The Braves were on the wrong end of the worst inning in MLB postseason history, and their season came to a depressing end because of it.
Mike Foltynewicz registered one out – a sacrifice bunt – in a disastrous first frame in which the Cardinals scored 10 times. The Braves were crushed 13-1 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, eliminated at home yet again. The unrelenting “Haven’t advanced since 2001” factoid survives another October.
It’s hard to comprehend the carnage of the first inning. The 10 runs set a postseason record for the first inning and tied a record for most in an inning. St. Louis saw nine cross the plate before the Braves could even record the second out.
Even by Atlanta expectations, which usually include openly expressed dread before decisive playoff games, what unfolded Wednesday was unthinkable. For a franchise that’s endured many a gut-wrenching defeat, this was unprecedented.
The Braves, who won 97 games and their second consecutive NL title, were completely embarrassed in front of a sold-out home crowd, which paid to see one of the franchise’s most prideful seasons sent to the wasteland.
Trending throughout the evening on Twitter: “Atlanta sports.” A team that’d made so many strides in the regular season, appearing to be a legitimate World Series threat, was being mocked nationally. It might not have been 28-3, but it was the next worst thing.
The brutality began with a common culprit of the Braves’ season: A walk. Foltynewicz lost a full-count battle with Dexter Fowler, putting the leadoff man on base. The Cardinals, playing small ball in what they surely expected to be a tight contest, had Kolten Wong bunt him over, giving the Braves the last out they’d see for a while.
Paul Goldschmidt singled to shortstop Dansby Swanson, who stopped the ball from entering the outfield but didn’t have a play. Marcell Ozuna, who’d tormented the Braves the entire series, smacked an 0-2 slider to right field for a 1-0 lead.
What happened next was the defining moment of the game. Yadier Molina hit a ball directly to first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman couldn’t field it cleanly, missing out on a possible double play and awarding the Cardinals the bases loaded with only one down.
The error was a microcosm of Freeman’s series. The All-Star and MVP candidate was a non-factor, looking unsettled at the plate and falling victim to two of the most untimely defensive plays in the series: Wednesday’s error and his attempt at snagging Molina’s game-tying hit in Game 4, which scraped his glove but soared just out of his reach.
Matt Carpenter, also drawing a full count, walked in the ensuing at-bat to score the second run. Tommy Edman laced a double down the right-field line to add two more. Foltynewicz intentionally walked Paul DeJong, re-loading the bases.
Braves manager Brian Snitker had seen enough. He pulled Foltynewicz from the game, replacing him with lefty Max Fried. Foltynewicz, who was sensational in his seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals in Game 2, finished having pitched one-third of an inning, allowing seven runs (six earned) on three hits.
So about the rest of those runs: Fried walked opposing starter Jack Flaherty upon entry, meaning Flaherty had an at-bat and RBI before taking the mound. Fowler, who entered the day 1-for-17 in the series, doubled to left to make the score 7-0.
Fried’s outing didn’t get any better. Wong doubled to center, scoring another pair. Goldschmidt flew out to right, finally producing the second out in the inning. Fried induced the would-be third out when he struck out Ozuna, but the ball eluded catcher Brian McCann, allowing Ozuna to reach and Wong to score the 10th run.
Molina grounded to third to mercifully end the inning. The Braves were shrouded in sarcastic cheers from a crowd that had just witnessed an abomination unlike any other the franchise has suffered.
The Cardinals would tag on three more “just in case” runs during the game. The Braves’ run came on Josh Donaldson solo shot in the fourth off Flaherty. Freeman had a chance to at least make his bottom line look better when he hit with the bases loaded in the fifth, but he grounded into a force-out at second.
The grotesque first frame launched the Braves into a winter of questions. Last offseason was about supplementing an ahead-of-schedule core. This one will center on who’s going, who’s coming and how this group can get over the hump.
McCann will contemplate retirement, while fellow backstop Tyler Flowers has a team option. Markakis has a team option, as does Julio Teheran. The biggest decision revolves around Donaldson, who’ll re-enter free agency looking for a sizable multi-year commitment. The outfield around Acuna is unset. The rotation and bullpen are littered with uncertainties.
As widely successful of a season this was, the Braves were left in the same spot as 2018: Watching the opponent celebrate a clinching victory at SunTrust Park. They spent a year motivated by the desire to avenge their playoff ousting. Now they’ll have to spend another year motivated by two.