It wasn’t a very good day for starting pitcher Tommy Hanson in Atlanta. In 1.2 innings, he gave up 8 runs, including a grand slam, to the Reds. By the time the second inning was over, Cincinnati held an 8-0 lead. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Reds were still very comfortably winning, 9-3. Per Fangraphs, the Braves had just a 0.2% chance of winning the game.
The bottom of the ninth started out innocently enough, with a Troy Glaus single off of Mike Lincoln, who was entering his third inning of relief. Former Yankee great Eric Hinske followed with a single of his own. Yunel Escobar hit an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. Nate McLouth singled to bring home Glaus and Hinske and move Escobar to third. 9-5 Braves. Okay, so Atlanta was making things a bit interesting, but there was still a 91% chance they were going to lose this game.
Figuring Lincoln must be tired, the Reds brought in a new reliever, Nick Masset, who proceeded to walk David Ross. Once again, the bases were loaded with nobody out. Martin Prado hit a ground ball to third that was probably a double-play ball, but Miguel Cairo booted it and could not even get one out. Prado reached, Escobar scored, and once again, bases loaded, nobody out. 9-6, Cincinnati. Things were definitely interesting. Still, the Braves had just a 30.2% chance of winning the game. Sure, it’s better than 0.2%, but it’s still not at all likely.
Up comes Jason Heyward, who’s already established himself as quite the good and clutch (if you believe in that sort of thing) player in his young career. At this point, everyone on Twitter is freaking out about how Heyward is going to hit a walk-off grand slam to add to his “legend.” And he… strikes out swinging. That single out sends the Braves’ chances of winning down from 30.2% to 18.5%. The bases are still loaded and it’s 9-6, Reds.
Up steps pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad. It’s not much of a sample size, but last year, in 58 PA, he had a whopping 74 OPS+, including a .259 OBP. The Reds bring in their closer, Francisco Cordero. He throws what was actually a good pitch, but Conrad goes down and gets it, and hits it far. Cincinnati’s left fielder Laynce Nix (what kind of a name is that?) jumps up, and almost gets it – but it goes over the wall. Freakin’ game-winning grand slam. For just a few seconds, Conrad thinks Nix got it, and stands there at first in agony, but as the umpires signal that it’s a home run and his teammates utterly freak out, it clearly sinks in and the celebration starts. The Braves had less than a 1% chance to win this game, going into the bottom of the ninth down six runs – but they won it.
I think we all, as baseball fans, dread blowing big leads and, more importantly, always dream of some crazy comeback and reminisce about them after they happen. It’s why this game gets played on Yankees Classics. It’s why, on August 5, 2001, even after it was 12-0 Seattle after the first two innings, and 14-2 Seattle after five – oh, and these were the 2001 Seattle Mariners, a team that would win one hundred and sixteen freaking games – some Cleveland fan surely kept watching. More than 99% of the time when you’re down by twelve runs very early on, it’s just not your day and you simply aren’t going to win the game. But there’s that tiny, tiny, chance that you’ll come back and win it, in a game people will talk about for years. And that’s why you keep watching.
Sometimes, you’re down eight runs by the second inning, and six runs going into the bottom of the ninth, and you win. It doesn’t happen often – but it happens. And, yeah, today’s Reds/Braves game proves what we all know: you just can’t predict baseball.