Exactly fifty years ago today, the Atlanta Braves defeated the first year expansion team San Diego Padres 10-0. The victory gave the Braves sole possession of first place by one game over the Giants and the Dodgers. I really don’t remember most games that I saw or listened to in the 1960’s, but I do remember this one. The big deal about the game was that Pat “Bulldog” Jarvis tossed a complete game shutout. Jarvis had led the Braves’ staff in victories in each of the past two seasons, but he had struggled to that point in 1969, with an ERA over 5 (some said the lower mound especially hampered his performance). He went on to win five more games the rest of the way—including three down the stretch in September to help the team win the new Western Division–and lowered his season ERA to 4.43.
So what else happened fifty years ago today? Gaylord Perry hit his first major league home run in his eighth season as a big leaguer. Back in 1964 his then manager Alvin Dark had commented on Perry’s weakness as a hitter by stating that “we’ll have a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry ever hits a home run.” Dark turned out to be prophetic; twenty minutes before Perry’s home run on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar surface. Although there is no contemporaneous evidence that Dark made the comment in 1964, Dark often did take credit for the remark in the years after 1969.
(If you were challenged to name all HOF pitchers who ever pitched for the Atlanta Braves, how long would it take you to come up with Gaylord Perry? Extra Credit (without looking it up): how many HOFers played for the Braves in 1969 and who were they?)
Back to the present. Well, not just yet. Coming forward to this date in 1993, many of you remember the great press box fire at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. That was the spark that set the Braves toward overcoming a 9 game deficit to catch the Giants and win the pennant by one game. It was also the day Fred McGriff joined the Braves, which I suspect had more to do with the Braves’ remarkable run than a grease fire.
OK, now to July 20, 2019. Although the Braves are still in good shape in this year’s pennant race, I don’t think we’ll look back at anything surrounding tonight’s game as a spur to a division title. The Nationals defeated the Braves 5-3, to move back within 5 and one half games of the Braves. It was a very frustrating game.
With Mike Soroka on the mound, things looked promising early. The top of the first was quintessential Soroka: strikeout (on 3 pitches), groundball, groundball. 7 pitches, 6 strikes. The Braves took a one run lead in the first on an Acuña single, a stolen base, and a Freeman RBI single.
(By the way, RAJ’s stolen base made him the Braves’ first 20-20 man since J Hey in 2012. I’m not sure when or why 20-20, 30-30, and 40-40 became a thing. The combination of speed and power is fascinating, I guess. Did you know that Christian Yelich has a chance this year to be the first player since 1932 to lead the league in steals and homers?)
Soroka shut them out through the first three, but gave up a solo homer to Matt Big City Adams in the fourth. It looked like an excellent two seamer on the outside corner at the knees. Then Dozier singled, but Soroka induced a groundball 6-4-3 double play. My wife and I both promptly exclaimed “Pitcher’s best friend!” She was making fun of me, and I deserved it. I often complain about how predictable Chip is, and I demonstrate that by saying what Chip says, simultaneously with him. She made clear that I can be just as predictable (and trite) as Chip.
In the 5th, the wheels came off, sort of, for young Mike. He gave up 5 consecutive hits, leading to 3 runs and a 4-1 Natspos lead. But only two were hit hard. Anyway, Soroka went six on the night, giving up 4 runs on 9 hits. Newcomb came on and looked very sharp, pitching a scoreless 7th and 8th.
Meanwhile, the Braves struggled all night to score runs. Through the first 8 innings, the Braves had runners on in every inning. They left 10 men on base, 7 of them in scoring position. They pulled within one in the sixth on a two run home run by McCann (who had 3 hits on the night), but failed to cash in on numerous other opportunities, including leaving the tying run at second in both the seventh and the eighth.
AJ Minter once again struggled, giving up one run in the ninth and leaving with the bases loaded and one out. Wes Parsons bailed him out by inducing a double play to hold the damage to one run. It was the pitcher Doolitle who hit into the DP, but as Chip told us, Doolittle holds the UVA record for career RBI’s—and after Strasburg’s performance at the plate on Thursday, I wasn’t taking anything for granted. In the event, it did not matter, as the Braves went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.
Things don’t look as good as they did a week ago, but if the Braves can win tomorrow night, they will leave this series with the same lead over the gNats that they entered it. Who will the Braves turn to? With Fried out, the Braves are short of starting pitchers. Right now, it’s Soroka, Kuechel, Terehán, and pray for un huracán. It appears it will be Kevin Gausman, in his first game back from AAA purgatory. It would be very helpful if he can pitch like the Gausman of late 2018 rather than early 2019. On the bright side, it appears that we will avoid Scherzer this series. He’s eligible to come off the IL, but at last report he won’t be ready tomorrow.