The Braves won again tonight, although it'll take a minute to figure out how. In one of the more unusual finishes to a major league baseball game, they scored twice to beat Cincinnati in the ninth inning, 4-3, increasing their major league record to 13 straight season-opening victories and leaving the Reds baffled.
For the fourth straight time the Braves came from behind. This time there was nothing conventional about the rally, which opened with them trailing, 3-2, and ended on Claudell Washington's two-run, two-out, bases-loaded single up the middle.
The inning started with a walk to reserve catcher Matt Sinatro, who was kind enough not to say afterward, "I did it my way." Sinatro moved to second on Rafael Ramirez's bunt single. The fun began.
Rufino Linares, pinch hitting, missed in an attempt to bunt the two men along to second and third. Then he missed his sign to try again and swung mightily, missing everything. Finally he flied out.
With one out and runners still at first and second, leadoff man Brett Butler hit what seemed a tailor-made, game-ending double-play ball to shortstop.
But Sinatro, off with the pitch, nicked the ball with a spike on his shoe and it bounced into center field. Sinatro raced home with an umpire right behind, calling him out.
Instead of a double play, Sinatro was retired for interference, but Ramirez remained at second and Butler took first.
The Reds called on reliever Jim Kern to face pinch hitter Biff Pocoroba. His first pitch bounced two feet in front of the plate and past catcher Mike O'Berry, runners advancing to second and third. Kern then walked Pocoroba intentionally and the Reds called on lefty Joe Price to pitch to Washington.
Washington had been beaned by a left-hander in Cincinnati last week and said he knew "they were going to brush me back, and they did it on the first pitch."
The second pitch was over the plate and Washington sent a line single to center field, Ramirez racing home with Butler hard on his heels to score the winning run with a head-first slide.
The crowd of 22,153 cheered mightily as history was made. The Braves already had eclipsed the major league record of 11 straight opening a season when they beat the Reds Tuesday. Now they're adding to their own record.
Sinatro insisted his interference was unintentional, and Butler maintained gamely that he thought he could have beaten a throw to first and avoided the double play even if the ball had not been interfered with.
But it still seemed almost as if this star-struck team received a little divine intervention this time. "It was an unusual ninth inning," Manager Joe Torre conceded. "We worked hard in spring training, but not on that play."
The Reds scored their three in the third inning when Ron Oester singled with two out, Dave Concepcion walked and Larry Biittner hit a home run high over the right field fence at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
But starter Rick Mahler shut the door for the next two innings and relievers Preston Hanna and Rick Camp each chipped in two innings of scoreless relief.
Chris Chambliss made it 3-1 with a homer, his second in two days, leading off the fifth. In the seventh, the Braves drew to 3-2 as Dale Murphy doubled, went to third on Chambliss' fly and scored on Ramirez's sacrifice fly.
In the eighth they filled the bases but failed to get a run home, Chambliss striking out to end the rally. In the ninth, things just went their way.