soroka, but Keller trailed 6-2 when he exited after only three innings.
The Pirates chipped away again in the fourth when Jung-ho Kang and Adam Frazier opened the frame with singles and raced home on Kevin Newman’s two-out double inside the third base bag, closing the score to 6-4.
They got another in the fifth on Marte’s homer to left, making it 6-5, then tied the game in the sixth off reliever Josh Tomlin on singles by Gregory Polanco and Newman and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Corey Dickerson to drive home Polanco.
The Pirates got surprisingly good work from the back end of the bullpen, as Clay Holmes turned in two scoreless innings and Richard Rodriguez a clean sixth. Francisco Liriano came on for the seventh but the skies opened up. 55 minutes later Liriano was still on the mound and escaped the inning with only a walk.
Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle decided to bring on closer Felipe Vazquez in the eighth inning of a tie game. The Nightmare fanned three batters, but walk one and hit another, running his pitch count to 17 which precluded a second inning of work.
Josh Bell came to bat in the top of the ninth and drove Braves’ closer Luke Jackson’s pitch over the center field fence for his 19th homer, giving the Pirates a 7-6 lead.
With Vazquez already used, Hurdle turned to Kyle Crick for the save, but the first batter Austin Riley returned the favor, slamming his tenth homer of the year just over the fence inc enter. Tie game, 7-7. After two walks Crick escaped the inning with the tie intact, but he’d thrown 29 pitches in the process.
Hurdle thus went into extra innings with only Michael Feliz (7.71 ERA), Geoff Hartlieb (9.64) and Dovydas Neverauskas (14.54) at his disposal. Not a winning recipe.
Michael Feliz worked a scoreless tenth, but the second pitch of the eleventh struck Riley on the hand, and then Albies lined a 2-2 pitch to right center, rolling all the way to the fence, scoring Riley easily with the winning run.
The two teams do it again in just eleven hours, game time 12:10 p.m. Eastern from Atlanta as Joe Musgrove starts again for the Pirates, after being ejected in the first inning of Monday’s game.