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Braves Flashback/Recap: April 24

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Happy last MLB birthday, Chipper!

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There were a lot of reasons to choose this particular game! Did you know that April 24 is Chipper Jones’ birthday? Did you know that he turned 40 during his last major league season, and homered on that day? Did you know that the Braves faced Aaron Harang twice on two different April 24ths? All of those are cool reasons. There’s yet another: this was a Matt Kemp clown game. You’ll see.

The set-up: Coming off a crushing end to the 2011 season, the 2012 Braves were rolling. They had started 0-4, but then reeled off a 10-1 stretch. Heading into April 24, the second game of their set at Dodger Stadium, they had lost two straight, but were still at 10-7, with the fourth-best record in the NL. The Dodgers, meanwhile, had the majors’ best record at 13-4, and had taken the first game of the series in decisive, 7-2 fashion.

Mike Minor would be starting for the Braves; we covered his prior start in this series on April 19, where he was awesome. The Dodgers, meanwhile, were starting Aaron Harang, whom they had signed to a modest two-year deal ahead of the 2012 season. The Dodgers wouldn’t start their run of dominance until 2013, and their rotation was already pretty solid, fronted as it was by Clayton Kershaw, but Harang was a fine mid-range option that didn’t cost much given his age and track record of average-or-perhaps-below performance.

Oh, and of course, it was Chipper Jones’ 40th birthday in his last season.

How it happened: The Braves tried to Chipper’s party started at the very outset of the game, as Michael Bourn thwacked a double off the base of the right-center wall on Harang’s second pitch. A Martin Prado groundout moved Bourn to third, but Freddie Freeman went chasing something way too high for strike three and Brian McCann lined a ball up the middle, but right into the shift.

Mike Minor picked up where he left off in Phoenix, striking out Dee Gordon looking to begin his efforts. But, Mark Ellis then blooped a single over Dan Uggla’s outstretched glove, and with two outs, this happened:

This was Juan Rivera’s final season, and at this point he couldn’t hit righties at all, but he still hit lefties reasonably well, and he did so here from the cleanup spot. That ball went a long way, and the Braves were in an early two-run hole. It was the first homer Minor had allowed in 2012. The Braves tried to answer in kind, and hit three fairly deep fly balls off Harang in the second, but each one was caught, and Harang ended up with a seven-pitch inning. Minor came back in the second to throw a 1-2-3 inning on just 10 pitches, with the help of a 1-4-3 double play off the bat of eventual-nemesis-and-then-teammate Juan Uribe that erased a leadoff single from Jerry Hairston Jr.

Harang yielded a leadoff walk to Tyler Pastornicky in the third, but Minor struck out bunting and Rivera, playing first base, robbed Prado of a hit by diving to snag his grounder to end the inning. The next three frames were all 1-2-3 innings, and included this mishap by Matt Kemp:

Kemp clown move counter: 1

Chipper birthday facts, into your noggin! Coming into this game, he had homered four times on three birthdays. He was 20-for-46 across 12 birthday games, and the Braves had won 10 of them. The Braves were trailing 2-0 in the top of the fifth, and hey, birthday bash time!

Chipper’s shot kind of opened the floodgates against Harang. Kind of. Heyward and Pastornicky both singled to right, and Minor actually got a bunt down. Bourn let a too-high Harang offspeed pitch go by in a full count for ball four, and Prado tied the game with a slow roller to Ellis at second that gave the Dodgers no chance for a double play. Freeman had a chance to give the Braves the lead and hit a ball to left that kept carrying, but a twisting-and-turning Hairston in left field eventually came up with the ball on the warning track. Minor fired a super-quick ten-pitch inning with four weak fly balls, three of which were caught and one of which blooped in, and the Braves went right back to work.

