On May 20, 2010, the Atlanta Braves overcame a 9-3 deficit in the ninth inning to beat the Cincinnati Reds 10-9, an incredible comeback capped by a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam by journeyman backup infielder Brooks Conrad.
Longtime Braves broadcaster Joe Simpson said of the comeback “I’ve been to two goat ropings and three rodeos, but I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Sunday, eight years to the day after Conrad’s memorable hit, the 2018 edition of the Braves came back in similar fashion, using a six-run ninth inning to beat the Miami Marlins, by an identical score of 10-9.
This comeback was just as amazing as the one eight years earlier, if not more so; this one came without the benefit of a single extra-base hit, as the Braves methodically chopped away at the Marlins lead — down to their last strike 10 times — before finally winning on a bullet down the left-field line by Dansby Swanson.
Swanson’s turn as the hero was nearly as unlikely as Conrad’s — it was Swanson’s first hit since missing 15 games with a wrist injury.
After watching the Braves finish off the improbable victory on Sunday, I said to myself: “I’ve been to two goat ropings and three rodeos, but I’ve never seen anything like that.”
(Ok, I’ve been to one rodeo, and haven’t been to a goat roping. But you get the point.)
But while the comeback was incredible, some of the comments made by the team afterward were perhaps even more telling about the makeup of this Braves team.
“I almost expect them to do it,” said manager Brian Snitker. “Down six in the bottom of the fifth, I felt good. I really did. I thought, ‘these guys have a lot of time to go to work here.’”
“It just shows the belief and pedigree in this team that we have this much belief in each other,” said Freddie Freeman. “It’s fun to be a part of. When you have everybody bought in to play like that, it’s truly amazing what can happen.”
After rebuilding seasons of 95, 93 and 90 losses the last three years, the Braves are back — they sit at 29-18, holding the best record in the National League and a 1 1/2 game lead in the NL East. Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the whole southeast (“Braves Country”) has a team to be excited about again.
I wasn’t around for the “worst-to-first” season of 1991, in which the Braves reached the World Series — their first since moving to Atlanta — after three straight last-place finishes in their division. I’ve always wondered how thrilling that experience must have been like for the Braves and their fans.
Perhaps this season is providing a taste of that — and hopefully, like 1991, the thrills will continue all the way into October.
Going back to those rodeos, the Braves are sitting on a bull named “First Place,” something very few expected when the season began eight weeks ago.
It’s still early — if the 162-game schedule is the fabled “eight-second ride,” we’re a little over two seconds in. Some say the Braves, as young as they are, are sure to fall off the bull before the eight seconds is up.
But given their knack for comebacks, their will and determination, and what appears from a distance to be a great team chemistry, I like their chances.
That bull is sure to try and throw the Braves off — every team goes through plenty of adversity over the course of 162 games that, if they’re not ready for it, can throw them — but I have a feeling that when the eight seconds is up, the Braves could very well be the last ones standing and advance into the goat roping known as the postseason.
And if it happens, I’ll be the first to say: “I’ve been to two goat ropings and three rodeos, but I’ve never seen anything like that.”