I just wanted to conclude my trip down the byways of memory by highlighting a few players from 1966 I haven’t mentioned yet, mostly players who came up right at the end of the season.
Felix Millan: A future all-star for both the Braves and the Mets made his debut in 1966 with 37 games late in the season. He wouldn’t become the regular second baseman until 1968, but an excellent ballplayer and, according to a journalist friend of mine who knew him with the Mets, the nicest guy he ever met in baseball.
Cecil Upshaw: The guy who would eventually inherit the closer’s role and take the Braves to the playoffs in 1969 made his debut in a game in 1966. He missed the 1970 season when, while demonstrating his dunking technique after the second game of the season, caught his right ring finger in a gutter, costing him the season, and nearly, the finger. Let this be a lesson: don’t wear rings on your pitching hand. He came back in 1971 and pitched until 1975.
Ron Reed: The big right hander came up at the end of 1966 as well, finishing 1-1 in two starts. He started for the Braves as a regular from 1968-1974, and after a year in St. Louis, was the top reliever for the Phillies from 1976-1983.
Mike de la Hoz: A journeyman reserve infielder/pinch-hitter who played the whole season. I mention him because his name was made for the age of Twitter….. He was before his time.
The 1966 Braves finished 85-77, which finished fifth in the pre-division 10 team National League. This would reverse that record the next year, finishing 77-85. In fact, they wouldn’t finish above .500 until 1969, when they won the newly-created Western Division with a 93-69 record. By then, I was all grown up: 13 years old, and saw the fundamental tragedy of life instantiated in a playoff loss to the Mets. The glow of 1966 had succumbed to messy reality, and my life was never the same.
But we now have bigger fish to fry. My job is to beat the Cardinals and keep the train limping towards Playoff Station. Touki took the mound against the best Flaherty in baseball, who unfortunately isn’t Ryan, but is instead the Cardinal’s 22 year old starter, Jack.
Touki got through the first three facing the minimum thanks to two double plays eliminating his walks. His first big challenge came in the fourth when two hits and a double steal meant he had to get Molina. He did.
In the bottom of the fourth, Ender led off with a single and Freddie homered him in for his second hit. The two run lead lasted less than a half-inning when Harrison Bader hit his second homer in two days. But it was solo.
The Braves scored 3 in the bottom of the 5th on a wild pitch followed by a FF5 single followed by a double steal that required a replay review of Freddie’s theft of second (overturned!) to count.
There was a time in Braves history when a 5-1 lead was comfortable. Not now. Molina got one back on the 6th. The Braves scored another unearned run in the bottom, though, to make it 6-2.
Now came the 8th and 9th, our real problem the last week or two. The 8th saw another Cardinals run on a sac fly (but no walks) to close the gap to three. Not quite Reitsma (2018 edition) room. But a Flowers homer in the bottom got it back to a four run differential. I would mention that Adam Duvall struck out swinging to end the inning but there’s no reason to. I joked earlier in a comment that he was the best Duvall in baseball history, but I’m quite sure now he wouldn’t be any better at the plate than Robert, David or Shelley.
The top of the 9th brought Minter, who loaded the bases with one out on a hit and two walks. But two quick outs meant the bullpen had squeezed through.
Thanks for bearing with me through my preadolescent memory banks. I have a math theme planned for next week, so my recaps of 1966 have come to a close. In 2011 the Braves went 2-8 in their last 10 games. We still don’t have Fredi Room. By next Wednesday, my last regular season recap, we will have clinched or our sphincters will be clenching… one or the other.