McCann started the frame by ripping another liner, but this time it went just over the shift for a single. Uggla walked and the Braves seemed to be in business, but the birthday boy hit a one-hopper to Harang, and Dee Gordon made an acrobatic leap-and-throw to avoid Uggla and complete the double play. Not to worry, though — the Dodgers would give Chipper a gift despite the outcome. Harang intentionally walked Heyward to face Pastornicky, but on a 0-2 count, he spiked a ball nowhere near the plate or the catcher, allowing McCann to easily trot home as the ball ended up in the on-deck circle. Thanks, Harang! (And also, how baseball-y is it to intentionally walk someone to keep the game tied, only to throw a wild pitch in an 0-2 count against a weak hitter and give up the lead anyway?) Pastornicky would prolong the inning by reaching on an infield single, but Minor grounded out. The Braves had their first lead.

It didn’t last long, unfortunately. Suddenly playing from behind, the top of the Los Angeles order put two on with none out as Gordon and Ellis singled. That brought up Kemp, and things got weird. (Unfortunately, no video clip of this alone, though it’s not easy to explain.) In a 1-1 count, Kemp hit a tailor-made double play ball to Pastornicky at short. Uggla received the ball for the forceout and fired to first, but his throw was too low, causing Freeman to have a rare scoop fail. As the ball trickled slowly away from Freeman, Gordon raced home to score the tying run. But, that wasn’t all.

In the process of running down to first base, Kemp made a few slight steps across the foul line before retreating and making the slow walk back to first base. However, McCann and Freeman both noticed, and Freeman picked up the ball and tagged Kemp. Alan Porter, the first-base umpire, wasn’t having any of it, and ruled Kemp safe. Fredi Gonzalez came out and had one of his “library bimonthly budget meeting”-type conversations with Porter, who then went to huddle with the other umpires, and after a few seconds, apparently changed his mind and ruled Kemp out. It didn’t stop the run from scoring, but hey:

Kemp clown move counter: 2

Rivera would then reach on an infield single off Minor’s leg, but come up lame running to first. He was replaced by James Loney, who was stranded when Andre Ethier flew out to right to end the inning.

Both starters were down after six. Minor allowed baserunners and three runs with a 2/0 K/BB ratio on 79 pitches; Harang threw 108 with a ghastly 2/4 K/BB ratio but still managed to leave with a tie game. Scott Elbert came on for the Dodgers and got three straight fly ball outs. Kris Medlen relieved Minor (yes, Krabs Medallion was a reliever to start 2012 as he eased back in following Tommy John Surgery) and threw just seven pitches, getting two outs and then allowing a single to A.J. Ellis. That brought up the pitcher’s spot and pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy. The Braves pivoted to Eric O’Flaherty, who retired Kennedy on a comebacker.

Kenley Jansen was not yet the closer for the Dodgers, though this would come very soon (a matter of days). At this point, he was still a super-good not-anointed-closer guy, who had put up 1.6 fWAR as a reliever in 2011. He nearly gave up a homer to McCann to start the eighth, but the ball stopped a step or two shy of the wall for a loud out. Jansen then obliterated Uggla but walked Chipper. A few pitches later, though, he did unto Heyward what he had done to Uggla, and the inning was over. O’Flaherty stayed in the game for the eighth and finished it with three more groundouts, working around a two-out walk to Kemp.

The game went to the ninth, still tied, with still-the-closer-but-not-for-long Javy Guerra in to slam the door and lead the Dodgers to walkoff territory. He did not. Pastornicky greeted him with a single to right. The Braves then pulled one of the most maddening-but-inconsequential moves in baseball, asking a pinch-hitter (in this case, Jack Wilson) to bunt. Michael Bourn had the platoon advantage over Guerra, but Guerra ended up with the actual advantage, striking him out on four pitches. That brought up Martin Prado, who gave Chipper the best birthday gift of his 40th (not my words, Chipper said it himself postgame):

The Braves had their fourth run, but just as importantly —

Kemp clown move counter: 3

Freeman grounded out as the Braves’ last at-bat of this game, and it was Kimbrel time. It took him just three pitches to dispatch Ethier on a ball in the dirt. Hairston would then single past a diving Pastornicky, but Kimbrel dispatched Uribe (augh) on four pitches to bring the Braves an out away. They’d have to wait a bit, as Kimbrel for some reason chose to nibble around A.J. Ellis and walk him to bring up the pitcher’s spot. The Dodgers inserted Tony Gwynn, Jr., and three pitches later, Kimbrel did this and the Braves had evened the series.

