SAN DIEGO — Still riding the high created by the game-tying homer and game-winning single he produced in a 10-8 victory over the Padres on Saturday night, Braves outfielder Jorge Soler was introduced to a new level of postgame enthusiasm as he made his way toward the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park.
“The energy was sky high, like I’ve never seen it before,” Soler said through an interpreter. “We were working our way back to the clubhouse, and people were hooting and hollering and screaming. It was a big win.”
Every win is big this time of year for a postseason contender like the Braves, who maintained their National League East lead at 1 1/2 games and cut the magic number to clinch the division to seven. But this may indeed have been Atlanta’s biggest win to date, simply because the team was one out away from it possibly being an influential loss.
“That might have been one of the guttiest games I’ve ever seen a team play,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It kind of defines who these guys are and what they’re all about.”
Trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth inning, the Braves were staring at the possibility of being just a half-game in front of the second-place Phillies, who had already won in Pittsburgh. But Austin Riley strengthened his MVP résumé when he singled with one out and advanced to second on a passed ball by Victor Caratini.
One out later, Eddie Rosario further endeared himself to Braves fans with a game-tying single off Mark Melancon, the All-Star closer who filled that role for Atlanta during the 2019 and ‘20 seasons.
Rosario missed nearly a month after the Braves acquired him on July 30 from the Indians because of an abdominal strain. But he has produced a .975 OPS through 80 plate appearances for Atlanta, and he has drawn the newcomer love that has also been showered on Soler since he was acquired from the Royals at the end of July.
How much do the Braves respect Soler? Well, they began this week by making the unexpected decision to put him in the leadoff role. They were impressed with the plate discipline he had shown since being acquired. At the same time, they knew he had that quick strike power he displayed with the game-tying, three-run homer off Nabil Crismatt in the sixth inning.
That was Soler’s 25th homer of the season and the 12th he has tallied over 50 games for the Braves. If the Braves end up winning a fourth consecutive division crown, this mood-altering blast might also be regarded as one of Atlanta’s most important homers of the season.
“It was a huge win, especially because it felt like we were playing behind the whole entire game,” Soler said. “We just kept overcoming the deficits and kept battling back.”
Soler’s contribution created what proved to be short-lived tie. Caratini’s one-out single in the bottom of the sixth gave the Padres a lead and extended the woes of Chris Martin, who is no longer the dominant reliever he was the past two seasons. San Diego kept that lead until Rosario delivered in the ninth and set the stage for Soler in the 10th.
After Orlando Arcia drew a five-pitch walk to put two on with one out in the 10th, Soler ripped his go-ahead double to left field. The automatic runner, Travis d’Arnaud, scored, and Arcia advanced to third base. Arcia then scored on Ozzie Albies’ sacrifice fly, which gave Will Smith some cushion in the bottom of the 10th.
“There’s always 27 outs to be played, and nothing is ever written in stone until that 27th out is recorded,” Soler said. “[Opponents] can score at any moment, but the same thing can be said about us. We can score runs at any time.”
Soler’s contributions lessened the impact of starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa surrendered three home runs and seven runs over just 4 2/3 innings. There was further reason to question his capabilities as a two-pitch starter when he surrendered Manny Machado’s grand slam in the fifth inning. The home run came against the 16th consecutive slider thrown by Ynoa, who actually used the slider with 20 of his final 21 pitches.
But by the time this thrilling battle was complete, Ynoa served as just a footnote in a game that could put the Braves where they want to be by the end of this week.
“It was just a great team win,” Snitker said.