“Not so fast, my friends.” Or to put it another way, the Fat Lady has retreated back to her dressing room.
Just as we’re being told that our lackadaisical but pressing, arrogant but scared, worn-out but over-rested team (making the Braves postseason sound like a newly written extra verse to Ironic) should be making reservations at Chipper Jones‘ hunting camp for next week, things turn around in a hurry. Cruising along with a four run lead, and a no-hitter through 5 2/3, Zack Wheeler walks Ronald Acuña Jr., gives up a single to Ozzie Albies that RAJ scores on through some indifferent Trea Turner fielding and there is life. It’s just a glimmer of life, the sort of thing that, if the Braves lose this game, is reduced to what they call a Dead Cat Bounce on Wall Street.
It becomes slightly more than a glimmer when a Matt Olson single is followed by a Travis d’Arnaud homer in the 7th and now the glimmer is gathering intensity. Then in the eighth, an Acuña brush-elbow-pad hit-by-pitch is followed by a lunging one-handed excuse-me homer by Austin Riley to give the Braves the lead in the 9th. And the glimmer is now a roaring flame.
But there was more. Using some history-based strategery, AJ Minter was sent out to face Bryce Harper leading off the top of the ninth, but walked him. This led to Rafael Iglesias having his first inherited runner of the year. J.T. Realmuto flied out to center and then Nick Castellanos blasted one to center. Harper decided it was going to drop and planned to score from first. It didn’t drop. Michael Harris II caught the ball crashing into the centerfield wall and threw back to the infield as Harper tried to return to first. Harris’ throw evaded Arcia, bounced past Albies, but was finally fielded by Riley who fired to first to double off Harper and end the game.
OK. You all knew all of that. So let me add some observations.
- It’s only two games, but the Night Shift is back with a brand new cast save Minter. Minter, Johnson and Iglesias pitched well in Game 1, but their performance got lost in the narrative of Braves’ offensive futility, In Game 2 they did it again, ably assisted by Kirby Yates and Joe Jimenez. Everybody talked about how the Phillies relievers shut down the Braves in Game 1, but the shutdown of the Phillies by Braves relievers in Games 1 and 2 has at least temporarily saved the series. The Braves bullpen has now pitched 7 innings and given up 4 hits and one unearned run. Now to be a true Night Shift you have to do it for a lot more than two games. But at least for the moment, they all look pretty steady out there.
- The Braves 3-0 loss in Game 1 was not as bad as it looks in the box score. They had numerous chances to score and didn’t. That’s going to happen sometimes. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s a hell of a lot better, on average, to have lots of opportunities to succeed than to be no-hit for most of a game and need two two run homers and a fielding error to eke out a win. But craps gonna craps.
- Did Robby Thompson leave Wheeler out too long? I don’t think so. I thought his decision to remove Ranger Suarez in Game 1 was ridiculous, and the fact that it happened to work doesn’t make Thompson a genius. But series are funny things. If there is a Game 5, the Braves are going to approach it very differently, and I suspect Wheeler will as well. That’s why baseball is great.
- We were 1-1 going to Philly last year. Momentum is meaningless. But I still like this team, and I notice the troll “rp” from Saturday night appears to have retreated to his parent’s basement for the moment. Let’s not give him any incentive to come back.