Twenty-five years ago, on August 11, 1994, the baseball season came to an abrupt end, leading to the ultimate cancellation of the season and of the World Series. I’m not here to rehash the rights and wrongs of that abysmal episode. I do have strong opinions—the owners can never be trusted, and Bud Selig is on my forever bad list—but my main memory is how awful it was not to have baseball in August, September, and October. The Braves, of course, had won the division in each of the three previous seasons, and although they were 6 games back of the Expos when the season ended, they were certainly within striking distance. But we never got to see what could have been another great pennant race.
I was a fan through the awful years of the late 70’s and the late 80’s. I decided that following a team that was on its way to losing 100 games was better than a September of no baseball. Not having any baseball down the stretch or a post-season was miserable. Better terrible baseball than no baseball at all.
But I’ve changed my mind. Watching this Braves bullpen is excruciating. No baseball at all would be better than watching this bullpen. The Braves led 3-0 going to the bottom of the 8th, and 6-2 going to the bottom of the 9th. And they lost 7-6 in the 10th. In my 54 years of watching the Braves, I don’t remember a bullpen as bad as this one has been lately. Every single pitcher seems to have forgotten how to pitch.
For the first seven innings, this was my kind of game, an old fashioned pitchers’ duel. Mike Soroka pitched 7 masterful innings—no runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, 6 K’s. He is an absolute delight to watch. He gave up some hard hit balls early on, but settled down and got ground ball after ground ball. The problem was, Sandy Alcantara was just as good for the Fish, shutting out the Braves himself through 7 on 3 hits.
Then in the top of the 8th, Culberson (who had several sparkling plays in the field) had a bloop single. He took second on a wild pitch. With two outs they walked Acuña to face Albies. I understand not wanting to face Ronald there, but Ozzie is the one guy on the planet who has been hotter than RAJ (just ask AAR how hot he’s been). Sure enough, after falling behind 0-2, Ozzie doubled on a shot that went off the pitcher’s leg into left field, scoring Charlie. They brought in a lefty to face Freeman, but Freddie singled on the first pitch to drive in two more.
So could the much maligned Braves’ pen hold a 3 run lead? It doesn’t matter who pitches–no lead is safe. (Just ask JonathanF how cold the pen is.) Interesting that the guy Snit turned to in the 8th was General Swarzak. After one out, Curtis Granderson (remember him?) hit one into the upper deck, the next guy singles, and just like that the tying run is at the plate. So Snit turns to Luke the Sliderman, I guess because there is no one else he trusts. What does that say about Martin and Greene? Anyway, Luke walked the first guy he faces, got Castro to fly out, but allowed a run scoring single to Anderson. Now the tying run was ninety feet away. But Jackson struck out Cooper to escape the inning with the Braves clinging to a 3-2 lead.
As Ernie Johnson and my wife would say as they went to the ninth, a little insurance wouldn’t hurt. With this bullpen, it was essential to get a lot of insurance. Fortunately, after two walks, Johan “Claude Rains” Camargo revealed himself, hitting a three run homer. Just for fun, Acuña walked, stole second and third (he’s up to 28 SB’s), and Ozzie walked, but Freddie struck out
So is a 4 run lead sufficient Melancon Margin? You already know the sad answer to that question. After striking out the first guy, our new closer (as announced by Snit before the game) surrendered 4 consecutive singles to make it 6-3. So Shane Greene, the old closer, came in with the winning run at the plate. He promptly gave up a hit on a grounder to Culberson (tough play, but I thought he could have gotten it) to make it 6-4, and then a double to the left field corner that scored 2, and almost 3. The only reason the game wasn’t over was that Duvall and Culberson made perfect throws to nail the guy at the plate. Somehow Greene got a groundout to send the game to the 10th.
But the Braves went meekly in the top of the 10th, so you just knew where this was headed. Newcomb came on to pitch the 10th (again, who else is there?) and promptly gave up a single. He then threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt and the runner went all the way to third. Martin Prado hits a sac fly to left and that was mercifully that. No need to prolong the agony.
JonathanF commented earlier today that “Our bullpen is colder than the stare from my wife when I tell her we can’t go out on a Wednesday because I’ve got a recap to do.” Well, that drew me up short. Wednesday is one thing; imagine how my wife reacts to the fact that I volunteered to do recaps for Saturday games.
As is typical for me, I didn’t think about the effect on my marriage when I volunteered to do Saturday recaps. If I had, I suppose I could have rationalized it–I’m pretty good at that. After all, we’ve been married for 42 years, but the Braves have been a big part of my life for almost 55 years. Simple arithmetic. But of course that would be the wrong way to look at it. As important as the Braves are in my life, my wife is infinitely more important. The truth is, she is intimately familiar with my Braves obsession and is amazingly tolerant of the impact on my life and our relationship. The best news is that after all this time, she has become more than tolerant. She actually enjoys watching the games and especially going to the games in person. What’s not to love about RAJ and Ozzie? (She’s even ordered her own Braves Journal T-Shirt!).
But after this game, all that may be gone. I wouldn’t blame her if she never wanted to watch again. I’m not sure I can. This one will take a long time to get over.
But of course I will. The great thing about baseball is that they play every day. Tomorrow Folty takes the hill. He’d better go 9.