Braves catch breaks and balls, even NLDS with win over Phillies

ATLANTA — Everyone took a while to get going in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, from the Phillies to the Braves to the grounds crew, lulled to sleep by a long rain delay.

The Braves’ bats woke up first, a three-run, two-out flurry in the bottom of the sixth that provided the only scoring in a 3-0 victory. Combine that with two “SportsCenter”-worthy catches, and a highly motivating pitch drilled into the valuable right arm of Ronald Acuna Jr., and the Braves have evened the NLDS at a game apiece heading to Philadelphia.

A two-hour, 53-minute rain delay kept fans at Truist Park huddled up under overhangs and in concourses, where they could enjoy half-price concessions — well, except alcohol — and watch a long documentary about the Braves’ 2021 World Series run . Deep inside the stadium, players napped, rode the exercise bike, played on iPads, talked fantasy football, whatever they could while away the hours. When the grounds crew strode out to squeegee off the tarp, they received the kind of cheer normally reserved for postseason home runs.

Once the game began, Atlanta’s Kyle Wright and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler combined for a five-inning master class in pitching, scattering rare hits and controlling damage. The Phillies hit the ball harder, but with no more success than the Braves, and the first half of the game was whipped by.

Then came the decisive sixth inning. In the top half of the frame, Wright, facing his final batter in his third time through Philadelphia’s order, struck out Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins. With the ever-dangerous Bryce Harper on deck, JT Realmuto flared a shot out into short left field that should have dropped for a single. But Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson, struggling through a wicked couple of games at the plate, redeemed his performance with a Red Zone-worthy catch to end the inning:

“I was trying to throw a flag on myself because I felt like I made it look way harder than it needed to be,” Swanson said. “I was running out there, and maybe because it was a breaking ball, it kept spinning away from me. I slowed down just enough to check [left fielder Eddie] Rosario to see where he was so that we didn’t have a collision. Once he kind of looked at me like, ‘Hey, brother, it’s yours or no one’s,’ I just kind of went for it.”

The bottom of the sixth for Atlanta began much like the previous five, with designated hitter Marcell Ozuna and Rosario heading to the plate and then heading right back to the dugout. Wheeler was dealing, right up to the moment he nailed Acuna on the inside of the right elbow. His face contorted in pain, Acuna spent several minutes under the eyes of athletic trainers before jogging down to first to remain in the game.

“Sparked something in the crowd,” third baseman Austin Riley said, “and in our dugout.”

Swanson drew a full-count walk, and singles from Matt Olson and Riley brought in the night’s only three runs. Meanwhile, Acuna tested his arm in the batting cage underneath the Truist Park seats, feeling gradually returning to his numb arm.

In the top of the eighth, Riley submitted his own highlight-reel catch for consideration, a running flop on a Bryson Stott foul ball that left him bent around the recently rolled tarp:

“This time of year, you put your body on the line to do whatever it takes to get an out,” Riley smiled in the locker room after the game. “Probably one of my better plays.”

“They’re going to be showing both of those [catches] for the next year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Just unbelievable plays.”

Closer Kenley Jansen took out the first two Phillies in the ninth, then — as always — Harper made things interesting. An apparent foul ball out was deemed to have grazed the net, and Harper hung in for several more cuts before finally striking out to end the game.

“Come the postseason, it’s all about pitching, defense and timely hitting,” Swanson said. “I feel like we checked all those boxes tonight.”

The NLDS now shifts to Philadelphia, with each team holding the opportunity to close out the series before it returns to Atlanta. Both teams have shown their best characteristics in the first two games of the series — Philadelphia’s crafty opportunism in Game 1, Atlanta’s resilience in Game 2. The series will resume on Friday.

The Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. is hit by a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park on Wednesday in Atlanta. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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