Bobby Cox's bullpen management may be highly suspect, but every once in a while he reminds you that he's more than just a "clubhouse" manager. That was the case in tonight's 9th inning. After Gregor Blanco worked a 1-out walk off of Twins reliever Matt Guerrier, Bobby called for a hit-and-run, and Martin Prado did his job perfectly, slapping the ball between short and third to put runners on the corners.
That brought up Mr. Clutch himself, Brooks Conrad. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called for lefty Jose Mijares to make Conrad bat right-handed, but Conrad wasn't fazed. On an 0-1 count, Bobby called for the suicide squeeze. Conrad laid it down perfectly, and Blanco scored easily from third. In fact, Mijares couldn't even get a throw off, and everyone was safe. It was a clutch call by Bobby, and clutch execution by Brooksy*. Great job all around.
* He even did it with batting gloves on, though he usually "raw dogs it." Apparently he couldn't find any dry dirt at rain-soaked Target Field, so he had to use, as he put it, "the BGs."
Brooks wasn't even supposed to play today. He was a late addition to the lineup when Chipper Jones was scratched due to his ongoing finger injury. But he made the most of his chance, driving in 2 of the Braves' 3 runs and making several spectacular plays at third base. For a journeyman minor-leaguer who was the last position player to make the opening day roster, he sure has done a lot to help the Braves win this year. What a great story.
Both starters pitched pretty well (though both were aided by a wide strike zone). Braves starter Derek Lowe pitched into the 8th inning, giving up only 2 runs. Delmon Young drove in a run with a single in the second to put the Twins up 1-0, and Joe Mauer doubled in the other in the 6th to tie it 2-2. Lowe's final line: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 4 K, 3 BB (2 IBB), 11/21 ground balls (52%), and a 0.120 WPA.
For the Twins, Nick Blackburn put up his best start in a while. He struck out 5 to set a new season high, and really only had one bad inning. That was the 5th, which featured Melky Cabrera's second homer and back-to-back doubles to Martin Prado and Brooks Conrad (those guys again). Blackburn's final line was 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 5 K, 2 BB, and a 0.180 WPA.
Major credit goes to Jonny Venters, who came on with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and struck out Jason Kubel to preserve the 2-2 tie. He only got one out, but it was worth 0.137 WPA, meaning that he improved our chances of winning by almost 14% with that one out. Great work as usual by the rookie.
Billy Wagner closed it out in the 9th, working around a hit to record his 11th save. He looked a bit shaky but got the job done in a high-pressure situation.
Conrad-- 2/5, 2B, 2 RBI, K, 0.233 WPA, great defense at 3B
Lowe (stat line above)
Prado-- 3/5, 2B, R, 0.189 WPA
Venters-- 0.1 IP, K, 0.137 WPA
Wagner-- 1 IP, H, 0.222 WPA
Kubel-- 1/4, 2 K, -0.161 WPA
MVP in a Losing Effort
Blackburn (stat line above)
Interestingly, the top WPA play was actually Prado's hit-and-run single before Conrad's squeeze, even though no runs scored on it (0.180 WPA). This is because it put the winning run on 3rd with less than 2 out, a very high-probability run-scoring situation (though you'd never know it from watching this team hit in those spots). The Squeeze was also very clutch-- 0.172 WPA.
Kubel's bases-loaded strikeout to end the 8th (-0.137)