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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 24

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We finally touch on 2013, featuring a really rare event and a long winning streak

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

So far in this exercise, we’ve covered 52 games across every season from 2001-2019 but two: 2013 and 2015. 2015 is self-explanatory — screw that season. We’ll get to it when we get to it. 2013, though, is the opposite. It was great, the pinnacle of the early 2010s Braves teams. It’s just that that team was so good that many of the games they played, especially early in the season, were kind of boring. I’m trying to highlight interesting things in this series, and crushing your baseball opponents, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their fans doesn’t always fall into that category. But, here we are, a 2013 game. It was a good one, with some stuff that hadn’t happened in a loooong time.

The gist: The Braves and Mets played a back-and-forth contest and traded two-run innings in the eighth to keep the game tied. Then the rains came, and the game was suspended until the next day. The Braves nearly went ahead in the ninth but didn’t, delaying their victory by just a bit as they broke through in the tenth. It pushed their winning streak to seven.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: Not much of one needed. The Braves were good. Real good. They were 28-18 coming into this game, a top five record in MLB. They had won six straight before this game. They already had a 10-game winning streak earlier in the year. While the team was streaky in some ways (for example, 2-5 before the current six-game streak), those streaks were heavily tilted towards wins rather than losses. On the hill for them was Kris Medlen, who was great in 2012 and not-so-great but very fortunate so far in 2013: 82 ERA-, 127 FIP-, 123 xFIP-. It was early in the year, though, and those bad peripherals were heavily driven by a terrible start in San Francisco in which he allowed three homers and had a 1/5 K/BB ratio. He had rebounded last time out to throw seven innings with just one unearned run against the Dodgers, too.

The Mets were not. After a playoff berth in 2006 and two back-to-back good-but-no-playoffs seasons, the Mets had fallen into a rut from 2009 on that lasted through the 2013 season and then some. They had just been swept by the Reds, and last the last three games of the prior homestand against the Pirates, meaning that they were riding an overall three-game losing streak, and a six-game home losing streak. Overall, the Mets were 17-27, in fourth place and already 10 games behind the Braves. New York’s scheduled starter was Jeremy Hefner, who was pretty good as a swingman in 2012, and pretty not good to begin his first primarily-starting year in 2013, with a 140 ERA-, 144 FIP-, and 126 xFIP- coming into this game.

How it happened: A lot of stuff happened in this one. The runs came early, as well as late. With two outs in the first, Hefner walked Justin Upton. Freddie Freeman then achieved liftoff, reaching Citi Field’s upper deck. For some reason, MLB isn’t allowed YouTube embeds from the 2013 season, but the links in this one are worth it. Here’s the homer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij1msR8AlHQ. Um, yeah, don’t throw Freeman 90 mph fastballs there. Or do, if you like losing. Brian McCann followed with a “single” poked down the left-field line that probably would have been a double for anyone else, but Hefner struck out Dan Uggla to end the inning.

The Mets struck right back against Medlen. The bottom of the first started with a 1-2 curveball getting away from Medlen and hitting Daniel Murphy on the foot. A beautiful, patented Medlen changeup struck out Rick Ankiel, but David Wright connected for a hard-hit single past short that not even Andrelton Simmons could flag down, putting runners at the corners with one out. Cleanup hitter and noted Brian McCann clone Lucas Duda then popped one up into left field. The ball ended up dropping because Justin Upton took a horrendous route to it (he ran the legs of the triangle rather than the hypotenuse; he also ran somewhat the wrong way during the second leg), and the Mets were on the board. However, Medlen was able to hold the lead. Marlon Byrd struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch below the zone that was well-framed by McCann, and John Buck grounded out to Simmons at short.

The next three half-innings were quiet, with no baserunners. Hefner had a 13-pitch inning in the second, which Medlen bettered with just 11 pitches in the bottom half, including a three-pitch obliteration of Ike Davis with a disgusting 0-2 curveball. Hefner then threw an 11-pitch frame of his own.

In the third, the Mets tried to rally once again. Murphy started the inning with a looped single into left, and Wright followed suit with one out, again giving the Mets a first-and-third situation with the same two runners. This time, though, Medlen struck out Duda by freezing him with a two-seamer that drifted back into the heart of the plate, and then got Byrd to swing through a middle-middle changeup on pitch number nine of his at-bat.

