Another day, another frustrating loss.
In fact, this one was even more frustrating than the first two losses to the Marlins this week. After clawing back from a 5-0 deficit, the Braves tied it and took it to extra innings. The Marlins got one in the top of the 10th to take the lead. But the top of the order was due for the Braves in the bottom of the inning—and the tying run was already in scoring position. Remember how the Braves of the last three years always managed to get big hits in the late innings? That magic is gone. Even Ronald Acuña failed in the 10th, the Braves went down 1-2-3, and the Braves lost 6-5.
Last Wednesday, the Braves entered the day 0-4, and folks were panicking. By the end of the day, the Braves were 2-4. This Wednesday, our guys had just lost three in a row, and folks were ready to riot. I figured it was my job once again as the Wednesday recapper to restore some order and calm.
Notwithstanding the first two games, I felt very confident heading into this game. Charlie Morton against a guy who had never won a game in the big leagues. Naturally, after two and a half innings the Fish led 5-0. Because baseball.
Morton was just a little off and had trouble putting them away. He gave up two in the second, and then Jazz Chisholm hit a three run shot to center, and things were looking pretty bleak.
But Ronald said, hey, 5 runs? I can take care of that. Two run homer in the bottom of the third to make it 5-2. Double in the fifth and scored on a Freddie hit to make it 5-3. Then a two run shot in the seventh to tie it at 5-5.
Morton settled down and gave the team a much needed six innings without further damage. Newcomb pitched a scoreless seventh. Luke Jackson’s high wire act was in rare form. Pitching the 8th in a tie game, he surrendered a single, two walks, two stolen bases, and a balk. And held them scoreless. Is that even possible? If anyone can, Sliderman can. Will Smith struck out the side in the ninth.
Through 8 innings, only three Braves had hits: Ronald with two homers and a double, and Freeman and Ender (!) with two singles each. Freddie drove in Ronald in in the fifth and Ender scored ahead of RAJ’s first homer.
Going into the ninth, the 7, 8, and 9 hitters were due. Everyone in the stadium is thinking that someone needs to get on so Acuña gets a chance to hit. Riley obliged with a broken bat bloop that hit the chalk on the right field line. The BABIP gods smiled on us for once. But it was not to be. Ender squared to sacrifice bunt, but quickly pulled back and hit a one hopper to the mound for an easy double play. Panda struck out and once again the Braves went to extra innings. (There had been an equally screwy double play earlier when Morton tried to sacrifice Ender to second, but Ender ran on the pitch and Charlie popped into a twin killing).
Top of the 10th, Aguilar singled in the runner who began on second (I know it was a double, but that’s only because our left fielder has no arm). Fortunately, Matzek got out of it with no further damage, striking out the next three hitters.
I was still hopeful going to the bottom of 10th. But even RAJ is human, and the frustration level continues to rise.
* * *
Our Braves have been stinking up the joint lately. The comments here have been a fascinating study in how fans deal with failure and loss.
In 1902, William James published his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. This is my effort at The Varieties of Baseball Fan Experience: A Study in Human Nature.
The default position of some fans is negative. If a relief pitcher has a poor outing, he sucks. If a hitter strikes out 3 times in a row, he will never hit again. If the GM didn’t address a need in the offseason, it demonstrates his incompetence. If the payroll isn’t as high as some other teams’, the owners don’t care about winning. (Well, OK, this one we can all agree on.)
When a team is in a stretch like this, many blame a lack of effort, or claim the team lacks fire in the belly, or assert that then they’re missing an attitude of urgency.
Many assert based on a 4-7 record that the team is lousy, untalented, and has little chance of making the playoffs. My favorite from the game thread tonight was this gem: “Putrid. Sellers at the deadline?”
I’ll admit that the negative option is not for me. As I said last Wednesday, one of my favorite things about baseball is the length of the season. One game—or even 15 games—doesn’t mean much of anything to the ultimate record. So one can take losses, even really frustrating losses, with a good deal of equanimity. Bobby Cox cared fiercely about each game (just ask any umpires of his era), but he always put individual games in perspective, kept the team on an even keel, and never publicly criticized his players. Snit is very much the same way.
I also have to confess that I can get frustrated with the negativity. Every now and then, I can’t help posting a sarcastic “DOOMED!!!” But I have to remind myself that everyone on here is a serious Braves fan and very much wants them to succeed. For some, it must be therapeutic to rant and assume the worst; it’s a defense mechanism to deal with disappointment. Truth is, I’m in no position to judge. My own attitude of patience and positivity also serves a psychological need. I may be in denial about how this team is not what we hoped it would be.
The comment that touched me the most tonight was from Nathan, who gets comfort from watching Braves games in memory of his recently departed father. Bless you, Nathan, and thank you for putting all this in perspective. For many of us baseball’s deepest appeal is based in those mystic chords of memory that stretch from generation to generation.
* * *
Losing three in a row to the Marlins sucks. But you know that I’m firmly in the camp that it’s way too early to tell very much about this team. We’re three games out of first place with 150 left to play. We have pretty much the same lineup that was an offensive juggernaut last year; they are bound to heat up. And Ronald!!
On the other hand, if Fried’s early struggles continue and if Soroka’s shoulder troubles prove serious, the rotation which appeared to be a strength is in trouble. We knew all along that the bullpen was thinner than last year (did you notice that our high leverage guys at the moment are Newk and Sliderman?). The bench is very thin (notwithstanding the early heroics of Panda and Adrianza). And the bottom of the order has a couple of guys that have yet to show they can hit big league pitching—and they may never do so.
This team may ultimately disappoint. But why borrow trouble? I prefer to take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
My money is still on this Braves team.
Let’s salvage one tomorrow afternoon. Ian Anderson on the hill. Let’s hope his hide is Thick as a Brick, and he rises to the occasion.