A series of unfortunate events

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Marietta, Ga. – Ten runs on five hits. And that was just in the top of the first. Looking to break the supposed "Atlanta Curse" by winning their first playoff series in 18 years, the Braves looked confident when taking the field on their home turf for Game 5 of the National League Division...

  • St. Louis Cardinals’ Tommy Edman doubles to score teammates Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Atlanta. John Bazemore/Associated Press
    St. Louis Cardinals’ Tommy Edman doubles to score teammates Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Atlanta. John Bazemore/Associated Press
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Marietta, Ga. – Ten runs on five hits.

And that was just in the top of the first.

Looking to break the supposed "Atlanta Curse" by winning their first playoff series in 18 years, the Braves looked confident when taking the field on their home turf for Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday.

The St. Louis Cardinals had other plans.

An inning that featured two bases-loaded walks, back-to-back 2-RBI doubles and a pair of fielding snafus quickly kicked the wind out of the Braves' sails, as the Cards rode the wave of momentum to a 13-1, series-clinching victory at Suntrust Park.

"I was just trying to make my pitches, as best as I could and put the ball in play," Foltynewicz said. "I don't have much to say; I got one out. I don't know what happened out there. I'm very embarrassed, for all these hard work everybody did – veterans, rookies, everybody – and for it to come down to this and not even give our team a chance before they even get a chance to bat. 

"It's tough. I put everybody in a bad spot right away."

The Mike Foltynewicz that tossed seven innings of shutout baseball in Game 2 – an outing where he issued no walks and gave up just three hits – was nowhere to be found Wednesday, as he surrendered three hits, seven runs (six earned, thanks to a Freddie Freeman blunder on a tough bounce at first) and issued three walks in just 1/3 of an inning of work. 

All the damage inflicted on Foltynewicz happened in just 23 pitches. 

To break it down, Dexter Fowler drew a leadoff walk, before Paul Goldschmidt singled with one out. Marcell Ozuna singled to plate Fowler, before Freeman's error loaded the bases. Matt Carpenter drew a bases-loaded walk, before a Tommy Edman double brought Goldschmidt home. 

Foltynewicz was pulled for 17-game winner Max Fried at this point, but the Cardinals' bats had already came to life. Fried issued another bases-loaded walk to Jack Flaherty, before both Fowler and Kolten Wong sliced consecutive 2-RBI doubles. Goldschmidt finally hit a flyball to right that was snagged by Nick Markakis – the second out of the inning, 12 batters into the ballgame – before Ozuna reached on a wild-pitch, swinging third strike. Wong would score in the chaos, before Yadier Molina finally grounded out to end the madness.

The 10 runs put up by St. Louis in the frame set the new standard in Major League Baseball postseason history.

The Cardinals other three runs came on an RBI double in the second – which scored Tommy Edman, who had tripled – and a pair of RBI singles by Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong. 

Afterward, the quartet of Josh Tomlin, Sean Newcomb, Darren O'Day and Julio Teheran kept 

Atlanta's only response came on a Josh Donaldson solo homer in the bottom of the fourth. 

"It's tough to put this into words," Donaldson said of the loss. "You can't take anything away from them. They came out aggressive, executed and as a team, we didn't.

"What's so disappointing is that all year, I feel like we've played better than we did today. Overall, for the season, I feel like we did a great job as a team. We showed up to play and expected to win every day. I really enjoyed being a part of it."

The Braves would load the bases on Jack Flaherty in the fifth, but Freddie Freeman grounded into a fielder's choice, squandering the scoring opportunity. 

"I didn't come through," Freeman admitted about his role in the series. "Everybody is going to say what they want to say, but this one's on me."

 

Ups and downs

No matter which side you rooted for, this series presented its fair share of emotions. 

Game 1 featured Atlanta leading until the top of the eighth, when a Goldschmidt solo homer on the first pitch of the frame sparked the Cardinals' offense. Despite bottom-of-the-ninth dingers from both Acuna (2-run) and Freeman (solo), St. Louis prevailed 7-6.

In addition to Foltynewicz's aforementioned gem, Game 2 put a spotlight on Adam Duvall – who started the year with the Gwinnett Stripers, the Braves' AAA affiliate – as he hit a pinch-hit homer that firmly placed the momentum in Atlanta's favor. The final was 3-0 and the series headed to St. Louis, tied 1-1.

Down to their final out, the Braves came through in the clutch during Game 3. Dansby Swanson would single home the tying run in the top of the ninth, before Duvall again shined with a 2-run hit that gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead, the eventual final score.

An extra-inning battle, Game 4 took both teams through another gammit of emotion. Molina dribbled a grounder through that scored Goldschmidt in the bottom of the eighth – tying things at 4-all – then hit the game-clinching sacrifice fly that plated Wong in the tenth.

With all the drama built throughout the series, Game 5 had all the makings of cementing this duel as one of the classics.

Instead, St. Louis won it all before Atlanta could unholster its offense. 

 

Back to the drawing board

The Braves have now lost 10 consecutive playoff series', tying them with the Chicago Cubs for the most in MLB history (between the span of 1910-1998). 

Still, there are some positives.

Atlanta clinched its 19th division title, which is tied for the most in history with the New York Yankees. With star players like Acuna, Freeman, Albies and Swanson locked up, the 2020 campaign has plenty of promise.

As long as the Braves can address its bullpen struggles.

While not entirely at-fault for Atlanta's demise in the NLDS – the Braves finished the series hitting just .128 with runners in scoring position – the bullpen coughed up late leads in both Games 1 and 3.

"This is a special group; that's what makes this so tough," Freeman added. "We knew it from Day 1 of spring training. We have a really good team; we just didn't put it all together in the five games we needed to this year."