It’s difficult to summarize the Braves’ rise from worst to first in a way that does justice to the size of the feat. I mean, sure, there was the 1991 team that inaugurated the Great Run, which was presaged by the last place 1990 team. But that’s been done to death. I mean the astonishing worst-to-first rise which began April 1, when a 3-2 loss to the Phillies sent the Braves into last place. As late as April 6th, they hadn’t even won a game, and had fallen to their low point, a whopping 3.5 games out of first. Three and half games, and almost an entire week of the season gone. Was there any hope? Somehow, by hook or crook, they were going to have to make up those 3.5 games in the next 158. Fortunately, they still had most of their head-to-head games available against everybody, but everyone saw how uphill the struggle was.
But rise they did. It didn’t come all at once – nothing worthwhile ever does. After the April 14th loss to the Marlins, they were still 3 games back – only ½ game improved in an agonizing 8 game stretch. Why if it took 8 days to gain 0.5 games, they wouldn’t be in first until… well, never mind about that. Agonizing step by step, they rose until, on April 28th, they had at last ascended to a tie (which became, briefly, first alone this afternoon) for first. My God… can anyone even remember back to April 1st?
Just to refresh your memories, here are some of the things that were true back then. Joe Biden was President. Cardi B’s “Up” was number one on the pop charts. (Warning: I just watched the video, and neither the lyrics nor images are suitable for work or anywhere else. The things I do for you people.) People thought a dead guy was going to win an Oscar. Atlanta still had the All Star Game. Wow. It seems like an eternity. Well, this will certainly be something to tell the grandchildren. You were there for the comeback. The mountaintop had been conquered.
It didn’t hurt that almost 1/3rd of the games had been against Chip Caray’s favorite team, the Chicago Cubs. It certainly didn’t hurt that two of the games had been against Kyle Hendricks. Reverse those two games, and the Braves would still be mired in last place. Now let’s see if we can defend it.
In the top of the first, Bryse Wilson fell off the rubber while pushing off and balked in the 2124th run of the Retrosheet Era, which started in 1921.This was the 49th run balked in by an Atlanta pitcher. Max Fried was the last one, in Fenway on August 31st last year. It was the third time an Atlanta Brave had balked in a Cub: Ramon Hernandez balked in Glenn Beckert on May 30, 1967. Phil Niekro (who by the way, balked in 4 runners in his time in Atlanta to lead the team) balked Cleo James in on August 18, 1971. And that’s how baseball history gets written — one run-scoring balk at a time.
That was not the only historic highlight of the game. The Cubs scored two runs in every odd inning other than the 9th, where they got tired and only scored one. The linescore pattern ‘202020201’ has never before appeared in baseball history.
We lost 9-3, but since the Phillies lost, and the Mets didn’t play, we’re still in first. I can tell that enthusiasm for this game waned when there were no Braves Journal entries after 8:41.
We head now to a distant suburb of Toronto to play the Blue Jays for the weekend. It’s a really long season, but tomorrow is my Mom’s 87th birthday. Let’s win this one for her.