Braves avoid sweep with walk-off, but Dodgers settle for moral victory
It’s a good thing the Dodgers already clinched their series win over the Braves this week.
Otherwise, Wednesday’s 4-3 loss at Truist Park would have been a lot more frustrating.
After surprise wins in the first two games of the series, when the Dodgers prevailed with rookie pitchers on the mound, the finale seemed set up for a potential statement sweep.
The Dodgers outhit the Braves 12-5. They got their starting pitcher into the sixth inning for the first time in almost two weeks. They had runners aboard in every inning.
“Our guys still did some things well,” manager Dave Roberts said.
But when it mattered most, they came up empty time and time again.
The lineup left 10 men aboard and went one for 10 with runners in scoring position. Tony Gonsolin gave up two moon-shot home runs that spotted the Braves an early lead.
Then, after a two-run Dodgers rally in the eighth inning knotted the score at 3-3, the Braves walked it off in the bottom of the ninth, capitalizing on Austin Riley’s leadoff double with a game-winning sacrifice fly from Ozzie Albies.
“We lost a baseball game,” Roberts said. “That’s gonna happen.”
Roberts still came away from the series with the National League East leaders encouraged by the Dodgers’ performance.
After dropping three of four in a frustrating St. Louis series, he felt the Dodgers “bounced back” against a fellow first-place team in the Braves (30-19), leaving L.A. (31-20) virtually tied with the hosts for the best record in the league.
“Coming off a grind of a series in St. Louis, being on the road for seven straight days, the time difference and all that stuff,” Roberts said, “winning two of three … really good sign.”
Wednesday’s game was well within reach.
Gonsolin retired the first 10 batters he faced on just 36 pitches, showing an efficiency that had been missing in his otherwise strong opening month.
“I executed pitches pretty well today, top to bottom,” Gonsolin said. “Kept the pitch count low early.”
The Dodgers lineup, meanwhile, stressed Braves right-hander Bryce Elder, putting multiple runners on base in each of the first three innings.
In what quickly became a theme, though, the team managed to waste each opportunity.
“It wasn’t bad at-bats or anything like that,” Roberts said. “We just didn’t get a hit. And unfortunately, Elder pitched his way out of some trouble.”
Gonsolin did the opposite.
After Matt Olson and Mookie Betts traded solo home runs in the fourth and fifth innings to open the scoring — Olson on a monstrous, 456-foot blast that landed on the roof of a restaurant in right field; Betts on a line drive that went scorching into the Dodgers bullpen — Gonsolin issued a costly one-out walk to Albies in the fifth inning.
“Can’t walk Albies in that situation,” he said. “Probably just [needed to] be more aggressive, throw some heaters. Let him hit it. If he hits a homer, oh well. It’s better than a walk.”
A home run came one batter later, when Marcell Ozuna clobbered a hanging slider for a two-run blast — and glanced at catcher Will Smith before rounding the bases, his bat having clipped Smith’s shoulder on the follow-through of his swing. (Smith and Ozuna had a heated argument Monday after Ozuna’s back-swing hit Smith in the head.)
“I made two mistakes,” Gonsolin said, finishing his 5-2/3-inning start with a 1.82 earned-run average. “And they hit them both out.”
It gave the Braves enough breathing room to survive the Dodgers’ eighth-inning comeback.
Smith hit a leadoff single and J.D. Martinez doubled to put the tying runs in scoring position. With one out, Jason Heyward cut the deficit in half with a run-scoring groundout. Then Miguel Vargas leveled the contest by pulling an inside curveball for a double at the end of a seven-pitch at-bat.
“I knew it was a huge at-bat for us with the tying run at third base,” Vargas said. “It was really inside [but] I was really ready for it. With two strikes, trying to cover the zone.”
The 3-3 score wouldn’t last.
After burning their top right-handed relievers to win the Monday and Tuesday games, the Dodgers summoned Phil Bickford in the bottom of the ninth to try to send the series finale to extra innings.
Instead, Riley lined his leadoff double, took third base on a groundball to the right side, then scored with ease on a fly ball Albies lifted to the warning track.
The Braves poured out of their dugout in celebration, dousing Albies in a mob near first base.
The Dodgers filed back to the clubhouse quietly, losers of the game but winners of the series.
“We clinched the series yesterday, and it feels good that we can beat them at home,” Vargas said.
“That’s good for us. Being on the road, and taking this series.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.