Charlie “Clutch” Culberson has won many games for the Braves over the past couple of seasons. On Saturday, the Braves won one for Charlie. The Braves broke open a tight 1-1 game in the top of the 7th with 4 runs to take a 5-1 lead. They scored two more in the 8th, three more in the 9th, and cruised to a 10-1 victory.
The top of the 7th was one of the more memorable and momentous innings of the season, but not primarily because of the runs scored. Charlie Culberson was hit in the face by a fastball. It was one of the more horrifying sights I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. As I write this, there is no word on the extent of his injuries, but it is obviously very serious. It was certainly sickening to see.
Here’s what went down in the 7th: With the score tied, Wander Suero walked the first two hitters, McCann and then Swanson . Hamilton pinch ran for McCann, and Culberson was called upon to bunt the runners over. The first pitch was a fastball up and in headed straight for Charlie’s face. Culberson was leaning over to bunt, but didn’t have time to get away from the pitch—and it hit him square on the cheek.
As Charlie was lying in the batter’s box and being attended to by the training staff, Snitker started arguing with the Umps. I couldn’t figure out what that was about, until Chip told us that the umpire called the pitch a strike. Evidently, the call was that Charlie offered at the ball.
I couldn’t tell everything Snit was saying, but “Bullshit” and “Shame on you” were among the words we could make out. Snit got ejected, but stuck around for a while letting the umps hear from him.
At that point the floodgates opened for the Braves offense, which had been dormant up until then. Acuña doubled home two, Ozzie (who had 3 hits for the second night in a row) followed with a double of his own, Markakis (who had 4 hits in his second game back, casting grave doubt on the utility of rehab games) added a run scoring single, and the rout was on.
Foltynewicz was terrific. He went 6 innings, giving up one run on 4 hits with 5 strikeouts and only one walk. After allowing a run in the first on a leadoff walk by Turner and a double by Rendon (uh-oh—here we go, I thought), he shut the Nats down, and retired the last 11 he faced. The Folty we’ve seen since he was recalled from Gwinnett would be fine in a postseason rotation. He’s been throwing the two seamer much more, getting great movement, and his slider has been excellent.
As to the Braves offense through the first 5, AAR said it well: “This feels like a vintage Braves performance where the bats fall asleep against an anonymous mediocre NL East rookie. We used to do this against crappy Phillies farmhands every year.” That anonymous mediocre rookie shut the Braves out through 5, although bad baserunning and bad luck contributed greatly. In the 6th, however, they tied it up on singles by Albies, Donaldson, and Markakis. That led to the fateful 7th.
After the Braves took the lead in the top of the 7th, they got shutout innings from Newcomb, Jackson, and Tomlin, respectively.
One piece of good injury news on a dark injury day: Freddie Franchise was back in the lineup, after leaving the night before with a sore elbow.
Chippisms of the day:
–Chip believes every out that advances a runner from second to third is a “productive out.” It’s not always a productive out when you advance a runner to third. It’s almost never the case when you do so with one out. In the first, Rendon was on second with one out. Soto hit a deep fly to center that advanced Rendon to third. Chip called that a productive out. It was only “productive” if you are a Braves fan. It was a great thing to keep Soto, one of their two best hitters, from getting a hit, and leaving Cabrera at the plate with two outs. Folty struck him out to get out of the inning.
–Several times a game, Chip says “the Braves have the right guys up at the right time.” He says that whenever Albies or Acuna lead off an inning. Today it was the top of the 4th with Ozzie leading off. He said it again in the top of the 6th, with RAJ leading off. But isn’t it always a good thing when they come up, knowing that Freeman and Donaldson will follow? When is it not a good time for them to come up?
But enough Chip-bashing. All is forgiven. Chip was all over the umpire for missing the call when Culberson got hit, and I really appreciate that. Unlike Simpson in the Infield Fly Game, Chip is on our side, and reacted with appropriate outrage at the call. The call was outrageously bad, and our guy had been carried off the field. Anger was appropriate. Good for you, Chip.
The lead is 10 and a half, and the magic number is down to 4. When it has mattered the most this month, the Braves have taken 5 of 6 from the Nats. Fried faces Sanchez in the series finale, and final game this season against the Nats, on Sunday.
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On this date in 1978, Jim Bouton was the winning pitcher in the Braves’ 4-1 victory over the Giants. That was the 39 year old Bouton’s only win that season. In fact, it was his first and only win after 1970, when he had retired from the game.
The Bouton comeback with the Braves in 1978 is one of the more interesting episodes of Braves history. Bouton is one of the most fascinating–and important–people in baseball history. If you’re not especially familiar with Bouton, I recommend his bio on the SABR website: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/75723b1fhttps://sabr.org/bioproj/person/75723b1f. (The bios on this site are generally excellent.)
The 1978 season, in which Bouton made that unlikeliest of comebacks, stands out as particularly significant among my 55 years of obsession over the Braves. It’s not because that team was good. The late 70’s was perhaps the worst stretch in franchise history. You think the 3 years from 2015-17 were bad? Check out these 5 year win totals from 1975-1979: 67, 70, 61, 69, 66. (The “perhaps” in the sentence above is needed because 1985-1990 may have been worse. Win totals: 66, 72, 69, 54, 63, 65. Would you rather smell a dead skunk or raw sewage?)
I wrote a few weeks ago about my wife’s patience with my doing Saturday recaps. Even her Job-like patience has limits, though, so I was relieved for today’s 4:00 start.
We got married in August of 1977, and the 1978 season was the first full season that my wife had to experience with me. She knew next to nothing about baseball, but she loved me, and we watched most of the games on Channel 17. The team was interesting: two 20 year olds, Bob Horner and Glenn Hubbard, made their major league debuts, and Dale Murphy was starting to show his potential. At age 39, Phil Niekro had a typical year for him, which was terrific: 42 starts, 2.88 ERA, 19-18 record. Larry McWilliams had a very good rookie season on the mound. Still, in retrospect, it is odd that we found some excitement in such a miserable team.
Forty-two years later, she’s still watching with me. At this point I don’t think she’s doing so out of starry eyed young love; she’s only watching because she is interested herself. This year’s team is the most appealing—and fun–of any we have followed together. We’re both looking forward to October baseball.