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Not today Braves

Once again the Giants confused everyone with a great team win after two frustrating losses.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 San Francisco Giants continue to defy the odds.

In the face of total humiliation, of crushing defeat against some of the hottest teams in baseball, these kids refuse to shout ‘uncle!’

The Angels and Rangers and Rays and Braves and Phillies and Braves again have tried to sweep the Giants but have come up short. One measly game short, and to the bamboozlement of their fans and their opponents, just when everyone thinks they’re going to throw in the towel, the team fields the best version of themselves. Yes, like they did in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Atlanta on Sunday and in San Francisco the Sunday before that, the Giants have claimed a minor battle in the series’ war.

Best not to read too much into this 8-5 win. Sure the defense—especially Thairo Estrada—was excellent, the offense was supple and opportunistic, and Tristan Beck flashed starter stuff—but I’ve run out of fingers counting how many times I’ve prophesied (falsely) a big team win would snowball.

All we have is today, so let’s just enjoy it.

Atlanta Braves’ southpaw starter Jared Shuster sports a basic fastball, change-up, and slider spread that hasn’t done much to impress big league hitters. Coming into Sunday’s start, he owned a 5.00 ERA across 45 innings pitched, and his K-rate ranks among the lowest in the league but the…which means he was the perfect candidate to inexplicably carve up the Giants line-up.

“Carve” would not be the verb I’d use, but the 2-runs San Francisco scored against the green starter over the first 4 innings felt underwhelming and hardly enough.

A lead-off walk by Austin Slater advanced to third on two ground-outs and scored on J.D. Davis’s first-pitch-swinging single. Casey Schmitt added to the lead with a monster home run to left. The solo shot was the infielder’s third of the season and first since his third career game on May 11th.

Shuster settled in as the afternoon shadows encroached upon home plate. The bats couldn’t move Slater past first base after a lead-off walk in the 3rd, and they went down in order for the first time in the 4th.

Meanwhile, Tristan Beck had pitched four perfect innings while striking out 5 his first time-and-a-half through Atlanta’s lineup. He struck out both Matt Olson and Marcell Ozuna to kick-off the 2nd, then K’ed two more in the 3rd. The Braves didn’t hit a ball that warranted a fire emoji until the 4th and that just found itself in Thairo Estrada’s glove for a routine 4-3 putout.

No one thought it would last: the perfect game, the 2-run lead—but it was still jarring how quickly it disappeared.

If the San Francisco offense lights like damp newspaper, Atlanta’s lights like methane.

The first base-runner was earned with a leadoff walk to Matt Olson in the 5th, and two batters later Eddie Rosario missed a game-tying home run by 5 feet, and the next batter Travis d’Arnaud lined a 2-run single into right. Four batters and the Giants lead never existed.

That’s when the inning nearly spun out of control. A squibber off the bat of Orlando Arcia turned into a comedy of miscommunication. Both pitcher and catcher scampered after the ball. Beck, missing Bailey’s signal to leave it, beat him to it. The two just-avoided a collision but the tangle knocked Beck off target, his throw pulling Davis off the bag. It ended up being his last throw of the night with Kapler swapping him for Scott Alexander. The number 9 batter Nicky Lopez slapped an RBI single for the Braves’ third run and the lead, setting up runners in scoring position for Ronald Acuña Jr.

With the infield in, a come-backer to Davis off the bat froze Arcia at third. The first baseman then shoveled the ball to Alexander, but nowhere near the bag to get the speedy Acuña, the reliever tossed the ball to second baseman Thairo Estrada covering first. It was with Alexander’s back turned that Arcia bolted for home. Estrada’s throw sent Patrick Bailey up the line but upon review, the catcher was able to scrape some loose threads off Arcia’s jersey to close out the 3-1-4-2 double play and end the inning.

The heads up play by Estrada, the athletic windmill tag by Bailey—San Francisco rode that improbable two-fer into a 4-run frame.

Luis Matos hustled a 1-out double on a flare into left and Slater singled to set up runners at corners against Shuster. But the rookie collected a key second out with his third K of the game, baiting Estrada to wave over a change-up in the dirt. Brian Snitker put in righty Collin McHugh to face Wilmer Flores. Flores worked an easy walk to load the bases, and Davis tied the game, spitting on a wide cutter.

With how the Giants have been hitting, the bases-on-balls walk was a gift and no one was expecting anything more. The crooked number, the big inning has been incredibly elusive to these bats. They haven’t scored 4 runs in an inning since their 6-run 9th on August 7th against the Angels. There’s been a lot of table-setting but much less table-clearing, so when Bailey snuck a one-hopper under the glove of Matt Olson that cleared the bases, it felt like a burden held collectively by the team had been lifted. The inning’s slow build actually amounted to something—the shock we all felt as genuine as a middle schooler’s watching their baking soda volcano actually erupt at the science fair.

So when Atlanta responded with a 2-out double and 2-out 2-run homer on two swings to trim the lead to a run, San Francisco methodically mounted their response. Wade Meckler pinch hit for Heliot Ramos and walked, Schmitt advanced Meckler to second with a sac bunt, Joc Pederson was intentionally walked, Slater singled home Meckler and Pederson scooted to third and took home on a safety squeeze by Estrada.

Slow and steady doesn’t always translate to success in baseball, but it won the race in this one.

San Francisco went 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position and collected 6 of their 8 runs with two outs. They outhit the Braves 8 to 6 and out-walked them 6 to 2 with every spot in their lineup but Paul DeJong in the 6-hole reaching base. Atlanta’s 1-3 hitters went 0 for 12. Lead-off man Austin Slater went 2 for 3 with 2 runs scored, 1 RBI and 2 walks. 5 different players padded their rib-eye totals.

Just as the game started, the twins and Camilo Doval combined for a perfect 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.