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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 23

Even bad Braves teams can torment the Pirates!

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Let’s keep the flashbacks going while sticking with our recent themes: (1) walkoffs; and (2) tormenting the Pirates. By 2017, both the Braves and the Pirates were back to being pretty bad. The Pirates had that nice three-season run from 2013-2015, but then fell back into a 70s win total in 2016, and things weren’t looking much better in 2017. The Braves were still stumbling around at that point, but that doesn’t mean these two teams couldn’t turn in an exciting game anyway. That’s baseball, after all.

The gist: Minor singleton run scoring forced the Braves to play from behind for most of the game. There was a three-hour rain delay in the top of the seventh, which segued int the Braves rallying off the Pittsburgh bullpen for two runs in the seventh to take their first lead. But then, Jim Johnson blew a save and turned a one-run lead into a one-run deficit, which stung up until the Braves scored two of their own thanks to big hits from lefty batters against lefty reliever Tony Watson to walk it off.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: In 2017, with these two teams, there really wasn’t much of one. The Braves came into the game 19-23, in a fairly meaningless second place but 6.5 games out of the division. They were in a fairly good place recently, having gone 8-3 in their last 11 games, including taking a series from the division-leading Nats and winning the first game of this series. The Pirates were 20-25, in last place in the Central but only 5.5 games back (divisions, man). They too had recently taken a series from the Nats, and had swept the Braves earlier in the year, courtesy of a 10-inning, walkoff win in the finale.

On the hill for the Braves was R.A. Dickey, whom we also checked in on during his previous start when the Braves beat the Nats. Signed for a reason no one really gets to start for the 2017 Braves, Dickey had been pretty mediocre to date by any measure, and had allowed three or four runs in six straight outings coming into this one. The Pirates had perhaps a more interesting starter for the game in the form of Tyler Glasnow, making his 13th career start. Glasnow had really been pretty terrible as a major leaguer to date coming into this start (140 ERA-, 118 FIP-, 118 xFIP-), which you may vaguely recall from the narrative that is “haha, stupid Pirates” given his breakout after he was acquired by the Rays in the Chris Archer deal.

How it happened: This game was pretty messy, and the mess started right away. Dickey walked the game’s first batter, and then Josh Harrison singled back up the box. But, you know how those knuckleballers survive — stuff like this:

That twin killing could have helped Dickey escape the inning unscatched, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Josh Bell followed with a bloop double down the left-field line (a double only because Matt Kemp was both in left field and shaded towards left-center). After an infield single where Dansby Swanson made a nice diving stop to prevent Bell from scoring but had no chance to get the out at first, Dickey finally got out of it on this really weird play:

Score that an unassisted fielder’s choice by the catcher, apparently.

Glasnow actually had a fairly similar first inning of his own, except he didn’t yield a run. He started by walking Ender Inciarte, but then got a 5-4-3 double play off Brandon Phillips’ bat. Unfortunately, with no second runner on base, Nick Markakis’ two-out hustle double on a grounder into the left-center gap had no one to score after the double play. Kemp grounded out to third to end the inning.

Dickey and the Pirates turned a two out, none on situation in the top of the third into a second Pittsburgh run. Four straight knucklers missed and were taken by Bell, leading to a walk. The next one also missed and whirled into Francisco Cervelli’s shoulder. That set up this RBI hit from John Jaso, who was the batter when Bell ran out of the baseline:

Dickey got a groundout to strand two, but was now down 2-0. Glasnow gave up a leadoff infield single in the bottom of the third, but that was it, sending his bats back to work. When I say his, that also includes Glasnow himself, who blooped one between Swanson and Kemp with one out for his second hit of the game. Dickey then walked leadoff man Adam Frazier again, and Harrison lined an 0-2 pitch to left to load the bases. That brought up Andrew McCutchen, who had hit into a double play in the first, and well, that’s also what happened this time around:

Weird random fact: this remains the only time in his career that McCutchen has grounded into two double plays in the same game. Parts of 11 seasons, close to 7,000 PAs, and yep, just this one game.

The Braves finally got on the board in the fourth. Matt Adams led off the inning with his own version of a hustle double, a deep drive into center that landed in front of McCutchen. Adams ran hard all the way, and slid in ahead of a high throw. Suzuki followed with a grounder up the middle, and Adams barreled home. The Braves actually got a pitcher hit of their own later in the inning, as Dickey singled with two outs, but Inciarte flew out to left to end the rally.