Hefner again had an easy inning in the fourth, allowing just a McCann single on a roller to the empty left side of the infield (the shift was on). That set up this game-tying shot by John Buck to lead off the bottom of the fourth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qr1C5gapo-4. Suffice to say, that pitch was exactly where McCann called for it — Buck just wasn’t fooled by the 2-2 changeup after seeing three of them in a row to start his first PA. In any case, with the lead no longer intact, Medlen breezed through the rest of the inning on just 10 pitches. He once again struck out Davis on a curveball in the dirt.

Hefner another light frame, going 1-2-3 on 12 pitches, giving him four consecutive breeze-throughs after Freeman’s homer in the first. That enabled the Mets to take their first lead of the game, as Medlen faced their order a third time in the fifth. Having already been on base twice, Murphy doubled to start the inning. It actually wasn’t a very well-hit ball, but Justin Upton misjudged the ball’s arc and froze rather than immediately backing up to grab it, and the ball ended up over his head. (Upton hit well as a Brave, but rated terribly defensively. He was still quite good, finishing with 7.2 fWAR in two years, despite the defensive issues.) Medlen struck out Ankiel on a curveball in the zone and then tempted Wright with the bad decision, bad result of swinging at a 3-0 pitch and flying out on it, but then walked Duda when he lost control of a curveball and spun it way outside. That brought up Byrd, who had been fooled by Medlen twice earlier, but found a 2-2 curveball he could hit and thwacked it into center for a go-ahead single: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwm564oiG1E. Buck flew out weakly to right, but the Braves were suddenly playing from behind.

That, and Hefner was somehow looking dominant. Jason Heyward drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, but the Braves couldn’t capitalize. Both Justin Upton and Freeman went down fishing for Hefner’s changeup, and McCann fouled out to third. To his credit, Medlen also finished strong with a 12-pitch frame. He gave the miserable Ike Davis a hat trick: curveball in the dirt whiff, curveball in the zone whiff, fastball taken for a ball outside, curveball in the zone whiff. He then got a fly out, and finished his night by getting pinch-hitter Mike Baxter (batting for Hefner) to swing through a changeup that was meant to be low but ended up high and away. Medlen finished with a season-high nine strikeouts and just one walk, but a homer and three total runs allowed in six innings. Hefner ended his night with just five baserunners in six innings, though one was a homer, and a nice 7/2 K/BB ratio as well.

LaTroy Hawkins was in the midst of a late-career resurgence in his lone season with the Mets. He had a 15/0 K/BB ratio to this point across 17 innings. The 2013 Braves didn’t care. Dan Uggla greeted him like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5wY3a5KP10. All that work by the Mets to score their go-ahead run, and Uggla tied it up with one swing. Hawkins allowed just a two-out, pinch-hit single to Ramiro Peña otherwise, but it was a brand new ballgame.

Luis Avilan came on to preserve the tie and had an absolute mess of a seventh that still somehow ended well. The inning started with a rare misplay by Simmons on a Murphy grounder. Simmons played the ball to his backhand side fine, but his throw was low and couldn’t be scooped by Freeman at first. Murphy tried to take second, but the ball didn’t skip very far away, and Freeman easily gunned him down by throwing to Simmons at the second base bag. He then walked Ankiel, and was for some reason allowed to pitch to Wright, whom he hit on the knee. After Duda flew out, the Braves swapped Avilan for sidewinding righty Cory Gearrin, who bamboozled Marlon Byrd with this sequence: (1) slider low and away for a swinging strike; (2) sinker down the middle taken for a strike; (3) slider out part of the zone, fouled off; (4) slider way outside, fouled off; (5) slider unimaginably outside, somehow eliciting a check-swing strikeout.

In the eighth, the Mets used some pitchers of whom I have absolutely zero memory. First up was Scott Rice, who actually had over 100 career relief appearances, all with the Mets, across 2013-2014. Rice, a lefty, struck out Heyward but then walked Justin Upton. Freeman then bounced a ball between the shifted David Wright and the third-base bag, putting runners on the corners with one out. Rice struck out McCann on a pitch in the dirt, and then gave way to Greg Burke, who had 80 career relief appearances, with 48 coming in 2009 and 32 in 2013. Burke, a sidearming righty similar to Gearrin, walked Uggla to bring up the pitcher’s spot, which was now seventh in the lineup because Avilan had been double-switched in along with Peña. The Braves tabbed Evan Gattis for the spot despite the righty-righty matchup, and the rookie, as he so often was in 2013, came up money: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWJXEeTV2yo. (Seriously, Gattis, had a 145 wRC+ coming into this game, as well as 1.78 WPA. It was shades of early 2019 Austin Riley for Gattis, who was 11th in WPA despite only having around two-thirds of a full slate of PAs by that point.) The Braves once again had a two-run lead, and B.J. Upton struck out to end the inning.

