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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 27

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A game-tying hit by the pitcher, and much later, a Chipper Jones walkoff homer.

Cincinnati Reds v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A couple of days ago, we reexamined a 2003 game with not much scoring against the Mets. Yesterday, we went back to a year earlier, where the Braves beat up on Chris Reitsma and the Reds with some serious longballs. Today, we’re going back to 2003, as a mix of the two: some longballs, beating up on Chris Reitsma and the Reds, but a low-scoring affair in the end.

The gist: The Braves and Reds traded runs early as Shane Reynolds struggled. But, Reynolds’ own hit tied the game at two-all, where it would stay through nine innings. Chipper Jones’ homer on the second pitch of the bottom of the 10th, off Chris Reitsma, gave the Braves a walkoff win.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: You already know about the 2003 Braves; we checked in on them just a couple of days prior. They had the majors’ best record at 34-17 coming into this game, and had just dropped the series opener to the Reds in an extra-inning affair where Roberto Hernandez gave up a grand slam to Adam Dunn, and the Braves stormed back with three, but unfortunately not four, runs to lose 7-6. The Braves, had, to this point, lost just one series in May (and just one since April 13), and it came against the fourth-place Reds, who came into the contest at 25-26, 4.5 games back of first place in the Central.

This was a very nondescript pitching matchup. The Braves had Shane Reynolds going; my only memory of Reynolds is that even as a kid, I considered him the baseball equivalent of a timebomb. Reynolds came into this game with identical 118 marks in ERA- and FIP-, though his xFIP- was a much better 90. He gave up a lot of homers (nine in eight starts; at least one allowed in each of his last six outings), including yielding two to the Reds in his prior start, a 9-4 win as the Braves crushed Ryan Dempster. The Reds were relying on Jimmy Haynes, a 31-year-old righthander who had managed his best year (2.1 fWAR) during the 2002 campaign after four seasons of functioning more as a fourth/fifth starter. However, Haynes’ 2003 was off to a terrible start — he was absolutely obliterated in four starts (9/18 K/BB ratio, five homers, 25 runs) before hitting the shelf with a back/disc issue. He would be returning to make his first MLB start in over a month in this game.

How it happened: Shane Reynolds was definitely some kind of timebomb/pressure cooker in this game, at least early on. Two batters in, he had allowed a bunt single and then a more orthodox liner up the middle. Three batters in, the bases were loaded with none out after he walked Ken Griffey Jr. on four pitches. Four batters in, he was trailing 1-0 and the bases were still loaded with none out, as he walked Austin Kearns on four pitches. Yes, to be clear: 11 pitches, two singles, two walks. But, somehow, the bomb was defused (or something): Aaron Boone popped out on the first pitch, and Sean Casey hit into a 6-3 double play on the second pitch. Reynolds threw 14 pitches in the inning: eight balls, one called strike, one foul, four balls in hit play... and somehow only allowed one run while getting three outs. Haynes needed more pitches (15) to throw a perfect inning. Baseball!

Reynolds again had trouble finding the zone in the second, throwing six balls in his 14-pitch inning. He walked Felipe Lopez with one out ahead of the pitcher’s spot, but got a groundout after Haynes bunted Lopez to second to end the inning. The Braves got their first hit off Haynes when Andruw Jones sprayed a grounder through the right side with one out, but nothing else.

Reynolds started the third in promising fashion, striking out Jose Guillen on four pitches, all strikes. But, things quickly unraveled. Griffey walked, and Kearns poked a single into right field on a full count, moving Griffey to third. Boone followed with a single into left, scoring Griffey. A flyout and a pop to the catcher ended the inning, but now the Braves were down by two. And then, they were down by just one again, as Vinny Castilla cranked Haynes’ second pitch of the third into left for a wall-scraping solo homer. The Braves tried to rally to tie the game, with Rafael Furcal drawing a one-out walk and Marcus Giles reaching on an infield single to third, and then both of them pulling off a double steal. But, a pop out behind home from Gary Sheffield and a flyout from Chipper Jones ended the inning.

Reynolds walked Lopez again to lead off the fourth; Lopez was bunted to second and eventually stole third, but a strikeout and a groundout stranded him. Robert Fick connected off Haynes for a one-out double in the bottom of the inning, and moved to third on Castilla’s infield single to second. That brought up Reynolds, who somehow worked a full count and then rolled a grounder between third and short for a game-tying, two-out single. The Braves then ran themselves out of the inning; Furcal hit a grounder to first and beat it out, but Castilla got caught in no man’s land between third and home and was thrown out trying to return to the third-base bag.

After that, the game calmed down, which was a fairly surprising development given that it was these two pitchers. Reynolds needed just 20 more pitches to throw two perfect frames, including four groundouts. He finished his night with the crazy line of 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 2 K. The five walks were his most in a game since July 2000; to that point, he had never had that skewed of a K%-BB% in a start. Haynes only lasted one more inning, which started with plunking Giles but ended with three straight outs, including a strikeout of Andruw. He finished with 5 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 3 K. It was the first time that he had allowed fewer than four runs in a start in this season, and the first time he’d walked fewer than three.

The bullpens took over, and they were fine too. Former Brave Kent Mercker gave up a first-pitch one-out double to Javy Lopez, but nothing else in the bottom of the sixth. (Mercker would be traded to the Braves later in the year.) Ray King got three straight groundouts on just eight pitches to start the seventh. Generally dreadful reliever Brian Reith started the bottom of the seventh with two straight walks, including a four-pitch free pass to Furcal leading off the inning, but somehow managed to retire Sheffield and the Jones Boys without any further damage. King stayed in to retire Griffey, and then gave way to Darren Holmes, who walked Kearns but then got two consecutive flyouts. Gabe White followed with a scoreless, 1-2-3 eighth for the Reds, with two strikeouts.