The fifth started with a second consecutive Dickey scoreless inning. Jaso connected for a two-out double, but Dickey stranded him on the very next pitch via groundout. The Braves gave Glasnow an easy fifth: Phillips reached on a leadoff single, but with one out, Kemp struck out while Phillips wandered too far off the bag and got tagged out on a snap throw to first. To make matters worse, the very next play was this dinger from Jordy Mercer, he of the career 88 wRC+ and .131 ISO (though Mercer did hit a career-high 14 homers in 2017):

Glasnow followed with his third hit of the game, another weak bouncer that Swanson failed to barehand. To date, Glasnow has six career hits; three of them came in this game. This was actually pretty rare. Since 2010, there have only been 45 three-hit games by pitchers, and only one such game where the pitcher had three hits and zero outs made. It was also the only three-hit game by a pitcher in all of 2017. It was the first three-hit game by a Pirates pitcher since Doug Drabek did it in 1991, and the first 3-for-3 game since Jeff Robinson (who?) did it in 1989. After that, with one out, Harrison collected his third hit of the game, which maybe would have been caught by a different left fielder but instead dropped in front of Kemp. Finally, Dickey retired both McCutchen and Bell to end his outing and keep the game at 3-1. It was another very mehhhhh outing for Dickey, featuring three runs in six innings, and three walks to just two strikeouts. He didn’t have a single 1-2-3 inning in six frames.

In the bottom of the sixth, Adams matched Mercer with this moonshot.

Actually, that ball looked like it was crushed, but Statcast says it “only” went 387 feet. I think something might be off there, it landed in the Chop House entry area... Anyway, the Braves were within a run, and Suzuki followed with a bloop into right field. The Braves had a chance to keep it going, but then a few bad things happened. First, Ruiz hit a comebacker. Glasnow’s throw to second was way wide, but Suzuki didn’t slide, allowing himself to be tagged out when a slide probably would’ve resulted in everyone being safe. Swanson followed with a grounder to short that became an inning-ending double play. Glasnow finished with those two runs and a 4/2 K/BB ratio allowed in six innings. It was actually the fewest runs he had allowed in a start to that point in 2017, but it was only an okay outing. He basically would never have a good outing across the board (peripherals and results) all season.

And then, the rains came. Want a nice, timely weeknight game? Nope, sorry, suck on a three-hour rain delay, baseball fans watching two bad teams in late May. But watch we did, as the delay pushed the eventual end of this game into around 2 am the following day.

After the rains, it was bullpen time, and the Braves started their reliever procession with Sam Freeman, who allowed a two-out single and nothing else. The Pirates went with their own lefty in Wade LeBlanc. This was a fairly weird decision, as LeBlanc was their long man rather than a higher-leverage reliever, and it went terribly for them. After Emilio Bonifacio (whyyyyyyy) pinch-hit for Dickey and made the first out of the inning, Inciarte blooped a single to left and moved up on a wild pitch. That set up Brandon Phillips, tying the game at last:

But, the Braves weren’t done there. The Pirates replaced LeBlanc with crazy-dominant-but-a-really-odious-human-being-apparently Felipe Vazquez, which was confusing because both guys are lefties and it’s not clear why the Pirates didn’t just start the inning with Vazquez in the first place. But, it didn’t matter. Phillips moved up to second on a passed ball, and then to third on a Markakis groundout. Kemp then un-tied the game:

Adams tried to keep the inning going, but got robbed of a hit when Adam Frazier snared his grounder with a diving stop at third base and threw him out.

Arodys Vizcaino came on for the eighth and had a very breezy inning. He threw 12 pitches, all strikes, punching out the first two batters and getting a deep fly out to center from Harrison to end the inning. I’m not entirely sure how to query “one appearance, three outs, zero balls,” but I’m sure that’s a pretty rare occurrence. The Pirates matched that with someone named Johnny Barbato, who sat down Suzuki, Ruiz, and Swanson in order on just nine pitches (but two balls among them). The eighth, however, was a brief moment of respite before a very wild ninth.

Jim Johnson, the closer, came on to lock it down. While Johnson’s last season in Atlanta would be underwhelming (0.2 fWAR), he was, at this point, still pitching really well. He had only melted down twice in 19 outings, and had allowed just two hits (one solo homer) and one walk in his last 11 appearances. He started this outing by getting McCutchen to ground out on four pitches, and things seemed fine.

But, they were not. With one out, Bell hit a single through the infield into left. Cervelli followed with a liner single into center, and the Braves failed to capitalize on a goof when Bell wandered too far on second as Inciarte’s throw behind him was too far off the mark to record an out. Johnson recovered with a three-pitch strikeout of Jaso, getting him to wave at something in the dirt for the out. So, the Braves were one out away, and with the game on the line and the pitcher’s spot due up in the lineup (it had moved up to seventh after a double-switch), the Pirates inserted David Freese, their general starter at third base. Freese has always been a fine hitter (he never had a seasonal wRC+ below 100 in his career) and had a 120 wRC+ coming into this game. He only swung once in his PA with the game on the line, fouling off a 3-1 strike. Four of Johnson’s six pitches to Freese were two-seamers that were low and away, and just like that, the bases were loaded. Up to the plate came Jordy Mercer, eighth-place hitter. Johnson successfully placed his two-seamer on the outer edge for strike one. He then missed low and away with two curveballs, but came back with another two-seamer on the edge for a second called strike. Mercer fought off a third two-seamer and then a well-placed curveball, and Johnson’s seventh pitch, a curveball, caught a little too much of the plate...

