MIAMI – Say what you will about the Braves and their sometimes maddening inconsistencies, but all season it’s been a bunch that doesn’t quit.
Trailing 3-0 after eight innings, the Braves rallied for three in the ninth, including a two-run double by Brian McCann, before the Marlins pulled out a 4-3 victory on Jose Reyes’ two-out bloop single to right field in the 10th.
Braves reliever Cory Gearrin walked Rob Brantly and hit Gorkys Hernandez with a pitch with one out in the 10th, and one out later Reyes drove in the winning run on a full-count pitch. The Braves had their four-game winning streak snapped and slipped back to 5-1/2 games behind NL East leader Washington, which got rained out.
They still have a commanding 6-1/2-game lead over St. Louis in the wild-card standings, but the Braves have been trying to make an improbable push to catch the Nationals so they can be assured of a berth in the division series and avoid a one-game playoff against the other wild-card team.
“All you can ask for is for everybody to play hard, and that’s what we did tonight,” McCann said. “It didn’t go our way and so be it. We show up tomorrow. If people were dogging it, that’d be one thing. But everybody’s playing as hard as they can. At the end of the day, that’s all you can do.”
Braves shortstop Paul Janish dislocated his left shoulder making a diving defensive play in the ninth inning, but Janish said X-rays were good and that he hoped to be back within a few days. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves would know more Wednesday about Janish’s condition.
After the Braves tied the score in the ninth, Braves reliever Jonny Venters gave up consecutive singles by Reyes and Carlos Lee to start the bottom of the inning. Janish was injured on the Lee infield hit and left the game.
After Reyes advanced on a passed ball, Venters had no wiggle room. He struck out the next two, Justin Ruggiano and Bryan Petersen, before sidearmer Gearrin was brought in to face John Buck, who had already tripled and homered. Gearrin got him on a groundout to send the game to extra innings.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to bring back Gearrin for the 10th, and he got into trouble quickly by walking Brantly with one out.
“They did a nice job in the ninth inning,” Gonzalez said. “Then we walk Brantly [in the 10th] and hit the next guy, and here comes the meat of the order, Reyes and Lee. Reyes just happened to put some bat on the ball and blooped one in there on a 3-2 count.”
The Braves (85-64) haven’t been 23 games over .500 since Sept. 11, 2011, when they were 84-61. If anyone or anything was going to keep them from taking their record to 23 games over .500, it didn’t figure to be Marlins rookie Nathan Eovaldi, who had a 7.58 ERA during a four-start losing streak before Tuesday.
But it looked like that would happen when Eovaldi turned in the best start of his major league career.
“He was really, really good,” Gonzalez said of the 22-year-old right-hander, who allowed just four hits and two walks with six strikeouts in eight innings. “I have’t seen a starter pitch that deep in the ballgame still cranking 97, 98 miles an hour on the fastball. It’s been a while since we’ve seen that.”
Miami took a 3-0 lead to the ninth, then turned it over to their bullpen. And the Braves turned on their offense.
Jason Heyward led off the ninth with a double against closer Steve Cishek, and Chipper Jones walked before Freddie Freeman struck out to cap his difficult night. Dan Uggla drove in the Braves’ first run with a broken-bat single, and McCann followed with a tying two-run double off the left-center wall against left-hander Mike Dunn, who was brought in to face the lefty hitter.
The Braves left two on in the ninth when Michael Bourn struck out to end his 0-for-5 night that also included a costly misplay.
“We came back and scored three and tied it, and felt pretty good that we were going to have a chance to win the game,” Gonzalez said. “We had first and third with two outs there in the ninth, but we couldn’t get the last knock.”
Eovaldi came from the Dodgers as part of the July 25 trade for Hanley Ramirez and reliever Randy Choate, and pitched more like a right-handed version of Clayton Kershaw than a 22-year-old with a 4-12 record and 4.71 ERA.
“If you’ve got electric stuff like that and you can run your fastball consistently in the mid-90s for seven innings, you’re going to run into outings where you’re dominant,” McCann said.
Counterpart Paul Maholm had a strong start for the Braves, charged with four hits, two run and one walk in 6-2/3 innings. The first run against the lefty came shortly after center fielder Bourn got turned around on Buck’s triple in the third inning, and the other came when Buck hit a two-run homer on Peter Moylan’s second pitch after he replaced Maholm.
They got the leadoff hitter on base in the second, third and fourth innings, but the only time any of those Braves runners advanced was when McCann went to second on a Jose Constanza groundout in the third. Maholm struck out and Bourn grounded out to end the inning.
The Braves didn’t have more than one runner on base in any inning until the sixth, when Heyward laid down a perfect two-out bunt single. Jones followed with a walk before Freeman flied out.
All of this against Eovaldi, who lasted just two innings in an Aug. 2 loss in Atlanta, when he was charged with eight hits and six runs.
Maholm retired the first six batters before Buck led off the third with a triple that sailed 415 feet but landed in front of the towering lime-green center-field wall. It fell just beyond Bourn, who stopped and jumped too soon.
There’s an area that juts out to about 420 feet to the left of straightaway center at the first-year ballpark, where the outfield wall curves around the base of a flamboyant pop-art sculpture that towers beyond the fence and is lit up and set in motion whenever a Marlin hits a homer. The dimensions and angles can be disorienting for a visiting center fielder.
“I haven’t even asked him so I’m talking out of school here,” Gonzalez said, “but it looked like one of those [plays] where, you know how outfielders have their timing, and he just kept going back and going back, and you feel like the wall’s going to be there? That’s what it looked like, that he went so far back that he felt like the wall had to be close, and it kind of threw him off.”
Bourn’s misplay was costly. Maholm struck out the next two batters, but Hernandez’s single drove in Buck for a 1-0 lead.