How many runs does a team need to score before they’ve safely secured the lead? Five? Eight? Ten? The Braves stockpiled an impressive 10 runs in the first four innings of Saturday’s contest against the Cubs, helped to an enormous degree by Ozzie Albies‘ four-RBI performance (solo home run in the first, RBI double in the second, productive out in the third and RBI single in the fourth) and a five-run explosion in the third.
That still wasn’t enough to keep the Cubs at bay. They grabbed a handful of runs off of Sean Newcomb — a first-inning blast from Albert Almora Jr., a run-scoring groundout in the third, a bases-loaded walk in the sixth, a pair of runs in the seventh — but nothing they did hinted at the carnage that would follow in the eighth inning.
Luke Jackson hit Jason Heyward to open the eighth, then recovered to whiff Kyle Schwarber for the first out. After Tommy La Stella muscled a single into center field, however, Jackson was pulled for Jose Ramirez. Ramirez was similarly effective; he induced a swinging strikeout from Efren Navarro before also losing his grip on the ball. Kris Bryant was plunked to load the bases, Willson Contreras singled in a run, and Ben Zobrist walked in another.
With two outs and a three-run lead, the Braves still had a chance to exit the inning without any additional damage. That chance slipped away in the next at-bat: Javier Baez worked a full count, then doubled into center to plate Bryant, Contreras and Zobrist and tie the game.
The next four batters took a walk: Ramirez intentionally walked Addison Russell before he was replaced with Sam Freeman, who saw just two of 14 pitches land anywhere close to the strike zone as Heyward, Schwarber and La Stella each took a free pass (and a couple of RBI as well). Peter Moylan quickly relieved Freeman, but even he couldn’t harness whatever strange magic the Cubs were brewing. He lobbed a wild pitch at Navarro, which glanced off of Kurt Suzuki‘s glove and gave Heyward enough room to score the penultimate run. Suzuki was then charged with an error after overthrowing second base, allowing the ball to roll into center field as Schwarber plated the ninth and final run of the inning. (In other words, just your run-of-the-mill two-hit, five-walk, nine-run comeback.)
By the time the dust settled, the Braves had expended four pitchers, 55 pitches and nine runs on three hits and five walks… in the eighth inning alone. With the series now split 1-1 following Friday’s shutout and Saturday’s blowout, the clubs will face off for the deciding game on Sunday at 2:20 PM ET.