It’s the bottom of the seventh inning. Marlins are ahead 4-3 in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. Sandy Alcántara has thrown a good game proving once again his ace status. He begins the seventh allowing a single to Austin Riley, who’s batting ninth. Ronald Acuña Jr., who hit a leadoff home run, follows with another single that ends Alcántara’s outing.
Manager Don Mattingly comes from the dugout and brings in the best reliever he’s got. Dominican Yimi García was lights out for the Marlins in the regular season and is now the chosen one to put an end to the Braves’ threat.
Freddie Freeman grounds into a force out that leaves men at the corners with one out. But then, Marcell Ozuna hits a single to tie the game at four apiece.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. visits righty García on the bump. It does not have the desired effect.
Travis d’Arnaud sends a slider 421 feet over the center-field fence. It’s a home run that puts the Braves up 7-4. That’s where Miami lost the game.
But what happened exactly? You can’t blame Mattingly. That was the move he had to do. To face a high-leverage situation, he brought in a guy whose last home run allowed came in 2019, a guy that only surrendered ONE earned run during 15 regular-season innings and already had two scoreless appearances during the postseason. If there was any man who could hold back the Braves’ hitters, it was the 30-year-old veteran.
Freeman, Ozuna, and d’Arnaud were 0-for-5 combined against Yimi in their careers. Overall in 2020, hitters were 3-for-22 (.136) off García with men on base.
He began d’Arnaud’s at-bat with an outside 94 MPH fastball. Then he used his slider down and away, a pitch he tried to repeat on the outer edge of the strike zone. That was the wrong pitch.
How can you blame García for using that weapon? His slider has yielded great results in recent years. In particular, this season it was good for a .214 opponent average and a .214 slugging percentage (zero extra-base hits). As if that wasn’t enough, the breaking ball induced the 22nd-lowest exit velocity among major leaguers with at least 200 total pitches thrown in 2020 (78.2 MPH).
The critical error that García made was his location:
Even though he has shown the ability to avoid trouble with similar pitches, it’s true he located most of his sliders out of the strike zone this season (62%).
d’Arnaud may have seen that pitch as candy in his power zone. Throughout his regular-season career, he’s seen 34 sliders over that region and has hit for a .353 batting average with a .471 slugging percentage despite showing a poor 83.5 MPH exit velocity.
Bringing García in was the right move for Mattingly. No doubt. But as it happens with life in general, things might not go as expected in baseball. This time, the Marlins paid. This time, it went right for the Braves.
Who knows what awaits in Game 2 tomorrow.