For whatever reason, we’re over halfway through April, and haven’t yet paid a visit to the 2012 team. It hasn’t been a matter of deliberate avoidance, or a lack of interesting games on a given date — the 2012 team was good (94 wins, more than 92 wins for the first time since 2004), if unbalanced, with a really strong position player group but some really unimpressive pitching, especially in the rotation. (In case you need a refresher, 2012 was the year where Kris Medlen’s late-season starting stretch was the most valuable rotation performance on the whole team.)
Of course, pitching quality didn’t matter all that much when you were smacking down the opposition, and that’s what happened on April 19, 2012: after a 5-1 homestand and an overall stretch where the Braves had won seven of eight, they packed their bags and headed west to Phoenix, where they would crush the Diamondbacks 10-2 in the series opener.
How it happened: The Braves wasted almost no time getting on the board in this one. Their assignment was second-year starter Josh Collmenter (who would later be a Brave), an oddball cutter-changeup hurler with a nearly entirely over-the-top pitching motion, who nonetheless had a good, if lucky (but still really quite good) rookie season. The Braves basically didn’t care. Collmenter missed with four straight to Martin Prado, and then on an 88-mph “fastball” down the pipe, Freddie Freeman achieved liftoff.
Brian McCann nearly went back-to-back with Freeman, but his deep drive to right was brought in by Gerardo Parra, well before the latter’s Baby Shark days would begin.
Pitching for the Braves in this late-afternoon game would be Mike Minor, in his first full season. Minor’s career had been kind of weird to date: he’d had a few starts in 2010 and then a half-season in 2011. In both of those partial seasons, he suffered from a really high BABIP-against, which made his pitching seem far worse than it really was. He kicked off his 2012 in similar fashion, allowing six runs in five innings to the Mets thanks to a .429 BABIP-against, but then followed that up with arguably his best start in his career to date: 7 1⁄3 innings, three total baserunners (two hits, one walk), and just one unearned run to go with four strikeouts against the Brewers. Fortunately for them, the Braves would get closer to the latter Minor on this day in Phoenix. He went three up, three down in both of his first two frames, ending each with a strikeout.
The Diamondbacks would scratch some baserunners and a run off him in the third. Parra and former Brave Henry Blanco started the inning with back-to-back singles, and then pulled off a double steal with Collmenter at the plate. Collmenter made contact in a 1-2 count and hit the ball to Tyler Pastornicky (Tyler Pastornicky!) at short, and Parra scored as Pastornicky threw to first to garner an out. Minor allowed a deep drive to left-center off A.J. Pollock’s bat that was caught by center fielder Michael Bourn, and then struck out Willie Bloomquist (Willie Bloomquist!) with Blanco still on second.
Collmenter, meanwhile, was cruising after Freeman’s homer. Only two of 12 Braves had reached base afterwards, and Collmenter mowed through Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, and Juan Francisco in the fourth with a seven-pitch inning that resulted in three weak, easy groundouts.
The bottom of the fourth looked like it would be as problematic for Minor as the third, as it too started with back-to-back singles, this time by Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt. Ryan Roberts then teed off on a ball that died in left field and nestled into Martin Prado’s glove; that small exhalation then turned into exhilaration as Aaron Hill lined a single to Prado and Prado’s throw home gunned down Jason Kubel. Parra hit an easy comebacker to Minor on the next pitch, and the lefty had survived a three-single inning without giving up a run.
After Collmenter again handled the Braves, working around a two-out Bourn single, Minor would allow the Diamondbacks to tie the game, without even needing a hit. Blanco led off the inning with a pop-up into shallow right, and ended up reaching second base despite catcher’s speed when Uggla goofed the catch. (It wasn’t a hard catch or anything, Uggla had plenty of time to set up under the ball, he just pooched it.) Collmenter was able to bunt Blanco to third, and Pollock’s deep fly to right scored him. Minor then struck out Bloomquist once again to end the inning. Sometimes, you allow three hits and no runs. Sometimes, you allow zero hits and a run. Baseball is weird.
