In a tight, tense, thrilling game Saturday night, the Braves beat the Padres 7-5 in 10 innings. Props to San Diego for starting at 5:40 Pacific time, rather than a couple of hours later as the night before. Otherwise I would have gone to bed and missed one of the most exciting games of the year.
The game started a lot like Friday’s game. Donaldson hit another bomb to right center after a Swanson walk, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the first, Julio hung a slider to Machado, who hit a no doubter line drive to left. But he struck out Tatis and Reyes on sliders that didn’t hang, so it was 2-1 after one.
After the first, Tony Lucchesi settled down and held the Braves in check though 5. At the same time, Teheran was doing his thing. I know Julio has been a whipping boy around here, but he’s been a valuable pitcher for the Braves this year. You’ve got to enjoy watching him pitch, if you are one of those folks who enjoyed watching the Great Wallenda walk across Tallulah Gorge. Seriously, I do admire Julio. He doesn’t have the stuff he had 5 years ago, but he knows how to get major league hitters out: he changes speeds, moves it around, and mostly avoids the middle of the plate. But he has a small margin for error, and when he misses it’s ugly (see, e.g., the cement mixer he threw to Machado in the first). Still, through the fourth, he surrendered only 2 hits, with 5 K’s and no walks.
Then Mejia led off the 5th with a long bomb to right to tie it 2-2. It was not a terrible pitch—a breaking ball down and in that he got the barrel on. The bigger problem came whn he walked the next batter, Manuel Margot. Sure, Julio should not have walked the guy, but his defense let him down at that point. TFlow made a double error on one pitch (passed ball and throwing error) putting the go ahead run on third with no outs. Then a fly ball was hit to medium left—almost exactly where that fly ball was hit to Culberson last Sunday. Truth is, I don’t know if a perfect throw would have gotten him, and in any event we can’t expect throws like Charlie’s more than once every couple of years. Suffice it to say, Riley’s throw was not exactly the Culberson throw. In fact, it looked more like one of Nuke Laloosh’s heaves into the on deck circle. Julio did manage to get out of the inning without further damage.
Julio held them scoreless in the 6th, which meant that he qualified for a Quality Start. I used to scoff at that “stat” but in this day of starters going 5 innings and the juiced ball, finishing 6 innings and surrendering only 3 runs is mighty fine (and Julio actually gave up only two earned runs).
Trailing 3-2 going to the 7th, you knew the Braves were in good shape. And sure enough, in the 7th, RAJ hit a laser shot into the left field stands to tie it up.
In the bottom of the 7th, A.J. Minter came on and gave up a leadoff walk to Mr. Margot. The guy has an OBP of under .300—don’t put him on! Sure enough, it came back to haunt them. The runner was sacrificed to second, and then a wild pitch got him to third with one out. But Minter struck out Myers, and then intentionally walked Tatis to get to Hosmer. Good decision, I thought. At that point, however, the Padres stole a run. Tatis appeared to be picked off, but when Freddie threw to second Margot broke for the plate and beat Dansby’s high throw home.
No problem for these Braves, though. In the 8th, a JD leadoff walk let ultimately to the tying run on a sac fly by Austin City Limits. General Swarzak got them in the 8th, and the Braves went quietly in the 9th.
In the bottom of the 9th, it was Newcomb’s turn to walk Margot. That made me very nervous. The Padres only had 3 hits at that point. The first two runs had scored on solo homers and runs 3 and 4 were scored after bases on balls to Margot. But this time, Newk pitched around it and sent the game to the 10th.
In the 10th, Donaldson led off with another walk. With the runner going, Nick’s grounder advanced him to second. Ozzie stroked a single to right to drive in the go ahead run. Riley followed with a walk. Suspecting that one run was not sufficient Luke Leeway, Flowers (who had been struggling offensively and defensively) doubled off the right field wall to make it a 7-4 lead.
So, routine save for Jackson in the bottom of the 10th. Well, not exactly. First he gave up a solo shot to Machado. Wait, it gets worse. Kinsler hit an infield single and then Luke walked Renfroe. So now the tying runs are on base with one out. Mejia (who had already homered, remember) smashed one to deep right that Chip and I were certain won the game in walk off fashion for the Padres. But Markakis made a leaping catch against the wall. The runners tagged to second and third, but now there were two outs. Snit then decides to walk Margo intentionally—and I start screaming at my TV. Luke cannot be trusted with the bases loaded, and they just put the winning run on first. Why would they do such a crazy thing? Snit and Weis know more than I do, and they knew that the Padres were out of position players, so a pitcher would have to bat with two outs. Whew! Easy, right? Of course not. Jackson ran the count to 3-2 before finally striking out the pitcher for the victory.
I’ve enjoyed Jackson’s redemption, and I have pointed out some of the bad BABIP luck he’s suffered, but that’s it. We’ve got to trade for a more dependable 9th inning guy.
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On this date in 1967, Eddie Mathews hit his 500th home run. Exactly one year later, July 15, 1968, Henry Aaron hit his 500th. Unfortunately, they did not hit those as teammates. Mathews had been traded to the Astros after the 1966 season. But they do hold the record for the most home runs by teammates. Between 1954 and 1966, the two future hall of famers hit 863 homers as fellow Braves (Mathews 421, Aaron 442).
I used the adverb “unfortunately” above. In truth, it was probably not a bad move for Atlanta to trade Mathews when they did. Mathews was an all time great, but he was in the steep decline phase of his career by the time the Braves came to Atlanta. But as an 11 year old kid, I felt betrayed when I learned the Braves were parting ways with Mathews. Mathews was my favorite player when the Braves first came to Atlanta. The first professional game I ever saw in person was an Atlanta Crackers game in 1964 at Ponce de Leon Park with my grandfather. The one thing I remember about that experience was my grandfather pointing the magnolia tree out beyond the center field fence. When Mathews played for the Crackers as an 18 year old in 1950, he hit 32 home runs. One of those went into the magnolia tree, over 460 feet from home plate. Reputedly, the only other person to hit one into the tree was Babe Ruth. Anyway, I was already a big fan of Eddie before we knew the Braves were coming to ATL
(The tree still stands. For those of you familiar with Atlanta, it’s by the Beltline, behind the Home Depot that is across Ponce from the Ponce City Market.)
On the subject of Mathews and Aaron, the two were all time greats who came up within a couple of years of each other as 20 year olds. Mathews hit 47 homers as a 21 year old and another 83 as a 22 and 23 year old. Aaron was third in MVP balloting as a 22 year old and won it as a 23 year old. They played as teammates for 13 years. If the Braves of the next decade, led by Acuna and Albies, are anything like the Braves of the 50’s, led by Aaron and Mathews, we’re in for quite a ride.
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On Sunday, the Braves go for the sweep behind All Star Mike Soroka. This team is worth watching whenever and whoever they play.
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