Dansby Swanson's Heroics Lift Braves
ATLANTA—Dansby Swanson stood at the plate with two outs, two strikes, the bases loaded and a 98-mph flamethrower on the mound. The tying run was on third base, the winning run was on second, and those remaining in the stands had whipped into a fever pitch.
The Braves had cut a 9-4 deficit in the ninth inning to 9-8, and it was up to Swanson to finish the comeback. It was an unfavorable situation to be sure, but it was exactly where Swanson wanted to be.
Swanson’s unwavering confidence and composure in big spots helped him win Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series as a sophomore in 2014, and they played an outsized role in his selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. A sound two-strike approach, an innate ability to handle pressure and a winning mentality have been staples of Swanson’s scouting reports since he was a Vanderbilt sophomore and have carried him to the highest level of professional baseball.
So he stepped to the plate against Marlins fireballer Tayron Guerrero in the bottom of the ninth, worked the count to 2-2, fouled away two straight fastballs—one at 98 mph, the other at 99—and delivered the winning hit his team never doubted he would get.
Swanson lined a walk-off, two-run single down the left-field line in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Braves to a stunning 10-9 victory over the Marlins on Sunday. The Braves scored six runs in the ninth—five with two outs—to win the series and maintain their status as owners of the National League’s best record.
“I think those situations are what this game is meant to be played for,” Swanson said. “Every time that I can get in those situations, I’m happy to do so.”
Swanson was in just his second game back after missing two and a half weeks with left wrist inflammation. He was hitless in his first seven plate appearances back before delivering the game-winner.
“No one else you want in that situation,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who legged out an infield single on what would have been the third and final out to keep the rally alive.
“It feels like he’s made for that situation. We got everything to him and he came through.”
The Braves trailed 6-0 after five innings, 8-2 at the seventh inning stretch and 9-4 entering the ninth. Their collection of electric young talent that twice made them BA’s No. 1 ranked farm system played a central role in making the comeback happen.
Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna got it started with consecutive one-out singles in the sixth, and both came around to score to get the Braves on the board. In the bottom of the seventh, Acuna ripped a two-run single, cutting the Braves deficit to 8-4.
In the ninth, with one on and one out, Albies singled to put runners on the corners and Acuna took advantage by lifting a sacrifice fly to give the Braves their first run of the inning and get the rally started in earnest.
“These young guys,” Freeman said. “They just keep coming on and keep making things exciting.”
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Back-to-back RBI singles by Freeman and Nick Markakis, a walk by Tyler Flowers and a pinch-hit, RBI single by Kurt Suzuki—all with two outs—made it 9-8. Johan Camargo walked to load the bases, bringing up Swanson, who actually led off the inning with a strikeout.
In that situation, Swanson leaned on his background as a multi-sport athlete, another factor that made him such an attractive draft prospect and has served him well in the big leagues.
“I honestly credit a lot of the ability to relax in those kind of situations to playing basketball in high school,” Swanson said. “In basketball you’re constantly in those pressure situations in environments that are tough to handle. I kind of credit a lot of the ability to relax in those situations due to that.”
In his career, Swanson is a .500 hitter (11-for-22) in “late and close” situations as defined by Baseball-Reference, compared to .252 overall. He’s also a .500 career hitter with two outs and runners in scoring position (10-for-20).
That total package of his poise and elite makeup in pressure spots helped elevate him to No. 1 overall in his draft, and have helped make him a cornerstone of the Braves' burgeoning rebuild.
It’s a point now where, as far as the Braves coaches are concerned, Swanson’s late-game heroics are eminently predictable.
“I told (bench coach) Walt (Weiss) when Dansby went up there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I said, 'You know what, that guy is built for this.' This is his stage. This is what he's made for, that kind of stage like that."