The Braves continue to be undefeated when anyone other than Jared Shuster starts the game.  Unfortunately, Shuster was the starter on Friday night, and the Braves took their second loss of the young season.

Young Jared may yet turn out to be a quality big league pitcher, but his first two starts have been far short of what the Braves had hoped when they named him the fifth starter coming out of spring training.  In fact, his second start was an awful lot like his first one.  His stuff is not overpowering, and he will have to depend upon exceptional command to be effective.  So far, he’s demonstrated very little command of his arsenal.

Shuster’s first inning was only half as bad as in his first start.  He gave up two runs (instead of four as he did against the Nats), but it could have been worse.  He tossed 37 pitches and left the bases loaded.  On the other hand, it could have been better.  He walked Soto with one out, but induced a possible DP grounder to Ozzie by Machado.  But instead of two outs to end the inning, the throw to second drew Arcia off the bag, the relay to first was late, and both runners were safe. A Cruz double and a bases loaded walk yielded the two runs.

Shuster put the Braves in a 3-0 hole in the top of the second on a Nelson Cruz RBI infield single to second.  Yes, you read that right; the 42 year old beat out a grounder, but only because Ozzie couldn’t get the ball out of his glove.  Through two innings, Shuster had already walked four and given up four hits.  To his credit, and much like his first start, Shuster did settle down (a little) after his poor start; he retired the Padres in order in the third and fourth. 

Turns out Padres starter Nick Martinez wasn’t any better than Shuster on this night, and he allowed the Braves to tie it up with three runs in the third, featuring a solo shot by Ozuna (his second homer and second hit of the year; his average is still more than 100 points below the Mendoza Line) and an rbi single by Riley (who would go 3 for 3 with 2 walks on the night).  And the game remained tight the rest of the way.

When Shuster surrendered a double and a single to put runners on the corners with no outs in the fifth, Snit had seen enough, and turned to the pen.  Michael Tonkin pitched well to hold the Padres to one run, making it 4-3.  The Braves promptly tied it back up in the bottom of the fifth on a bases loaded walk by Murphy.  That was good, but K’s by Ozzie and Eddie with the bases loaded made it a frustrating inning.  In fact, those two would leave 14 on base between them on the night.

In the sixth, Padres retook the lead on lead off walk, a sac bunt, and a check swing single by Bogaerts.  Tonkin deserved a better fate.  I will say that Joe Simpson was thrilled to see the sac bunt lead to a run.  In fact, he ultimately decided to name Bob Melvin the player of the game for calling for the sacrifice (really).  I’ve tolerated Simpson better since he moved to radio, but he still drives me crazy sometimes.

At this point, there had been baserunners all over the place, and I figured the final score would be something like 8-7 or 10-9.  Turns out neither side scored again.

All in all, a frustrating game to watch.  The Braves received eight bases on balls and left 10 men on base.  Games like Thursday’s thrilling come from behind walk off win happen–and these kinds of games full of lost opportunities also happen. The good news is that this ain’t football; they play every day. We are 6-2 with 154 left to play.

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I’m posting this shortly before midnight on April 7, but you’re probably reading this on April 8.  That, of course, is a great date in Braves history.  You don’t need me to remind you what Henry Aaron did at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on this day in 1974. 

I even suspect that some of you may be wondering whether we really need to discuss yet again the greatness of Mr. Aaron.  I can answer that question for you: yes, we do.  Discussion of the Hammer’s excellence is always in order.

As I may have written in this space before, Mr. Aaron has been my favorite baseball player since the Braves moved to Atlanta when I was ten years old. My admiration, respect, and awe of the man and the player has never dimmed in the 57 years since. 

Mr. Aaron may not have been the greatest player in history, but he was almost certainly the most consistently great player.  Nobody — And We Mean Nobody — Was Consistently Great Like Hank Aaron | FiveThirtyEight  He never had a season that was less than great between his age 21 and age 39 seasons.

More directly relevant to April 1974 and homer number 715, he had two of his greatest seasons at age 37 and 39.  Before 1971, I don’t think anyone seriously thought of Aaron as a threat to the Babe’s record.  But that year, at age 37, he hit a career high 47 home runs, and had the highest OPS of his career, 1.079 (OPS+ 194).  Then at age 39 (1973) he hit 40 home runs in just 392 at bats, to finish the season at 713.  The most home runs by a 39 year old before that season had been 30.

So he enters the 1974 season without much doubt that he would break the record.  Still, easier said than done, right?  Especially given the enormous pressure he was under, not least from the hateful and racist reaction from so many to his pursuit.  But in his very first at bat on opening day in Cincinnati he stroked number 714.  After sitting out game 2 and going homerless in game 3, a sellout crowd showed up for the home opener to see him break the record, and the game was televised nationally on NBC.  A mere mortal (especially a 40 year old) might be expected to take a few games to hit another.  But Mr. Aaron told Ralph Garr before the game that he needed to get this whole thing over with.  In the first inning, Aaron walked on five pitches without swinging the bat.  Sure enough, on his first swing of the game, in his second at bat, he hit the shot that you all have seen over and over again.  By the way, the run that Aaron scored in the first inning was career run number 2,063, breaking Willie Mays’ National League record. Aaron eventually scored 2,174 runs, the exact same number as Ruth. 

That April night, I was alone in my college dorm room watching on my black and white TV.  I didn’t have tickets to the game, and I didn’t want to be around a bunch of folks in a bar who didn’t appreciate the seriousness of the occasion. 

You may have heard a rumor that Aaron’s record of 755 home runs was broken some time in the last couple of decades, but those rumors are baseless.

I’ve met a fair number of famous and accomplished people over the years, and I’m generally not awed by celebrity or achievement. But my attitude toward Mr. Aaron has always been an exception.  I finally had the chance to meet him in person just a few years before his death, when he attended a reception honoring several lawyers for public service.  When I saw him across the room, I turned into the young fanboy of fifty years earlier.  Part of me wanted to approach him and speak to him, but I didn’t have the nerve.  I figured he didn’t need one more stranger to approach him and babble about what a great player he was. 

But I happened to be standing next to a federal judge that I know, who took it upon herself to approach Mr. Aaron and tell him that I’d like to meet him.  He beckoned me over, and despite my embarrassment, I introduced myself.  He engaged me in a warm and friendly conversation for several minutes.  I was able to tell him how much I admired him as a player and a person.  He certainly didn’t need to hear this from me, and I’m confident this conversation didn’t make a lasting impression on him.  His graciousness and openness made a big impression on me, though.

Anyway, that explains the odd picture you see with my posts.  I’m the awkward 60 year old fanboy, and Mr. Aaron is the good lucking 80 year old who is graciously humoring me. 

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Weather permitting Saturday night, Braves try to get back on the winning track behind Charlie Morton, who is almost as old as Mr. Aaron was in 1974.