It wasn’t hit particularly well (90 mph), but it was that perfect donut hole of a ball-in-play, over the infield and not deep enough for the outfield. It also gave the Pirates the lead.

The Braves yanked Johnson, who definitely “melted down” but honestly got hurt more by stuff out of his control than stuff within it. They inserted Luke Jackson, making just his fifth appearance as a Brave. Jackson threw just one pitch, which turned into an easy groundout to short. After trailing for much of the game, the Braves had one more chance to tie it up.

There was one kinda-problem with that, however. You see, at this point in 2017, the Pirates were giving closing duties to Tony Watson, who happens to throw with his left hand. Meanwhile, three of the next four Braves due up were lefties, because Jace Peterson had been double-switched into the game with Jackson. On the flip side, though, Watson was fairly far removed from his really effective 2014-2015 days, had been below replacement level in 2016, and had some gnarly (in a bad way) peripherals so far in 2017. Still, he was tough on lefties, and it was the righties that really gave him trouble. After three pitches, Peterson had to go sit down. He missed two sliders in the zone for strikes two and three. It wasn’t looking great, but Jim Johnson had also retired his first batter. Things perked up when Inciarte legged out a slow roller. But, they then looked worse again when Brandon Phillips hit a liner that stayed up long enough for McCutchen to flag it down in center. Just like the Pirates a half-inning ago, the Braves were down to their last out, and they would need Markakis to reach against a lefty to stay alive.

But he did! Oh boy, did he. It wasn’t a walkoff homer, but it was still pretty great. After fouling off a first-pitch sinker in the low/inside portion of the zone, he got another one, and dropped the bat head on it beautifully.

Inciarte was actually running on the pitch, so he scored easily. He was at second by the time the ball went over his head.

With the winning run on second, the Pirates wanted none of the righty-batting Kemp, and chose to face the lefty-hitting Adams. That too did not work out. Watson missed with a first-pitch slider away, and then went after Adams with sinkers. Adams fouled off the first one on the inner edge, and then got a break when one at the knees was ruled a ball. Watson came back with another one, and Adams lashed it.

Game MVP: Really, Jordy Mercer, in a losing effort. He drove in three of his team’s five runs, hit their only homer, and finished with .655 WPA, by far his highest single-game mark ever.

Game LVP: Tony Watson, who got handed some good matchups and didn’t really do much with them. It was his worst outing, WPA-wise, of the season, and just a teeny-tiny fraction of WPA away from the worst such outing of his career.

Biggest play: Mercer’s go-ahead single in the ninth, though it was for naught in the end.

The game, in context of the season: Really, not much to say here. Neither the Braves nor Pirates went anywhere, either after this game or otherwise. The Braves won the first two games against the Pirates with this walkoff, but then lost the next two. They finished May with a 12-16 record and didn’t spend a day over .500 all season. Dickey ended up being okay in his final season before retirement, but most of that came later in the year. This was Matt Adams’ third game as a Brave. He ended up being okay with his new team (1.1 fWAR in around 300 PAs), and his presence led to the fun, but weird, but fun experiment where Freddie Freeman got moved to third base for a while after returning from his wrist injury, but ultimately, meh. Forget it, Jake, it was the 2017 Braves, who finished 72-90.

The Pirates, too, finished with just 75 wins. They actually climbed one game over .500 in July, just two games out of the division lead, but finished 17 games back in the end. Glasnow finished 2017 with -0.4 fWAR and spent much of the year back in Triple-A. He finished his Pirates tenure with right around zero fWAR in 17 starts and a bunch of relief appearances; he currently has 2.8 fWAR in 23 total starts with the Rays. Mercer played a huge role in this game, but finished the season with a Mercer-esque 1.5 fWAR in 558 PAs. (He is a career 1.5/600 player so far.)

Oh, and Luke Jackson, who threw one pitch in this game? He was credited with the scorebook “W,” the first of his career.


Condensed game:


All the highlights: click here

TC Recap:

TC Game Thread:

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Matt Adams is fun, reminiscences about the epic Braves-Pirates 19-inning game.

Anything else? In more Barves-y news, there was an “equipment malfunction” during the third inning of this game that caused an emergency alarm to ring throughout the stadium, and the display of a scoreboard message that an evacuation was taking place. The umpires actually didn’t stop the game, though. More news came out that apparently a fight between fans in one of the stadium restaurants is what prompted the “equipment malfunction,” even though that doesn’t actually make sense to me (or anyone?).

This was the second straight night in which Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was ejected.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 23: This was the date of the second Defenestration of Prague in 1483. Mostly, I just think this Wikipedia sentence is hilarious:

The first governmental defenestration occurred in 1419, second in 1483 and the third in 1618, although the term “Defenestration of Prague” more commonly refers to the third. Often, however, the 1483 event does not count as a “significant defenestration”, which leads to some ambiguity when the “second Prague defenestration” is referred to as the 1618 defenestration.