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Michael Cunningham: A great Braves season ends on a bitter note

By Michael Cunningham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Baseball

Everyone will remember the Braves losing Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to the Dodgers. They'll recall how the Braves once led the best-of-seven series 3-1 and had gave back two leads in the final game. They'll think back to Cody Bellinger's solo home run off Chris Martin that put the Dodgers ahead for good Sunday night in Arlington, Texas.

Those things shouldn't crowd out what we shouldn't forget about the 2020 Braves. They won a third straight NL East title despite their pitching rotation falling apart. They pushed the heavily-favored and pitching-rich Dodgers to the brink.

The Braves just couldn't finish.

Bellinger's home run sent the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory. They are going to the World Series for the third time in four years and are looking for their first win there since 1988. The Dodgers face the AL champion Rays.

The Braves thrived all year on late-game rallies. They didn't come close to generating one in their final game. After Bellnger's homer, the Braves went down in order in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Season's over.

The Braves had three chances to win one game and return to the World Series for the first time since 1999. They led 2-1 after five innings of in Game 5 but lost 7-3. The Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning of Game 6 and didn't need to score again as the Braves left eight runners on base, including not scoring after once loading the bases with no outs.

 

In Game 7, the led 2-0 after Dansby Swanson's homer to lead off the second inning. The Dodgers scored two runs in the third to tie it. The Braves went back ahead by a run on Austin Riley's RBI single off Tony Gonsolin in the fourth. The lead might have been more if not for a Braves baserunning blunder.

Blake Treinein replaced Gonsolin to face Nick Markakis with inherited baserunners Riley and Swanson. Markakis hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Justin Turner. Swanson broke for home and was stuck. While the Dodgers were running him down Riley started for third, stopped, and then started again.

Turner tagged out Swanson before home, then turned and threw out Riley at third. The Braves should have had, at worst, runners at first and second with one out. Instead, they had two outs and Markakis at first. Then Christian Pache grounded out to end the inning.

The Braves will always regret scoring just one run in that inning. They still had the lead, though. It held until the sixth inning. Dodgers utility man Kike Hernandez, who bats right, pinch hit for lefty hitter Joc Pederson to face left-hander A.J. Minter.

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(c)2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.