Some so-and-so’s on Twitter voiced their displeasure of Jonny Gomes pitching Friday night. “Embarrassing,” they called it. Using Gomes was “making a mockery of the game.”
Don’t get me wrong – Gomes looked awful on the mound and every bit of a guy who has never pitched a game in his life (which he hadn’t). His pitching motion evolved during the inning with him suddenly deciding to do a Luis Tiant-impression. His pitches confused Gamecast and Pitch f/x who thought he was throwing a knuckleball outside of his fastest delivery (classified as a changeup…somehow). Gomes threw batting practice fastballs that were sometimes pulverized. And really, how much did the team save the bullpen from throwing one more inning right before rosters expand?
But here’s the thing…it wasn’t about using the best prepared position hitter as a pitcher (Andrelton Simmons probably wanted the ball even more). It wasn’t about saving the bullpen, though it makes for a nice reason. It wasn’t even about a misguided idea of what respecting the game is, though if that were a concern, we could have asked Brian McCann his thoughts on the matter since he wrote the book.
No, it was none of these things. It was about September. It was about a clubhouse that was going through the motions of an awful season in which the Braves are only getting worse. Did you know the Braves are 3.5 games up on last place in the East? In two weeks time, they could be looking up at the Marlins and Phillies and that’s actually okay. The Braves are who they are at this point. They own every bit of the league’s worst offense and third worst pitching staff. Gone are Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, who combined for an OPS near .800. Also gone: Alex Wood, who was the Braves second-best starter this year, along with the four most-used relievers this season. Their replacements have often been underwhelming and that’s unlikely to change this season. The Braves are trying to see what they have with Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler. Their bullpen is made up of down-on-their-luck veterans and guys like Matt Marksberry, Andrew McKirahan, and Arodys Vizcaino, who are all trying to remain in the picture for 2016. It’s far more important to see what Atlanta has in Christian Bethancourt than keep playing A.J. Pierzynski, even though they are a better team with AJ in the lineup. All of these things come with expected growing pains.
So, Gomes taking the mound might seem like a small blimp in an otherwise-awful year, but I promise you that the Braves clubhouse had a different feel not present when the Phillies rocked them 12-2 on August 1. When the Brewers shut out the Braves 11-0 back on May 22, I am willing to wager that the Braves players felt worse about that game than they did about Friday’s shellacking. The Braves took it on the chin, but came away with a smile. Sure, it was their 17th lost of August – which ensures that August will be their worst month this year. And yeah, it was the 19th time this season they lost by at least five runs. But at the end of the night, it was the most fun many of us Braves fans have had in weeks when it came to our team.
Look, losing sucks. I’ll even paraphrase Heathers. Losing sucks losers dry. Well, that didn’t make as much sense as it did in the movie (when losing was replaced with “real life”), but you get the point. Most of the time, losing is simply no fun and all-too-often, it’s heartbreaking. The Braves lost last night like they have been doing with regularity since their 6-1 start. Williams Perez stunk, the bullpen wasn’t much better, and outside of Freddie Freeman, the offense looked non-existent. But…the Braves still won. Their clubhouse was given something to laugh about. Their fans were given something to be happy about and almost as importantly, something to tune in to watch for. For one-half inning, the crushing weight of a crap-filled season was lifted. I’ll take that mockery of the game over watching Edwin Jackson try to throw another inning any day of the week.