ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson has never been part of a celebration like this.
On a night when Washington’s Luis Garcia hit a homer for the ages, Swanson delivered the decisive blow for the Braves with a two-out, two-run shot in the ninth inning to cap a four-run rally that gave Atlanta a stunning 7-6 victory over the Nationals on Monday.
Adam Duvall provided hope for the home team with a two-run shot that barely cleared the left-field wall off Daniel Hudson (1-2). Then, with the Braves down to their final out, Swanson drove one over the wall in right- centre for his third homer of the season.
It was the first walk-off homer of his career.
“I think I did it once when I was like 8,” Swanson quipped. “But other than that, I cannot think of a time.”
When he got to home plate, his teammates toasted him from afar in front of 40,000 empty seats, jumping up and down with their hands in the air to make sure they observed social distancing.
“That was the weirdest celebration,” Swanson said. “I'm still a little confused what happened.”
Weird, maybe, but not unusual for the Braves. Since Brian Snitker took over as manager in 2016, Atlanta has won 82 games in its final at-bat — the most of any team during that span.
“These guys are never out of a game,” Snitker marveled.
The rally ruined a memorable night for Garcia, who became the first player born in the 2000s to hit a big league homer.
The youngest player in the majors at age 20, Garcia delivered a two-run shot off Touki Toussaint in the second inning. Asdrubal Cabrera, Juan Soto and Eric Thames also homered for the defending World Series champs, but it wasn't enough.
Garcia was born on May 16, 2000. He was called up by Washington last week when Starlin Castro went on the injured list with a broken right wrist.
Toussaint allowed another run in the fourth without giving up a hit. The right-hander hit a batter with a pitch and walked three more, including Kurt Suzuki with the bases loaded.
When Toussaint started the fourth with another walk — his sixth of the game — Snitker had seen enough. It was another setback for Atlanta's beleaguered rotation, which lost ace Mike Soroka to a season-ending injury and demoted two other starters, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb.
Washington starter Anibal Sanchez laboured through 99 pitches in five innings, giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks. He was in position for his first win after starting the season 0-3, but Hudson couldn't hold the lead.
“I just couldn’t stop the bleeding and let it snowball going down the hill,” Hudson said. “It stings. A three-run lead in the ninth inning should be game over. That’s not always the case. It is baseball. It’s going to sting the rest of the night. Life of a reliever. You can’t let it bug you too long.”
Will Smith (2-0) earned the win despite giving up a ninth-inning homer to Soto, who went deep for the seventh time in just 12 games on the day he was announced as NL player of the week.
The Braves' rotation could be headed for more changes after another rough outing for Toussaint.
He gave up four runs in three-plus innings and threw only 34 of 73 pitches for strikes as his ERA climbed to 7.97.
“He's going to have to figure it out,” Snitker said. “He's got to figure out how to get the ball in the strike zone. His stuff is way too good for him not to be more successful.”
Washington's Howie Kendrick did not start for the third game in a row because of a sore hamstring. Manager Dave Martinez said the team is taking no chances with the oft-injured veteran, though the injury does not appear to be serious. “We've just got to be smart,” Martinez said. “We don't want to lose him for three weeks. If we lose him for three weeks, that's pretty much game over.”
Nationals: RHP Austin Voth (0-2, 3.21 ERA) gets the nod for Washington on Tuesday in the second game of the series at Truist Park. He is hoping to bounce back from a rough outing at New York, where he gave up six hits, three runs and two homers in four innings against the Mets.
Braves: For the second time in three games, Atlanta's beleaguered rotation will go to the bullpen for a starter. RHP Josh Tomlin (1-0, 1.59) makes his first start of the season, hoping to duplicate the performance of Robbie Erlin on Sunday. Erlin went four innings in a 4-0 victory over the Marlins, giving the Atlanta staff a much-needed boost. While Tomlin has been used mostly as a reliever during his two seasons with the Braves, this is hardly a new role. He made 144 starts over nine seasons with Cleveland.
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Paul Newberry, The Associated Press