Whew. The Braves looked like they’d let one slip away, but the bottom of the order came through. After the Expos held an early 1-0 lead (on an unearned run off of Greg Maddux) the Braves erupted for three runs in the fifth. Lockhart (again) sparked the rally, but Matt Franco was the key, hitting a two-run homer. Then the Expos closed it to 3-2, then the Braves made it 4-2, then it was 4-3 after Bobby waited too long (again) to go to the pen with Maddux clearly tiring. I will reiterate something I said this morning about yesterday’s game; when you try to nurse your starter through the opposing team’s rally to save your bullpen, you wind up using more relievers most of the time and you lose the game.
Then Chris Hammond finally let them get to him in the eighth, allowing two runs, one unearned (after a terrible Furcal throw) and looked like the loser. And then Julio Franco (in earlier to hit for Matt) doubled in Darren Bragg to tie it. Smoltz mowed them down in the ninth. And with two out, no one on in the ninth, Castilla and Lockhart (again!) singled to bring Javy Lopez to the plate with runners at the corner. Javy hit a scorcher to third which Fernando Tatis knocked down, but he couldn’t come up with the ball in time to throw Javy out. Braves win, 6-5.
If this recap seems a little breathless, it was that kind of game.
The Braves lead the Expos by 9 1/2; everyone else is more than ten back. In July 1998, the Braves swept the Mets heading into the break, taking their lead to 12 1/2, and I said the Braves should begin printing playoff tickets. (Actually, I serenaded the Mets with “Kiss Him Goodbye”. Good times.) It’s probably not time for that just yet, but if the Braves play at their current level much longer… The Braves were 10 1/2 up on July 3, 1998, but there really was only one other decent team in the division. There are three this year.