That tie would not last long at all. Remember, this game was a smackdown, even if it was tied 2-2 after the fifth. Collmenter was into the heart of the Braves’ order for the third time in the sixth, and he wouldn’t survive it. Freeman started the inning by nearly teeing off against Collmenter again, but the pitch he made contact on, a 2-2 changeup on the ninth pitch of the at-bat that was pretty far outside the zone, was just not meaty enough and went for a loud flyout to center. McCann got a hanging changeup in a 2-1 count, but an awkward swing resulted in essentially a roller right down the line, and McCann was able to beat out the barehanded throw from Ryan Roberts, who had to range a long way to even get to the ball in the first place. Uggla then dropped a ball into right-center, and with Collmenter at 98 pitches while lefty-batting Jason Heyward and Juan Francisco were coming up, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson went to his bullpen and southpaw Wade Miley. (If you’re surprised to read that long-time starter Wade Miley was used in relief in this game, well, this was actually the very last relief outing of his career to date. Miley started the 2012 season in the Arizona ‘pen as a “very long relief” guy after a replacement-level debut the prior season; he’d made two relief outings totaling seven innings in April prior to this game.)
The game was tied when Miley entered, but it took just two of his pitches for that to change. Heyward flared a soft liner into left field, legging out a double while McCann scored. Francisco swung at the first pitch he saw, one that was running too far in on him to be a strike, but muscled it out just past the infield into center. Heyward slid in just under Pollock’s throw and Blanco’s tag. Three pitches into Miley’s outing, three runs had scored, and the Braves led 5-2. Miley got two groundouts to end the frame, but Minor sat the Diamondbacks right back down with a 1-2-3 inning that included two punchouts, and the Braves went right back to work.
After Bourn drew a leadoff walk and was forced out on a Prado grounder where the double play relay was too late, up came Freddie Freeman. Miley attacked him with only four-seamers, and on the fourth pitch, Freeman got one basically dead center. Boom.
(For whatever reason, the MLB 2012 YouTube account isn’t allowing embeds, but you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0ojUdThSfo.)
The Braves actually got a couple more hits off Miley in the inning, but they went for nothing: McCann singled over Parra’s head but got gunned down trying to take second, and Uggla’s infield single to third went for naught when Miley struck out Heyward to end the inning.
Minor, meanwhile, was still dealing. He had an 11-pitch seventh, going strikeout-bunt groundout-strikeout. The Braves would get three more runs in the eighth, thanks to back-to-back doubles by Prado and Freeman as part of an overall nightmarish three doubles, one walk, zero strikeouts inning from Joe Paterson. (Paterson would also appear against the Braves in the following game and allow all five batters he faced to reach.) Minor completed the eighth as well with another 11-pitch effort, this time getting two groundouts before ending his day with another strikeout of Bloomquist. (For those keeping score at home, Minor got Bloomquist to ground out in the first, and then struck him out the next three times he faced him, all three to end innings.) The Braves collected a couple of singles against J.J. Putz in the top of the ninth, but pinch-hitter Eric Hinske flew out to left to end Atlanta’s offense in this game.
To this point, Minor had thrown 112 pitches and hurled eight innings of two-run, five-hit ball with a 9/0 K/BB ratio. The innings were a career high, the strikeouts tied a career high, and it was only his third career start with no walks (the other two lasted just four and five innings,respectively). He left the ninth in Jonny Venters’ hands, and Venters issued a very random pair of back-to-back two-out walks in an eight-run game (a four-pitch walk and a five-pitch walk, go figure), but then struck out Parra on three pitches to end the game.
Game MVP: Freddie Freeman, who went 3-for-5 with two homers and a double. One of his other outs was a loud flyout; the other was a strikeout. It was his second career multi-homer game, and the first time in his career that he’d driven in five runs. (He also had never driven in four runs prior to this game.) Believe it or not, Freeman’s career high in homers for a game is still two, and his career high in RBI is still five.