Game MVP: Martin Prado, the beneficiary of Kemp clown move the third.

Game LVP: The combination of Matt Kemp and Javy Guerra, for obvious reasons.

Biggest play: Kemp Clown Move No. 3, of course.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves would reel off two more wins in a row after this one, winning the series in Chavez Ravine despite being outscored 12-10 across three games. They’d scuffle a bit in May and never catch the Nationals, but still end the season with 94 wins and a playoff berth... which we won’t talk about. The Dodgers started the season 32-19, and at different points in the season were 7.5 games up the division and 17 games above .500. But, they completely collapsed afterwards, with a seven-game losing streak to end June, and .500 ball through both July and August. They lost their division lead for good in late August and ended up finishing eight games behind the Giants... who incidentally finished with the same record as the Braves.

As noted in our prior visit to 2012, Mike Minor had a pretty disappointing first full season in the majors; his breakout would come next year. Chipper Jones hit his fifth birthday homer and added a walk. He would finish his 2012 with a very solid 2.6 fWAR in 448 PAs to go with a 127 wRC+ and average defense at third base.

Aaron Harang had another boringly-average year in Los Angeles. He endured a terrible 2013 that led to his 2014 comeback on the cheap for the Braves. Harang made 31 starts in 2012, and in nine of them, including this one, he walked more than he struck out. He was only able to have an okay year due to some very fortunate HR/FB rates (around six percent for the year), as he had a 106 FIP- but a 126 xFIP-.

A lot of fun was had at Matt Kemp’s expense in this game, and for good reason. But, 2012 was the last good Kemp season (3.8 fWAR in 449 PAs) before he flirted with average-and-hurt for a few seasons and then descended into “please stop” territory.

Tyler Pastornicky went 3-for-3 with a walk in this game. It remains the only game in his career where he started and reached base every time, and one of just three three-hit games. It was the best offensive game of his career by both wRC+ and WPA, and he wasn’t even the WPA leader. That, of course, was Martin Prado (and also Matt Kemp, but for the Braves), who had a career year in 2012 before being dealt to the Diamondbacks.

By early May, Javy Guerra had lost his job to Jansen. In two games against the Braves prior to that, he faced 11 batters and allowed four runs. In the game after this one, Guerra turned a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit, and Kimbrel again slammed the door.

Video: Oh, yes. 2012 is a pretty good year for video!

Condensed game:

Recap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ft7DQ6QnfcU

Anything else? Chipper spent a substantial chunk of the year hitting sixth, which is super-weird to me in retrospect, given that he was the team’s best hitter (his 127 wRC+ led the team in 2012). He did actually spend more time hitting cleanup, which makes more sense, but it’s weird that he was ever hitting sixth in the first place, especially considering that Dan Uggla and Michael Bourn (both 104 wRC+ for the year) hit ahead of him when this happened. (Also, why was Jason Heyward hitting seventh in this game?)

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2012/4/24/2968016/open-thread-4-24-braves-at-dodgers

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2012/4/25/2973507/chipper-hits-birthday-homer-prado-lifts-braves-to-victory-over-dodgers

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool that happened on April 24: This date in 1800 marks the founding of the Library of Congress. Initially designed to be used as a literature repository for Congress itself, I have no idea when an actual member of Congress last used it directly. The Congressional Research Service seems to exist for that purpose these days. (Also, you can visit the Library of Congress as a member of the public, but you can’t actually check stuff out unless you’re a high-ranking government official. What a weird institution.)