HLD&S would like to think that all the drama in Wednesday’s Marlins-Braves series finale was a response to Monday’s lament about making the last few games of the season a bit more thrilling than watching paint dry. But whether or not that was the case, the rubber match at Turner Field was one exciting game to witness.
Despite the bats showing up for the second night in a row, the real show Wednesday was Ricky Nolasco. In his final start of 2009, Ricky pitched like a man possessed, striking out batter after batter after batter.
At one point, Nolasco struck out the side in three consecutive innings (third, fourth and fifth), becoming just the fourth pitcher in history to do so. The nine straight K’s were also one short of the Major League record.
Against Javier Vazquez, the Marlins provided some run support for the dealing Nolasco, and scored three times in the second inning. Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla both hit RBI singles, and a wild pitch scored a run to give the Fish a 3-0 lead. Ross Gload went deep off of Vazquez in the fifth, hitting a two-run shot to put the Marlins up 5-0.
The Braves finally got on the board against Ricky with two unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh. With two out, Garret Anderson singled and Yunel Escobar reached on an error by Hanley. Adam LaRoche drove in both runs with an RBI single, and erased the shutout of Atlanta.
Ricky recorded his sixteenth strikeout of the game in the eight inning, and his night was done after 7 2/3 innings and 123 pitches. Ricky gave up four hits, two unearned runs, and recorded a career high 16 strikeouts in the start. The K-fest set a franchise record for most strikeouts in a game, and Ricky also plowed through his career high for strikeouts in a season, ending 2009 with 195.
As if Ricky’s display wasn’t excitement enough, the Marlins generously gave us a nail-biter of a ninth inning, where–to quote Nolasco in the understatement of the week–“it got a little interesting.”
Leo Nunez walked Brian McCann to lead off the bottom of the ninth, a botched double play and error by Jorge Cantu advanced McCann to third base, and Yunel Escobar singled to drive in the run. With one out, Wes Helms committed the second error of the inning on a throw to first that ended up in the dirt and allowed Matt Diaz to reach. Omar Infante added a pinch hit RBI single to bring the Braves within a run.
After the performance of a lifetime, Ricky Nolasco was getting dangerously close to a no-decision. Leo walked Nate McClouth to load the bases, and the call to the bullpen brought out veteran Brendan Donnelly.
Donnelly’s very first pitch in the game got by Ronny Paulino, and Matt Diaz started for home. He retreated as Paulino got to the ball, but couldn’t get back to third before the catcher picked him off for the final out of the game.
With that out, Donnelly got his second save for the Fish, and Ricky Nolasco won his 13th game of the season.
While HLD&S is appreciative of the Marlins attempts at entertaining us in the last few days of 2009, we could do without the cardiac arrest. And seeing as all four of Atlanta’s runs were unearned, we could also do without the sloppy defense.
But now we’re just nit-picking.
Though it’s true that nothing can compare to the feeling of one’s own team making it to the post-season, essentially taking the chance away from a division rival is kinda fun too.