Game LVP: Wade Miley, who came on in a tie game (albeit with runners on base) and handed the Diamondbacks a five-run deficit by the time he was gone. The runs Miley allowed (and the ones charged to him) were his first of 2012. He would slide into the rotation a few days later, and not allow another earned run (and just one unearned run) for the rest of the month. Miley was actually given NL Rookie of the Month honors for April 2012 despite this outing, and eventually made the All-Star team. 2012 remains the only season in Miley’s career where he posted more than 2.7 fWAR, ending with 3.9.
Biggest play: Freddie Freeman’s first homer, the harbinger of all the later runs to come.
The game, in context of the season: The 2012 Braves started well (14-9 April) and finished well (20-10 September/October) en route to a 94-win season. This game was win number three in a five-game winning streak for the Braves, and helped them go 5-2 on a dreaded West Coast road trip, including taking three of four at Chase Field. After starting the season 0-4, the Braves went 10-1, though a middling May and June where the Braves went .500 over a two-month period meant they couldn’t ever quite catch up to the Nationals in the division. And, well, 2012 was the first year of the Lightning Round, so let’s just not talk about that.
The Diamondbacks finished the season at .500, a year after winning 94 games. It’s been an odd forever for the Phoenix franchise, as they haven’t had back-to-back playoff appearances or 90-win seasons since 2001-2002, and have followed every subsequent playoff appearance (three total in 17 years) with a season where they only won 81 or 82 games.
Despite the great performances in this game, neither Mike Minor nor Freddie Freeman broke out in 2012. Freeman’s breakout would come the following year, when he jumped from a 115-120 wRC+ level to a 150 wRC+ level. Minor was actually really ineffective in 2012, posting his second-worst FIP- and worst xFIP- ever, hampered by a series of issues including: too many pitches in the zone while allowing an elevated z-contact, an elevated walk rate despite this, and some HR/FB issues. He would bounce back for his best Braves season and second-best season (only 2019 was better) overall in 2013. Really, though, Minor was quite good in April 2012 and then in the second half of the year, but he was knocked around to a silly degree in May and June as the team scuffled, and that tanked his overall season.
Josh Collmenter could not replicate his rookie-year success and was eventually sent to the bullpen. As already mentioned, Miley broke out in 2012, making this a weird game where the better performers did not have their one-game dominance augur immediate increased success, while the goat of the game went on to have an awesome season.
Video? Oh, yes. Again, embeds are disabled, but:
Here’s a link to a quick recap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqRUwKKBbvs
And here’s a link to the condensed game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTPo9Fbk4lQ.
Anything else? A.J. Pollock’s sacrifice fly briefly tied the game in the fifth. That was Pollock’s first career RBI; he had made his MLB debut just the prior day. Pollock was on the shuttle squad all season, not cementing himself on the roster until the following season.
Normally, I have at least some vague memory of most players in these recaps, but I had absolutely no recollection of Ryan Roberts, who started at third for the Snakes in this game and went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Roberts got nearly 1,700 PAs in the majors over parts of nine seasons, compiling 5.8 fWAR. Most of that came in 2011, where he put up a 3.6 fWAR season (without the benefit of a high BABIP, it was actually kind of low at .275). Still, that was his last (and kind of only) good season; in 2012, he gave the Diamondbacks nearly 300 PAs of replacement-level play before being traded to the Rays for a player who never made the majors.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 19: Okay, so this isn’t cool at all, but it helps with marking the passage of time. Seven years ago on this date, I woke up to a pre-recorded emergency alert from my office, telling me not to go in to work because of “the developing situation.” The situation, was, of course, the manhunt for one of the Boston Marathon bombers, which had started developing late the prior night. I remember taking my dog out (at that point I lived in an apartment with no backyard) that day and having the normally busy street I lived in being perfectly still for the first time, ever. Of course, that really all only comes to mind because these days, everything is far more perfectly still than not, and while that lockdown was a one-day thing, that state of affairs is where many of us now find ourselves indefinitely. All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again, time is a flat circle, etc. etc.
Note: As the Braves would normally have an off-day on April 20, the next one of these will be on April 21. Stay safe and healthy out there.