Going into this game, Chris Johnson had only 3 home runs so far in the 2014 season. Today, he nearly doubled that tally as he crushed two balls and helped contribute to a lovely day at the plate for the Atlanta Braves as they defeated the Chicago Cubs 11-6, evening up the series at one win apiece.
At first, it seemed as if we were going to see a similar game to Friday's up-and-down affair, as Arismendy Alcantara kicked things off for the Cubs in the bottom of the 1st with a double. That put a runner in scoring position for Justin Ruggiano, and Ruggiano picked up exactly where he left off yesterday, hitting a looping single into left field to score the game's first run.
Mike Minor was able to retire the next two batters, but the inning continued thanks to Minor walking Starlin Castro. Castro's BB% going into this game was 5.6%, and if you knew that going in then you probably felt like throwing a chair when this happened. Castro's walk turned into a run after a single from Welington Castillo and a double from Chris Coghlan. Yeah, Coghlan and Ruggiano got started real early today.
So, Edwin Jackson was entrusted with a 2-run lead going into the 2nd. The Cubs' trust in Jackson was misplaced, as he pitched a pretty bad game and it started in this inning. With 1 out, Jackson walked Jason Heyward. Then, a wild pitch allowed Heyward to move into scoring position at 2nd for Chris Johnson. Instead of either dinking and/or dunking a ball into a gap or feebly grounding out, Johnson did something way out of character: He destroyed a fastball from Jackson, and the ball nearly landed on Waveland Avenue, tying the game for the Braves.
The Braves took the lead in the 3rd thanks to a grounder up the middle from Andrelton Simmons that plated B.J. Upton, but that lead was short-lived. Naturally, Justin Ruggiano led off the home half of the 3rd inning with a ground rule double. Minor retired the next two batters, but just when we all though that a Ruggiano appearance would come and go without hurting the Braves, Castillo hit the 2nd pitch he saw deep into center. On a better day, B.J. Upton would have caught the ball and the inning would have ended. This was not a better day for B.J., as he got a bad jump on it and the ball bounced off his glove, and Ruggiano easily scored from 2nd to tie the game up again.
That would be the last time in which the Cubs would seriously threaten to win the game today, as the Braves opened up a can on Edwin Jackson and his eventual reliever, Carlos Villanueva. Once again, the rally started with Jason Heyward getting on base, this time with a lead-off double. Chris Johnson, clearly feeling the power of legendary sluggers such as Ben Revere and Ozzie Smith flowing through his veins, hit the first pitch he saw into the left field seats for another 2-run homer, putting the Braves back in front.
2 batters later, those fans got an opportunity for another souvenir, and this time it came from...Mike Minor?! Yes, Mike Minor crushed another ill-fated fastball from Edwin Jackson and the ball landed in nearly the same exact spot as Johnson's second bomb.
Jackson then failed to retire the next 3 batters he faced, and eventually received the hook after a dreadful outing and Villanueva came in with the bases loaded. Villanueva nearly got out of the 2-out bases-loaded jam, but Justin Upton made sure he didn't, as he hit a double that flew over Coghlan's head and landed at the base of the left field wall. The double cleared the bases, and when the smoke cleared from all of the offensive fireworks, the Braves had a 6-run lead after their half of the 4th.
That 6-run lead turned to a 3-run lead in the 5th, because when it comes to Mike Minor these days, nothing easy. With the bases loaded, a passed ball by Christian Bethancourt made it 9-4, and then it eventually became 9-6 thanks to a double. Guess who hit the double? Was it Justin Ruggiano? Nope, but he did score one of those runs. So by process of elimination, that leaves one more likely suspect: Chris Coghlan. At that point in the series, the newly-formed Coghlan/Ruggiano Anti-Braves Brigade was 9-14 with 7 RBI.
Fortunately, that was the end of the scoring for the Cubbies. Mike Minor eventually exited the game following the 6th inning (with 11 hits allowed, 3 ERs, and 5 Ks. Good thing the offense was alive today), and things calmed down offensively for both teams. Here are the 3 clear signs that indicated that things had calmed down:
- Chris Johnson grounded out in his last appearance of the day
- David Hale managed to retire Justin Ruggiano (finally)
- Chris Coghlan didn't hurt the Braves in his next at-bat (also, finally)
There was a bit of drama in the 8th inning when a double play was initially called back after the 2nd base umpire ruled that Andrelton Simmons left the bag as he made the force at 2nd in his effort to throw out Luis Valbuena at 1st. In a move that brought flashbacks to the replay fiasco that occurred back in the 9th inning of Monday's game in New York (which, according to the Braves Radio Network, MLB quietly apologized for), this play went to review. Common sense prevailed this time, and the out was given at 2nd and the inning-ending double play was confirmed.
Justin Upton and Jason Heyward both drove in some insurance runs in the top of the 9th, which gave David Carpenter a nice and comfortable 5-run lead to work with in the bottom half of the inning. Carpenter eventually completed the 9th inning with no problem, capping off a clean 2 innings of work for him (and that has to be a morale booster for Carpenter), and putting the icing on a winning cake for Atlanta.
So in short, if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field, then it's probably going to be a good day. For Chris Johnson and the rest of the Braves, it was a gorgeous day.