DeRo! Grybo! Vinny! Some of the most bashed members of the Braves — around here, anyway — came through in a big way tonight, and the Braves live. It could easily have gone the other way… but it just as easily could have been a blowout for the Braves, who several times were one gapper away from breaking the game open. Of course, you could have said the same about the Cubs last night.
Mike Hampton looked headed for disaster in the first. He walked the first two men, and there lurked Sosa, who doubled one in. The second scored on a fielder’s choice when Vinny couldn’t get him at the plate on Alou’s groundout. Aramis Ramirez singled, but Sosa couldn’t score from second. Two in, three on, none out, the season hanging by a thread… and Mike Hampton struck out the next six batters. In the third, Sosa and Alou reached, and Hampton got another strikeout and a double play. Hampton wound up with nine strikeouts in six innings.
The Braves got one of the runs back in the first; they had first and third with nobody out, but got only one run on Chipper’s groundout. Andruw singled in a run in the fourth to tie it, but the Braves stranded two. They stranded two more in the fifth. It could have happened in the sixth, but Marcus — who couldn’t run, so was restricted to pinch-hitting — singled home Javy. Furcal loaded the bases on an infield hit, but they couldn’t get the insurance.
Kevin Gryboski to the rescue with a clutch seventh. Ray King, showing that he shouldn’t pitch without runners on base either, walked Lofton. Gryboski got that GIDP, then walked Sosa (that’s just fine!) and struck out Alou.
Now the weird part… Bobby brought in Smoltz for the potential two-inning save. And I disagreed. I’m normally all for using Smoltz for longer outings, but not this time, for four reasons.
1. His health is still a concern.
2. Gryboski looked great.
3. The Cubs had the bottom of their order up, and that’s a very weak group.
4. The Braves had the bottom of their order up, too, and Smoltz would have to hit.
Sure enough, John got in trouble, putting runners on first and third, one out. And the Cubs got the sac fly RBI, but Smoltz made a big play as the cutoff man to nail Randall Simon trying to advance from first.
In the eighth, Vinny — who isn’t hitting all the long drives he did earlier against the Cubs, but has made up for it by suddenly becoming a selective hitter — drew a one out walk. Garcia ran for him, and Smoltz bunted him over. Dave Veres intentionally walked Furcal, which was a mistake, because DeRosa, starting for Giles, doubled home both runners. Smoltz mowed them down in the ninth, and the series is even.
Bobby flipped Javy and Andruw in the order tonight. Javy, who started the year hitting eighth, now hits fifth. Andruw’s hit fourth or fifth all year, much better in the cleanup spot; it’s worth a shot.
Game three Friday night at Wrigley on ESPN. My understanding is that the Cubs don’t normally play home games at night on Fridays. At least they didn’t a few years ago, and when I’ve checked this year they didn’t. Could be rowdy.