ATLANTA–Seventeen years have elapsed since the Braves experienced the championship round of the National League playoffs.
So, in that vein, what’s one more year of waiting?
The above statement now serves as a best-case scenario for the Braves, in lieu of their 6-2 defeat to the Dodgers on Monday and subsequent elimination from the National League Division Series.
When the day began, Atlanta fans were riding high from the afterglow of Sunday’s victory at SunTrust Park and dreaming of a Game 5 in Los Angeles, which would have been a winner-take-all situation.
What made the fans so confident?
a) Braves ace Mike Foltynewicz had been bumped up to Game 4, given his light workload in the series opener last week.
(Foltynewicz responded with a solid outing Monday, allowing just one run and two hits over four innings.)
b) The Braves offense had seemingly woken up from the scoreless doldrums of Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, with rookie sensation Ronald Acuna Jr. leading the charge of renewed aggression.
c) In a surprising move, the Dodgers opted to sit Hyun-jin Ryu (stifled Braves in Game 1) on Monday, even though the left-hander had sufficient rest over the weekend.
Instead, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts handed the ball to another southpaw, Rich Hill, who had pitched a scoreless gem at SunTrust Parker earlier in the season.
Fast forward to the present: The Braves had many chances to expand and perhaps secure their lead, following up Kurt Suzuki’s uber-clutch two-run single in the fourth inning.
However, slowly but surely, things began to unravel for the NL East champs, and in painful fashion.
Here’s the sequence of (shaky) events:
**The Braves had a great shot of pushing across more runs in the fifth inning, loading the bases with just one out.
However, needing just a reasonably deep fly ball to the outfield, Tyler Flowers lunged at an ill-advised high fastball on a 2-1 count and harmlessly popped out to the catcher.
Two down … but still hope abounds.
Ender Inciarte didn’t fare much better in his potential star turn, flying out to shortstop Manny Machado, thus thwarting the Braves’ chances at a big inning.
**In the 6th, with Atlanta holding a 3-2 lead, Braves reliever Jonny Venters cleanly retired two of three Dodgers batters.
Things went south soon after, though, beginning with Nick Markakis and Ozzie Albies deferring to one another on a seemingly catchable fly ball from Yasiel Puig.
A minute later, Puig would steal second, putting two Dodgers in scoring position with two outs.
**Braves reliever Brad Brach entered the game for the righty-righty matchup with pinch-hitter David Freese. On a 3-2 count, Freese laced a high fastball past the diving Charlie Culberson.
The result: Freese’s two-run single would give the Dodgers a lead they’d neve relinquish.
**The 7th was a travesty from the get-go, with Justin Turner registering a single and Max Muncy drawing a walk. This set the stage for Machado’s series-clinching homer–a three-run smash that finally put distance between Atlanta and Los Angeles.
**In the 8th, the Braves came thisclose to a monumental comeback. With two out and two on, pinch-hitter Lucas Duda crushed a long ball to right field that easily had the distance for a home run.
But alas, the ball squeaked foul in the end.
There was still a chance for a walk with a 3-2 count (and Acuna in the batter’s box), but Duda swung at an inside pitched and flied out to center for the third out.
For the NL championship round, the Dodgers and Brewers will lock horns for a seven-game series, with Milwaukee (NL’s No. 1 playoff seed) possessing the home-field advantage.
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