I don’t usually care to sit here and talk about how awesome it is to be a fan. There is a place for that, but that’s not my blog. I’d prefer to analyze players, question Fredi Gonzalez’s choices, and talk about random prospects that probably get no play anywhere else. I’ll leave the fandom to the amazing Lauren at Love My Bravos.
However, tonight was different. Just a lot. Coming into what has to be termed a huge series (though not as huge as the media wants to play it), Atlanta touched down in Washington after a disappointing series against Melky “Douchenozzle” Cabrera and the Giants. They were 2-6 against the Nats on the season with four games on tap, including a double header tomorrow. Down 3.5 games (three less wins) in the standings, a bad series against the Nats would put them in a tough spot. A good series might be the catalyst to catapult past the Nats in August. Splitting the series wouldn’t have been bad, but not ideal.
So, Tommy Hanson not taking his “do-not-suck” pills before coming to the park didn’t help Atlanta’s chances. With two outs in the first, Hanson became unglued and gave up a three-run bomb to Michael Morse that ricocheted off the Washington Monument. In the fourth, he again went to pieces and the Nats again began a rally with two outs and finished with another monster homer, this time by Ryan Zimmerman. 6-0. Game was over at that point.
Hanson preceded to continue his transformation into Kyle Davies II with a fifth inning that began back-to-back singles as Hanson couldn’t hit his spots. Fortunately, that was it for Hanson as Fredi came out to tell him to tip his cap and thanked him for not getting spooked. Walk-Off Walk favorite, Luis Avilan, got the call. After a line-out, a wild pitch, and a walk, Avilan faced Stephen Strasburg and…walked him.
I turned the TV off. I didn’t exactly give up on the Braves because I continued to keep the game channel up to keep an eye on the game, but I simply couldn’t watch as the game went from a seven-run deficit to a nine-run bloodbath.
Resigning myself to a terrible start to the series that still promised starts from Jair Jurrjens, Randall Delgado, and Ben Sheets (the Sequel), I wondered how the bullpen would be overworked. Maybe Avilan could go a few innings. Maybe Lispy Martinez could get to the final out. Maybe the bullpen would be saved a little.
But a strange thing started to happen as I occasionally clicked the tab for the game under my Firefox. Brian McCann hit a two-run homer off Strasburg. Cool, we won’t be shutout. Later in the inning, Dan Uggla singled and Eric Hinske hit a double that nearly was another two-run shot. Martin Prado would bring them in with a double. 9-4
Oh, shit. This is kind of an actual rally. Now, I love numbers and I don’t get too much joy from superstitions or believing the game has some magical quality where anything, however ridiculous or unlikely, can occur. But as I was given the choice to see where this now 9-4 game after six innings would go, I couldn’t turn the TV back on. With it on, they got blasted 7-0. Since I pressed the power button, they were leading 4-2. Probably nothing, but it doesn’t hurt to believe you actually matter in some small way, does it?
The seventh passes quietly and we head to the 8th. Former Nats closer Drew Storen gets the call and here is a guy who just made it back from surgery and was dominant at times for Washington last year. Uggla steps back in and singles. Not satisfied, the guy who fans think should be benched swipes second. That’s cool and all, but reality is about to step in…wait, Paul Janish walks? Hmm, if Juan Francisco can line up one of his occasional moonshots, it’s a two-run game. No, he K’s. That’s the Francisco I know. Michael Bourn will step up and…wait, another K. Well, the rally was fun while it lasted, but…oh, Prado works a walk to load them and Heyward follows suit, scoring Uggla. Yeah, but everyone knows the Braves don’t get a hit with runners on so…Grandpappy Chipper becomes the All-Time Leader among 3B in RBIs with a two-run single. Freeman singles home Heyward. Holy hell, it’s 9-8. This shit just got real!
Still, I refuse to turn on the game. I know perfectly well the team doesn’t give a shit if I watch or not. I know that there are no baseball Gods saying “don’t you dare mess with the cosmic forces.” But…I gotta hold out some hope on this one. Suddenly, it was October 9th, 2005 again. Braves/Astros, Game 4 of the NLDS. It was sitting in the same spot thinking that this could be the moment the Braves take the lead. Have I mentioned that I hate Chris Burke?
Momentum’s wonderful and all, but the Nats had Tyler Clippard in their arsenal and the Braves have always treated him like Cy Young (1.04 ERA in 26 games) so this game is in the bag for the Nats. And there’s Uggla AGAIN. And he walks to open the inning. After a wild pitch, Janish tries to bunt him to third and Clippard beans him instead. What the what? David Ross steps in and K’s for the first out. Bourn follows with an amazing piece of hitting, tripling off Clippard to send the two runners home and make it 10-9. You can’t make this shit up.
Of course, being Atlanta and more specifically, the 2012 Braves, Craig Kimbrel gives up a one-out homer to Danny Espinosa. 10-10. Kimbrel, working his third straight day, probably didn’t have as good moment as he expects.
This game is over. No way, with the Braves bullpen, do the Braves win this one now. All of those hopes were for nothing. Might as well start watching now and I went ahead and finally turned the game on, expecting a walk-off from the Nats at some point. After a quiet tenth, the eleventh opened with Uggla…AGAIN…AGAIN…hitting a grounder that Ryan Zimmerman somehow gets to. He rushes a throw while doing a 360 and it gets past Adam LaRoche. Uggla takes second and then third as a wild pitch to Janish, who again was only trying to bunt, puts Atlanta in prime position to take the lead.
With the infield in, Janish sends a blooper to short left. Ian Desmond gets there, but can’t make the catch. Uggla, taking a chance that even if he does, he won’t be able to throw him out trying to get back to the bag, had bolted home before the ball dropped. He scores for the go-ahead run and it’s 11-10. Braves have another shot to increase the lead, but Jason Heyward grounds out on a 3-1 pitch.
All up to Chad Durbin.
But a strange thing happened. Durbin delivered that often spoke-of, never-seen “shutdown inning.” To cap if off, Uggla (AGAINx3) makes a stupendous stop on a what should have been a two-out single and throws the runner out to end the game. The Braves had come all the way back from 9-0, weathered the storm after their awesome closer blew just his second save, and won in eleven innings. The ramifications won’t be known until later. Was this the game that changed everything? Will Atlanta sweep the Nats and run away with the division? Or will the good feelings created by the game be dashed by a double-header sweep by the Nats tomorrow? The future will ultimately decided just what this game meant, if anything.
Regardless, tonight a fan went through all the motions. Excitement, dismay, wondering why he cares, why he even bothers with this team…to…amazement, disbelief, and wondering why anyone, anywhere, can ever say that baseball is boring. This is the world’s best sport.