Sports Minute: Baserunning gets Braves again, NLCS slips away in Game 7
By SCHUYLER DIXONAP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Baby Braves still have some growing up to do, although they're getting closer.
Another baserunning blunder with the lead cost Atlanta dearly, and the Braves' bats went cold after that in losing Game 7 of the NL Championship Series 4-3 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night.
A year after imploding in a deciding Game 5 of their Division Series against St. Louis, the Braves fell short in their first NLCS since 2001 with their sixth straight loss in a winner-take-all game. Atlanta couldn’t hold a 3-1 series lead in an NLCS for the first time after winning each of the previous three with that commanding lead. The Braves haven't been to the World Series since 1999.
Dodgers relievers retired 17 of the final 18 Braves batters, all following a baserunning mishap that will haunt Atlanta this offseason.
The Braves went ahead 3-2 in the fourth inning on Austin Riley's single and had runners on second and third with no outs before a wild double play just about wiped out the inning.
Dansby Swanson broke for home on Nick Markakis' sharp grounder hit right at third baseman Justin Turner, who was playing well off the line. Turner threw to catcher Will Smith to trap Swanson in a rundown as Riley waited halfway between second and third.
Smith returned the ball to Turner, who dived to tag Swanson midway down the line. Turner quickly got up and threw the ball to shortstop Corey Seager, waiting at third to tag out Riley, who decided too late to try taking third.
Even worse, the bizarre 5-2-5-6 double play ended with Markakis still on first. Cristian Pache grounded out to end the inning.
“It was huge," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It’s hard to score runs in the postseason. The infield’s back so you see the ball up the middle. That’s where normally we’re a really good baserunning team. We just did the fundamental things wrong.”
It was the second time a baserunning mistake with a lead cost Atlanta in the series.
The Braves were up 3-1 in the series and 2-0 in Game 5 when Marcell Ozuna left third base early on what was initially a sacrifice fly that gave Atlanta a three-run lead. The replay review caught the mistake, and the run came off the board.
And just like in Game 5, the bullpen couldn't make the advantage hold up.
Two days after becoming first starter or reliever to strike out seven in three or fewer innings in the postseason, A.J. Minter gave up the lead to his first batter, Enrique Hernández, leading off the sixth. Chris Martin surrendered Cody Bellinger's go-ahead solo shot with two outs an inning later.
“We made some mistakes,” Snitker said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times that really hurt. Games like these, runs are so hard to come by, you pretty much got to play flawless baseball.”
Minter's 42-pitch outing for three scoreless innings at the start of Atlanta's 7-3 loss in Game 5 was the left-hander's longest since May 6, 2015, for Texas A&M, when he tore an elbow ligament.
Starter Ian Anderson couldn’t keep his team in front for the first time in the 22-year-old’s brief postseason career. He extended a scoreless streak to start his postseason career to 17 2/3 innings — the second-longest by a rookie in the past 100 years — before Smith's tying two-run single in the third.
The right-hander, who won his first two postseason starts, ended up with the third-longest scoreless inning streak to begin a postseason career, behind Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson (1905-11) and Joe Niekro (1980-81).
Anderson was the youngest starter in a winner-take all game since 21-year-old Jaret Wright for Cleveland in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, won 3-2 by Florida.
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