My 4 year old grandson was with us this afternoon during the game. After the first inning, he asked me who was winning. I told him the Pirates were leading 3-1. He responded, “The Pirates are really good! They always win!” So far this week (his frame of reference), he’s been right about the Bucs. Fortunately for the Braves, in the top of the 6th the Pirates remembered who they really are. The Braves scored 5 in the 6th to take a 7-3 lead, and then in the 8th they scored 8 to stretch the lead to 14-3.
Drew Smyly went 5 and got the win, his 5th straight. He surrendered a 3 run homer in the first, but limited any further damage the rest of the way—despite 9 hits and 3 walks! The guy is a winner. Our other starters need to take lessons from him on how to get more run support.
There was conversation in today’s game thread about the feast or famine nature of this Braves’ offense. Whatever the stats would show overall, it sure seems lately this team either scores two runs or less or 8 runs or more. In the series that concluded in Pittsburgh this afternoon, the Braves saw that tendency and raised it. They averaged more than 5 runs per game, but only took 1 of 3 because 14 of the 16 runs they scored came in one game. As satisfying as today’s result is, they blew a great opportunity in Pittsburgh to win another series and finally go on a roll.
* * *
Thirty years ago today the Braves lost to the Dodgers 5-3, falling to one game under .500 and 9 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. July 7 was the final game before the All Star break. After a promising start to the season—at the end of May, the Braves were six games over .500 and only a half game out of first–a 12-17 June and a 2-4 July had brought them back to Earth. Remember, this team had averaged 96 losses per season over the past six years. Although the first half had been a marked improvement over previous years, there was little reason to expect anything special the rest of the way.
On July 11, our family arrived in Grand Teton National Park for a much anticipated summer vacation. (Well, it was a vacation for our kids and me; my wife was leading a several day conference, but she was able to join us for some of the hikes and other activities.) Our room at the lodge did not have a television. Of course, this is long before the internet and all of the ways we stay in touch today. I didn’t expect a lot from the Braves in the second half, but I was a fan and I like to keep up. So every morning between 6:00 and 7:00, I walked from our cabin to the gift shop to get coffee and a copy of USA Today. I pored over the boxscores of all the games and looked at league leader stat tables (more detailed stats appeared once a week for each league).
I recall so clearly the anticipation and excitement as I opened the paper to the sports page to find out how the Braves did the previous night. On the morning of the 12th, I learned that the Braves had won the first game of the second half against the Cardinals. Each morning I made the same walk, and I learned that the Braves swept the four game weekend series with the Cards. They lost on Monday against the Cubs (against Maddux—no shame in that), but they went on to win the next two against the Cubs. By the time we left for home, the Braves had won 7 of 8, and had cut the Division lead to 3 games.
If you’re reading this blog you don’t me to remind you how the Braves finished the 1991 season.
I’m not relating this story to convince you that the Braves still have a chance to come back and win the division. The 2021 Braves are the bizzaro version of 1991. Instead of an exciting team that greatly exceeds expectations, this year’s team lets us down and frustrates us every time we start to think they are turning it around. But this is baseball, and I learned long ago not to make any predictions, especially about the future.
No, I told the story about July of 1991 to evoke a time when the information we had about games and how we followed baseball was so different. There was something to be said for not knowing instantaneously what was going on. Waking up and getting a newspaper, then opening it to see if your team’s score made it into that edition, brought a particular kind of pleasure. I’m not suggesting for a minute that things were better then. I love having up to date info at my fingertips and knowing that I can turn to Baseball Reference whenever I am curious about any particular game or player in history.
But the memory of this week in 1991—despite the lack of internet, TV, or radio–remains one of the fondest in my long years of baseball fandom.
On to Miami for a three game series to finish the first half. Sweep them and they could get above .500 for the first time this season and head into the break with momentum.