Clutch may or may not be a real thing. If it is, then Charlie Culberson has it and he’s got it overflowing.
Yesterday, the Braves beat the Marlins in a game that ended being way tighter than it should have been. However, in the face of some adversity (or just plain bad luck), we ended up getting one of the best moments of the season — a moment that basically saved a win and cemented one player’s status as being as close to a myth as a bench player could possibly be.
To set the stage for what happened in the top of the ninth, we have to take a very quick look at what happened earlier. Dallas Keuchel left yesterday’s game with two men on and one out in the top of the eighth. That gave him 7.1 innings of shutout ball, which is the type of performance that the Braves were surely hoping for when they finally chose to take the plunge to add him to the rotation. However, he was going to be on the hook for at least two runs if Chad Sobotka couldn’t get the last two outs of the inning to continue what had been a comfortable day for the Braves.
Unfortunately, Sobotka gave up a homer and just like that, the Marlins had made it 4-3 and were down by just one run once the ninth inning rolled around. That meant that Luke Jackson was on to close the game. Now, Luke Jackson has made a fantastic turnaround this season when compared to last season. With that being said, he’s still going through the growing pains of adjusting to such a high-leverage role. He’ll give you outings where he’ll have little-to-no problem, and then he’ll have a situation like yesterday where he can’t miss bats and that results in some absurdly bad luck going against him.
That’s how you end up with the bases loaded on an infield single, a single that just barely eluded the glove of Dansby Swanson, and a popped-up bunt that stays in the air long enough to elude all fielders and miraculously land on the ground for another infield single. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a weirder way for the bases to get loaded in three consecutive at-bats, but it happened anyways and the Braves were in trouble.
So naturally, when Neil Walker finally made some serious contact with the ball, it probably should have resulted in the Marlins scoring at least a run. The Marlins (and everybody else in the ballpark) didn’t count on Charlie Culberson turning the tide in the next few seconds.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 7, 2019
Make no mistake about it, that was the throw of Charlie Culberson’s career. If he can find a way to top that while wearing a Braves uniform, then the Braves are going to be in fabulously-good shape. Otherwise, that throw is Charlie Culberson’s magnum opus. If the Louvre suddenly decided to admit photos of baseball as art, then this photo would be hanging proudly in that glass pyramid in Paris.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 7, 2019
That’s an absolutely astonishing throw to make, especially when you consider that he was throwing across his body, as well. It’s even better when you consider that the guy who Cublerson somehow threw out at home plate is not slow, either. Jorge Alfaro may be a catcher, but he can move. He’s been tracked by Statcast to have a sprint speed of 28.9 feet per second, which has him at the top of the leaderboard for the Marlins when it comes to their regulars. He had just put his speed on display during that same inning, since he was the guy who got on with an infield single. He actually has wheels! He can move!
Yet, this was his fate.
There is no possible way that Jorge Alfaro, Neil Walker, the rest of the Marlins, the rest of the Braves, or any of the fans could have possibly imagined that Charlie Culberson could have unleashed that blue laser beam of a baseball from left field in order to gun out one of the quickest runners on Miami’s squad. But he did, and everybody who was watching it was left in awe.
You don’t need any fancy statistics to tell you that that single play did more to change the outcome of the game than any other, but I’ll just go ahead and do it anyways. When Neil Walker came up to the plate, FanGraphs now had the Marlins as the “favorites” to win, as the Braves only had a 35.8 percent Win Expectancy since they were facing a bases loaded, nobody out situation in the top of the ninth inning while only up a run.
After Charlie Culberson manipulated time and space to make the play that he did, Atlanta’s Win Expectancy shot back up to 86 percent on the nose. It promptly went down ten percent when Curtis Granderson coaxed a walk out of Luke Jackson to load up the bases again, but they still only needed one more out to get out of it.
Luke Jackson was able to get Miguel Rojas to fly out, and the Braves’ Win Expectancy went up to 100 percent since the game was over. Over the 2018 season and just over half of this season, we’ve seen some amazing moments from this team on a near-regular basis. Charlie Culberson’s throw in the ninth inning to basically save the team from what was surely looking like at least having to play out the bottom of the ninth and maybe even extra innings was probably a Top-5 moment for me. You just don’t see dramatic, game-changing moments like that on defense, and yet that’s what happened yesterday.
A player’s ability to come through in the clutch isn’t really easily defined and it’s really something that we shouldn’t use to define most players. With that being said, it only makes sense that a career bench player who has an extra-innings home run in the World Series to his name, the uncanny ability to play nearly every single position on the diamond competently (even pitcher!), and a knack for coming up big in tight situations would end up being the one who seems to be overflowing with the clutch gene. After yesterday’s moment, Charlie Culberson has truly earned the “Clutch” moniker.