For whatever reason, the Braves went with Anthony Varvaro in the eighth. Actually, this wasn’t that odd. While the 2013 Braves had three higher-tier relievers in Craig Kimbrel, David Carpenter, and Jordan Walden, Kimbrel was naturally reserved for the ninth, Walden was on the shelf at this point, and Carpenter hadn’t actually pitched well to start the season. Varvaro had been a fine reliever to that point in 2013 after sporadic usage the prior two seasons, and actually had more WPA coming into the game than any reliever other than Eric O’Flaherty,

At this point, it was raining pretty noticeably. Varvaro started the inning problematically, with a five-pitch walk to Buck. He then handed Davis his fourth strikeout of the game, getting him to swing through a fastball out and over the plate. Then, in what was pretty much a downpour, Ruben Tejada lined a ball back up the middle to put the tying runs on base. With the game still not being called, the Mets inserted pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin, whom Varvaro also struck out after a protracted battle by burying a fastball in the dirt. Murphy followed by dunking a ball into center: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiqPCuut5Gs. I remember being pretty upset at this point. There was already a concern about making players play in these conditions, and now it was spilling over into costing a team bases and perhaps even runs. Notably, the Mets didn’t have to deal with the elements to this extent in the top half of the inning, so it wasn’t really fair play. Things got even more ridiculous on the very next pitch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqydT6DQDac. What an annoying way to lose a lead, a rain-aided if not rain-caused wild pitch, where the runner had only moved up because of a rain-related fielding error. Varvaro actually recovered to strike out Ankiel, which was important, because...

...it was at that point that the umpires decided to call the game. Not during the downpour that took place in the eighth, but after the Braves had pitched and fielded their way through a half-inning of it. Absolute garbage, and not unremarked upon in the least, but here we were.

Here’s the thing, though. Now that the game was tied, there wasn’t a result that could easily be granted, at least not this early in the season. So, the game was suspended, to be resumed an hour before the would-be first pitch of the following game in the series. Why was this notable? Because the Braves’ last suspended game before this one happened in 1997, the second game in Turner Field history. For the Mets, it was an even longer span — they hadn’t had a suspended game since 1986.

When play resumed the next evening, the Braves went right back to work against closer Bobby Parnell, in front of a crowd of around 500 people. Peña started the resumption with an odd groundball double that bounced off a diving Murphy’s glove and was rolling into center slowly enough to allow him to take second. A bunt moved Peña to third, and Parnell walked Heyward on four pitches to bring Justin Upton to the plate. The Braves seemed like they were in a great position to put the game to bed just a few minutes into its restart, but Upton hit into the most routine 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

With Varvaro still listed as the pitcher of record, the Braves just left him in there. With no more precipitation, his second inning of this game went just fine. He dispatched Wright, Duda, and Byrd on just 11 pitches, freezing the latter on the same type of below-the-knees fastball, framed by McCann, that Byrd had been rung up on some 20 hours beforehand, when Medlen was still pitching.

For the tenth, the Mets turned to Brandon Lyon, a former closer now on his last legs, and his third team in two years. At this point, this 2013 Braves team wouldn’t be denied. Freddie Freeman worked an eight-pitch walk to start the inning. McCann followed by lining one over first for a double down the line. Lyon was throwing 89 mph max at this point, and when he wafted an 86 mph cutter to Uggla around letter-high, Uggla didn’t miss it, smashing it into left field for an RBI single that was hit so hard that pinch-runner Jordan Schafer couldn’t score from second. After pinch-hitter Chris Johnson struck out, B.J. Upton did something positive in this game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1jw4oQnFAo. Apparently, the squeeze bunt was his own decision, and it may not have worked out had not the speedy Schafer been in the game and running on contact. Two fly balls ended the inning, but the Braves now had their third lead of the game.

