The Braves took a one run lead in the second. Against the shift (remember this detail), Donaldson reached out on an outside pitch and gently poked a single to right. After advancing on a slow chopper by Kakes, Austin “Zeus” Riley plated him with a hard hit double down the third base line (“Unlike these mere mortals, your shift has no power over me”).
Speaking of immortals, Sorokamania continues. Young Mike went six, doing what he always does–giving up one earned run or fewer. He joined fellow immortals Edinson Volquez and Mike Norris (who could ever forget those all time greats!) as the only pitchers since 1920 to allow one earned run or less in each of the first eight starts of a season. There are so many of these comparisons: Soroka now has an ERA of 1.07 through those 8 starts. The only pitchers 21 years old or younger to have a lower ERA after the first eight starts of a season were Vida Blue (1971) and Fernando Valenzuela (1981). We’ve discussed Fernando several times lately. I’m old enough to remember the phenom Vida Blue and his phenom-enal MVP and Cy Young season in his age 20 season of 1971 (24 wins, 8 shutouts, ERA of 1.82). He was the youngest AL MVP of the 20th century. Cautionary note: Blue and Valenzuela each had fairly long, very good careers, but neither ever again reached the heights of those remarkable seasons.
It was not a good night to be a worm in Busch stadium. The two starters, Soroka and Dakota Hudson (with his sinker, he must be related to Tim) lead the league in ground ball percentage, and both teams kept pounding the ball into the dirt. Being a worm is probably not a great life any time, but the constant ground balls last night had to be disconcerting if not dangerous.
Soroka actually gave up two runs on the night, although one was unearned thanks to catcher’s interference in the fourth. The other run (the “earned” one) came in the bottom of the fifth. Molina led off with a hot shot just one step to the left of Donaldson. JD Ole’d it (is that a verb?) and it went past him to left field. I’m in no position to judge; I would have hit the deck face down on that one. Then Soroka hit Derek Fowler on an 0-2 pitch. A perfectly executed “back foot” sinker was a little too perfect, literally striking the back foot. Then Soroka got a little too much of the plate with two strikes to Goldschmist, who poked one to right, beating the shift (again, remember this detail).
Soroka has fantastic command, throwing all of his pitches on the corners and top and bottom of the zone. But even he may be mortal (the jury is out on that one). Both run scoring singles were struck on a couple of the few pitches that he left over the plate.
In the bottom of the sixth, we saw a great example of the shift working as it is designed. Carpenter hit a liner to right that would have been a base hit in any previous era of baseball. Ozzie, playing short field (any of you ever play 10 person softball?), snared the liner and robbed Carpenter of the erstwhile hit. By the way, Freeman had done the same in the first, lining to Koton Wong who was playing shallow right field. Once again, I urge you to remember these details.
lifted in the top of the seventh for a pinch hitter. Thanks to doubles by Markakis (in a very
professional at bat he lined one to the left center gap), Flowers (a rocket off
the left field wall), and Albies (liner to the right center gap that was
misplayed by the center fielder but Ozzie couldn’t advance to third because he
was focused on sliding into second), the Braves took a 3-2 lead. Soroka was in position to get the win (as
Chip would have said had he been calling the game). By the way, in the middle
of the seventh inning rally, Austin “City Limits” Riley showed his Powers by
hitting a rocket that was caught by the right fielder.
Swarzak continued his good work as a Brave by getting them in order in the seventh, striking out two. In the bottom of the eighth, Winkler was called on to preserve the slim one run lead. He didn’t; by the end of the inning the Cards led 6-3, thanks largely to a 3 run pinch homer by Gyrko. Up until that hanger that Dan grooved, he had not looked bad. Goldschmidt singled on a weak liner that struck Winkler in the back. Fortunately, DeJong hit into a 4-6-3 twin killing. Or did he? After replay review, the umps called DeJong safe at first. It was a bang bang play that could have gone either way; I still don’t think they consistently apply the correct standard of review. (Should we even have replay? If you are looking for another discussion topic, have at it.) Carpenter followed with a routine grounder to short that should have ended the inning—but there was no shortstop to be found, as Dansby was well to the first base side of second. All of a sudden the game is tied. Right after this Gyrko gave the Cards the lead with his blast. Now what do y’all think of the shift?
The Braves went weakly in the ninth against the 200 mph offerings of Jordan Hicks.
The Shift giveth, and the Shift taketh away; blessed be the name of the Shift. Or should it be cursed? Discuss.
The Braves are still in a stretch of very good baseball. As Bobby always emphasized, you’re not going to win them all. The goal is to win series after series, which the Braves will attempt to do behind Teheran on Sunday evening.