For the top of the ninth, the Braves went with John Smoltz, a day off his appearances-only-in-wins streak being snapped. Smoltz fired a quick, 11-pitch inning of his own and then went to go sit on the dugout bench. The Reds countered with Chris Reitsma, who had made a for-good transition from starting to relieving just a few days earlier. Reitsma had begun each of the last two seasons in the rotation but transitioned to the bullpen toward the end of both; that transformation came much sooner in 2003 than in 2001 or 2002 because of injury concerns and the fact that he had been obliterated in two of this three starts since. He had thrown four scoreless relief innings against the Braves six days ago, but more recently, blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning of the game immediately prior to this one. The ninth went fine for him, with just a two-out single by DeRosa, who had swapped in for Giles after the latter left the game due to his earlier plunking. The game proceeded into extra innings, the first time either team had played back-to-back extra-inning games. (For the Braves, this was happening for the first time in over a year.)

Trey Hodges was not a super-inspiring choice to keep the game tied heading into the bottom of the 10th, but he was the choice nonetheless. The same could be said for his inning of work. Mark DeRosa, at second replacing Giles, booted the first ball in play of the inning, allowing Ryan Freel to reach base with none out. A wild pitch moved Freel to second, and the Reds bunted him to third. Hodges then intentionally walked Griffey to set up a righty-righty matchup with Kearns, whom he defeated via strikeout. The righty-hitting Boone seemed a more favorable matchup than the lefty-swinging Casey, but Hodges denied himself the choice when he plunked Boone. Fortunately, though, Casey hit a first-pitch groundout that DeRosa successfully converted into an out, giving Hodges an escape after a messy-but-hitless inning.

Reitsma was still out there for the 10th. He threw all of two pitches.

That was Chipper’s fifth walkoff homer of his career. Fin.

Game MVP: Chipper hit a walkoff homer. He went 0-for-4 otherwise, but hey, walkoff homer.

Game LVP: Sean Casey. He, along with Sheffield, were the only 0-for-5s in this game. But Casey’s outs were brutal. In the first, he hit into the inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. With two on and one out in the third, he flew out. He made a leadoff out in a tie game in the sixth, and ended the inning with a man on first in the eighth. Lastly, he grounded out with the bases loaded in the tenth as the Reds’ final batter of the game. Casey had five games in which he made outs in all of five or more PAs — three of them came against the Braves and four of them came within one eight-day stretch. This was actually the worst game, WPA-wise, of Casey’s career to date (-.42); he’d only “beat” it once, in 2006.

Biggest play: Chipper’s walkoff, of course.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves improved to 35-17 and pushed their division lead to 35-17. They’d crush the Reds 15-3 the next game, and mostly just coasted to their 101 wins. The Reds finished the season at 69-93, the third of nine consecutive losing seasons in Cincinnati. They actually went 15-13 in May and were two games over .500 in mid-June, but had a sub-.400 winning percentage in each of July, August, and September.

Reynolds finished the season with 1.4 fWAR in what was basically his last year as an MLB player (he pitched two innings in one outing in 2004). That’s a lot better than my mental image of his performance, but still not great. Haynes finished his season with -0.2 fWAR, tanked by four terrible starts before his first injury stint, and then four terrible starts that immediately preceded him missing the rest of the year with the same back/disc issue. He had a 10-start stretch in between those (starting with this one) where he was at least okay (73 ERA-, 107 FIP-), but his season was horribly dragged down by those two bad stretches. The injury pretty much derailed his career, as he only appeared in five more MLB games after the 2003 season.

Reitsma ended up a pretty meh reliever (0.3 fWAR) in 2003, though he put up an 85 xFIP-, suggesting that he had some pretty terrible HR/FB luck (and he did, with a nearly 20 percent rate). The Reds traded him to the Braves in the offseason, where he had one great relief year in 2005 and then an awful one that led to his release in 2006.

Video? Hey, at least you got the walkoff on tape up there.

Anything else? Chipper on his game-ending swing: “I wasn’t swinging for a single, I’ll tell you that.” No, no he was not. That was quite a swing, and it resulted from Chipper guessing correctly that Reitsma was going to throw him a 1-0 changeup.

Trey Hodges had a 50 ERA-, 82 FIP-, and 91 xFIP- through this game, which might explain why the Braves went to him rather than another of their remaining relievers in the 10th. But, he finished the season with a 146 ERA-, 128 FIP-, and 96 xFIP-. He never pitched in the majors again despite lasting through the full 2003 season with the Braves. He put up -0.1 fWAR in each of his two major league seasons.

Andruw Jones got hit number 999 in this game, which came in the second. He couldn’t add hit number 1,000. This game was his 34th consecutive game in which he safely reached base at least once; the streak would be snapped in the very next game, despite the Braves scoring 15 runs around him.

Vinny Castilla, who homered in this one, had an okay bounceback year in 2003 (1.9 fWAR) after a dreadful, -1.5 fWAR 2002. This was his seventh (and last) homer in May; the last time he hit seven homers in a month was August 2001; he only hit 12 total in 2002.

Shane Reynolds finished his career with 43 RBI in 660 PAs, which is a weirdly high total for someone who had a -12 wRC+.

The Reds went hitless after the fourth, despite loading the bases in the tenth. The Reds would go from May 15 to June 3 without taking and holding a lead while their starter was in the game.

This game featured a three-man umpiring crew, because scheduled home plate ump Terry Craft missed the game with kidney stones.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 27: This date marks the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. At the time of its opening, it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. Since then, it has fallen down the rankings pretty sharply. It is no longer even the longest suspension bridge in the United States, though it remains the tallest domestically.