A night after clinching their first division title since 2005, the Braves (93-64) fell to the Brewers (70-87) 5-0 in the first of a seven game home stretch. Atlanta was shut out for the third time in eight games Monday evening after only managing three hits in the loss. Before Monday, Atlanta had won eight in a row at home against the Brewers.
The second game of their three game series against Milwaukee would be a different story.
Pitching for Atlanta Tuesday was veteran right hander Freddy Garcia, (4-7) on the season, 1.65 ERA.
Recently acquired in August after his tenure with the Baltimore Orioles, Garcia has been looking for a spot in the postseason pitching rotation. If added to the roster for October, Garcia would have the most experience in the bullpen at 36 years old, having 10 postseason starts and a 6-3 record.
“For me it’s been a long time. I’m a part of something real nice and I’m just trying to enjoy the opportunity to pitch,” Garcia said. “I just have to do my job and they’ll make the decision.”
Garcia’s performance of seven strikeouts through six innings would catch Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez’s eye.
“He was outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “He doesn’t rattle. He pitches with his eyes, he knows how to change speeds, and he’ll throw any pitch at any time. He has that confidence in him.”
The game was also a homecoming for Garcia’s opposing pitcher, Brewers rookie right-hander Tyler Thornburg, 3-1 on the season with a 2.03 ERA.
Thornburg grew up in Sandy Springs and attended Riverwood High, where he played for the school’s baseball team before enrolling at Charleston Southern University.
Thornburg gave the Atlanta line up much trouble, posting career highs striking out eight in seven innings and only allowing seven hits and a walk over 96 pitches before being relieved for the night.
The first score of the evening came at the top of third inning after Milwaukee’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy singled to left field off Garcia, driving in Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki.
The night would be a slow one for the Braves early in the game and definitely had its humorous moments.
Numerous foul balls would shoot into the crowd on almost every Braves at bat with one from rookie catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis during his first at bat that landed in a beer vendor’s bucket, nearly taking him out.
Gattis would eventually redeem himself in the bottom of the fourth inning, hitting a double that would bring in infielder Freddie Freeman to even the score.
The celebration was short lived, though. On the first pitch of the fifth, Milwaukee shortstop Jeff Blanchi hit a solo homer off Garcia, putting the Brewers up 2-1.
Atlanta would not relent easily. With an RBI single to center field at the bottom of the sixth, Freddie Freeman allowed outfielder Jason Heyward to score, tying the game at 2-2.
Fredi Gonzalez made the call to the bullpen at the start of the seventh, replacing Garcia with Alex Wood for relief, but not before Garcia received a nice ovation from the 22,605 in attendance upon his exit.
The game remained deadlocked for the next two innings until the bottom of the ninth when Simmons singled to right center bringing in Justin Upton for the winning score.
The game-ending hit was Simmons’ third of the season and the 24th win for the Braves on their final at-bat.
“You learn a lot throughout the year, I struggled a little bit with runners in scoring position early this year,” Simmons told the Daily World. “It took me a while, but I have a better idea of what to do in those situations.”
“It’s always good to have those close games and come out victorious. It creates that winning habit that we’ve had throughout the year and to keep that going into the postseason is a good thing,” Simmons added.
The win for the night went to Braves closer Craig Kimbrel (4-3, 1.25) with the loss going to Brewers Donovan Hand (0-5, 3.53)
Atlanta ended the evening with a half-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the top spot in the National League standings. The team that finishes in first place obtains home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the season comes down to Atlanta and St. Louis, the Braves own the tie-breaker, taking their season series 4-3.
Atlanta has gone 8-11 since the start of September but still maintains the Major League’s best home record at 53-23. The magic number for clinching home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs now stands at five.
With the division already clinched, Atlanta’s postseason schedule is already set. Game 1 of the National League Division Series will be Thursday, October 3. (site and opponent TBA)
In Wednesday’s series finale at 7:10 pm, probable starters for the evening will be RHP Kyle Lohse for the Brewers (10-10, 3.51 ERA) and LHP Paul Maholm (10-10, 4.44 ERA) for the Braves.