First the Pirates were winning. Then the Braves were winning. Then the Pirates were back on top. Then the Braves tied the game in the ninth with a five-run inning. Then the Pirates went up again with a 3-run twelfth inning. Then the Braves rallied once again putting two more on the board in the bottom of the twelfth...only to fall to the Pirates 12-11 in twelve innings.
I was at the game in the first row atop the Braves dugout for the whole emotional rollercoaster ride that was the Braves home opener. I was surprised how many people were still at the game going into the ninth with the Pirates up 9-4. My friend who attended the game with me put her rally cap on and we talked about how there could be a miracle comeback. And then it happened.
Mark Kotsay walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth. After a Matt Diaz strikeout, Ruben Gotay pinch hit in the pitcher's spot and drew a walk. After a pitching change, Martin Prado walked to load up the bases. Then Yunel Escobar walked and a run scored to make it 9-5, Pirates. Chipper strides to the plate and singles on a line drive to right field, driving in Gotay and Prado. Braves only down 9-7. Tex flies out to centerfield and returns to the dugout looking like he knows he's let everyone down. McCann flies to centerfield and the crowd errupts in desperate screams of "Miss it!" and "Drop it!" And then a miracle happens. The ball falls between the left and centerfielder. The crowd explodes as runs 8 and 9 cross the plate. It was a tie ballgame!
Francouer flies out to centerfield to end the ninth and its into extra innings we go. Innings 10 and 11 go by with one hit for the Pirates and no hits for the Braves. Top of the twelfth with Boyer on the mound and the Pirates get a single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk. Xavier Nady strides to the plate with two outs and hits it out over the right field fence. Pirates up 12-9.
After the rally in the ninth, the fans still have faith their Braves can make a comeback. Tex and McCann ground out to start the inning. With two outs the stadium was growing quieter. Francouer homers to centerfield and suddenly we're back in the game, down 12-10. Kotsay doubles on a line drive to right field and the crowd is in it again, doing the tomahawk chop and chant going strong. Matt Diaz singles and Kotsay scores and you just know they can pull it out and at least tie it here. Except it's the pitcher's spot up again and we've used up the bench. Corky Miller (who had only 27 at-bats in the Majors last year) comes up with the game on the line. I've never wanted anyone to be the hero more than I wanted him to at that moment. But one fly ball to centerfield later we had lost the hard fought battle 12-11.
Looking back, it was mostly defense that led us to such a heartbreaking loss. The bullpen gave up 8 earned runs. Acosta gave up 4 in two-thirds of an inning, Bennett gave up 1 in one and a third innings and Boyer gave up 3 in two innings. Add to that the fact that there were three throwing errors to first base over the course of the game and it's not surprising the Braves lost. Really the only surprise is that they made a huge comeback in the ninth and almost did it again in the twelfth.
Throwing errors to first came from KJ in the second (which cost the Braves a run), Escobar in the seventh and Chipper in the eighth. There was also a terrible throw by Prado in the fifth that would have been a double play. Hopefully they all got this rusty performance behind them last night.
Here are the positives I saw last night:
- Kotsay: Had a great catch in the first inning in far right centerfield. He also made a terrific throw home in the fourth inning to nab a runner. Kotsay looked good at the plate too with a single up the middle in the sixth, a double to right field in the twelfth and two walks.
- Escobar: Had a great looking triple in the third inning and was 2 for 4 with 2 walks. I was also struck last night by what a goofy, funny guy he is. On his line drive single to centerfield in the first, he clapped for himself about three-quarters of the way down the baseline. Then, at some point later in the game, he went to put the tag on a runner who dove into second safe and he lifted one of the player's feet off the bag and tagged him and then cut up with the umpire for a moment. Seems like a fun guy to have around the clubhouse.
- KJ: He made a great diving stop in the outfield grass behind first base before exiting the game. KJ thinks he strained his knee running from first to home on Escobar's triple in the third. The Braves are hoping to have him back Wednesday.
- Diaz: Made a great diving catch in the eleventh.
Despite the loss, this was one of the most exciting games I've been to at The Ted. I was surprised how many fans stuck around going into the ninth with the score 9-4 and how much they all go into the tomahawk chop and chant that inning before we tied it up. I can only hope Braves fans continue to be that enthusiastic all year long because despite the first two games, I think we're going to have a shot at October once we've gotten all the rust off!
*Video clips and photos from the game to come later today. I've got video of the crowd applause for Glavine when he was announced before the game and of Javy Lopez throwing out the first pitch.