So, on came Craig Kimbrel. This, however, was not a breezy save opportunity in the least. Kimbrel started his afternoon by getting into a three-ball count on Buck, and then plunking him with what would have been ball four. On a full count, Davis avoided what would have been his fifth strikeout by finally making contact with something and lining it into center. The tying runs were now on base. The Braves then got a couple of gifts in very quick succession. The first gift was the Mets giving Tejada the signal to try to bunt the runners over (why?); the second gift was him popping up Kimbrel’s first pitch for a foulout. The Mets inserted Justin Turner as a pinch-hitter at this point, though this was pre-breakout, mostly hits lefties Turner and not the Dodgers version. On a 1-2 pitch, this pretty generic double play happened, mercifully ending this nearly four-hour, suspended-and-resumed game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwexyCB1R4A. The resumed portion lasted just 42 minutes.

Game MVP: Let’s go with Freddie Freeman, who went 2-for-4 with a walk, a strikeout, and his two-run homer. His leadoff walk in the tenth led to the eventual winning run.

Game LVP: The weather, the umpires, and Brandon Lyon, who gave the Mets a pretty deflating loss in the end. Lyon had been a fine reliever with the Mets up to the point, but apparently had a penchant for big WPA sheds, and this was another one.

Biggest play: Gattis’ go-ahead two-run single. Even though Gattis had just the one PA in this game, this was the fifth-highest single-game WPA mark he accrued during his rookie season (.353), and the fourth-highest single play. Three of those four/five, including the top two, came during a six-game stretch in May.

The game, in context of the season: The Mets fell 11 games back; the Braves’ division lead remained at 4.5 games as their record moved up to 29-18. The Braves would also win the next game, pushing their winning streak to eight, before the Mets snapped it by salvaging the finale. The Braves would reel off a 14-game winning streak in July and August. They didn’t lead the division for literally one day all season: April 4.

Hefner finished 2013 with 1.0 fWAR in 130 23 innings. He was shut down in August with the prelude to Tommy John Surgery, and never pitched in the majors again. His numbers actually would have looked better had he not made his last five starts of the season. Medlen could not replicate his awesome 2012 (3.2 fWAR despite just 12 starts), but put up a fine 2.4 fWAR in his first and only full starting season. He went down with Tommy John Surgery ahead of the 2014 campaign and basically never got healthy enough to stick around afterwards.

Overall, the 2013 Braves were monstrous, as was perhaps evident from this game. Freddie Freeman finished with a 5.0 fWAR season, a true breakout given that he had combined for just 2.3 fWAR the two seasons prior. Five other Braves finished with more than 3.0 fWAR, and Gattis chipped in 2.1 of his own in just 382 PAs. The weak links were Uggla and B.J. Upton, as was well-publicized by that point, though both did useful things (especially Uggla) in this game.

Lyon finished 2013 with 0.0 fWAR in under 40 innings. He was released by the Mets in July, and never made it back to the majors afterwards.

Video?

Condensed game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNyvuf_NIE0

Recap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMW3P1Ds2t0 (and also https://www.talkingchop.com/2013/5/25/4364556/rain-suspends-braves-mets-after-eight-innings)

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2013/5/25/4366702/braves-win-suspended-game-minor-shuts-out-mets-homers-in-6-0-win (two-for-one)

TC Game Threads: https://www.talkingchop.com/2013/5/24/4363638/open-thread-5-24-atlanta-braves-at-new-york-mets

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: The bench is awesome, and while the team’s 13-1 streak to open the season felt more fortuitous than dominant, the team was really gaining a full head of steam at this point (and they were).

Anything else? The first game between these two teams of the 2013 season was also a 7-5, 10-inning game. That game was played in Atlanta, and the Braves were on the losing end.

This game featured Ike Davis’ second hit in his last 46 PAs, along with his four strikeouts. Davis finished the season below replacement, but with a wRC+ in the 90s, which is actually really impressive given that it was sitting at 45 by the All-Star Break.

The resumed portion of the game did not have a full broadcast crew. Joe Simpson and Keith Hernandez sat in the same booth and commentated the last two innings of the game.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 24: Okay, it’s baseball-related, but this date in 1935 marked the first MLB night game. The Reds beat the Phillies 2-1 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.