I followed last night’s game via the radio broadcast. Don Sutton had the night off, and Dale Murphy was sitting in for him. Murph’s not the smoothest of broadcasters, but he’s perfectly adequate and it’s nice to hear a hitter’s take on the game after years of Sutton talking about pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching. Jim Powell had the primary play by play duties, and that guy is so good you forget about him sometimes. He does radio play by play the way a good umpire calls a game – he disappears into the background, almost. All of this is to say that I missed most of Chipper’s drunken ramble into the TV booth and someone from Deadspin really needs to get that entire thing online ASAP. Drunk Chipper Talking is probably the most entertaining reality show being broadcast these days. I’d pay to see Drunk Chipper and Honey Boo Boo in the same room. As for the game…
Contrary to what Jim and Dale were trying to convince their radio listeners of, Mike Minor was not “dealing” and simply the victim of poor defense in the early going. Yes, Dan Uggla booted a ball that led to two unearned runs in the third, but if Mac leaves no other lasting legacy on this world let his final remaining contribution to a dying planet be the refusal to discount “unearned runs” just because.
Uggla’s error allowed Clint Barmes to reach leading off the third. He was then gifted an out by the pitcher (Jeff Locke) failing to bunt over the runner. At that point, he has one out and a runner at first, and Starling Marte up. A fly ball to right and it’s two down, runner still at first. On a night where Minor is on, he gets out of that. But he was struggling with location last night and gave up back to back doubles to Jordy Mercer (who does not rely on prosthetic VISOR to see), and Andrew McCutchen (who is neither Scottish nor crap.) McCutchen’s scored the runners, which tacked onto Gaby Sanchez’s laser beam home run from the first put the Braves down 0-3.
None of which is to say that Minor is anything less than the staff ace these days. He went out there and battled on a day he clearly didn’t have his best stuff, but the radio booth seemed to be going to great lengths to explain away the four runs he gave up, mostly because two of them were “unearned.” That’s covering for a guy, IMHO. Minor gave up four runs last night, not because of an error by Uggla leading off the third, but because he was leaving balls up and in the middle of the plate and the Buccos were hitting them hard. Luckily for Minor, his offense picked him up this time.
That started when, down 0-3 in the bottom of the third, Andrelton Simmons walked. Jason Heyward, who seems to be coming around a bit, followed immediately with a single, putting runners on first and second with one out. Justin Upton, who also seems to be getting a bit closer to fine, still isn’t quite all the way back and popped up. Infield fly, two away, bringing up Freddie Freeman.
Frederick Charles Freeman is a pretty damned good baseball player. Did you know that? While Jason Heyward is still 100 times the talent that Jeff Francoeur ever hoped to be and still has plenty of time to right the ship this year, the fact of the matter is Freeman is still *thisclose* to McCanning him. He’s just…better. Maybe Heyward puts it all together and retakes the crown he seemed destined for, but right now Freeman is the best hitter the Braves have produced since, well, Brian McCann. He battled against Locke, finally cricket-batting a pitch a foot out of the zone into the RH batter’s box down the third base line, against the shifted defense, for a double. Heyward is fast, and the LF misplayed the carom to boot. 2-3 bad guys and we’re back in it. Regrettably, Minor gave one right back in the top of four, another rope shot out of the park, this one an opposite field job from Pedro Alvarez. Uggla, BJ and Minor all K in the bottom half and we go to the fifth down 2-4.
Stayed that way through bottom six, at which the unexpected happened. You never really count on a two out rally from Dan Uggla and BJ Upton, but it happened. Uggla walked. Bossman got into one, taking a pretty good pitch out dead center. Tie game. And there it would stay for a while. Starting in the seventh, the best bullpen in the league (Pittsburgh) and the second best bullpen in the league* (Atlanta) traded empty frames for three innings. Freddie Freeman almost ended it in the bottom of the ninth against Jason Grilli, scraping the CF wall with a loud fly out, but Grilli remained unscathed. Fortunately for the Braves, they got some wildness from Mark Melancon an inning later (yes, it was a really odd thing to ask BJ to bunt there) and made him pay when Simmons lofted a fly ball over the drawn in outfield. (No, I have no idea why they were playing their OF at little league depth with Dan Uggla at 2B.)
All in all, it was a good night to sneak out a win against a pretty good ball club, and in walk-off fashion for style points. Around the rest of the division, walk-offs were the order of the night as well. Washington came back to score 2 in the bottom of the ninth to beat Bobby Parnell and the Mets, while Philly played 11 against the Marlins until John Mayberry launched a grand slam to take them home. The Braves maintain their 7 game lead over the Nats; 7.5 over the Phils. The Mets and Marlins aren’t in the conversation at all at this point. All three NL Central teams lost, which means the Braves gained a game in the “best record in the league” department, for what that’s worth.
*Yep. Even without EOF or Venters, the Braves are still running out the second best pen in the league. Relievers. They are fungible, if you know what you’re doing.