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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 9

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I hope you like games featuring the bad Braves and the even worse Pirates

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates

Okay, I probably should’ve picked a different game. It’s not that this was a bad game, though it came in a bad, quite forgettable season for both teams. It was actually a pretty good game. It’s just... hear me out!

We first covered the 2008 season on March 31. That game featured a one-run game between the Braves and Pirates, where the Braves dropped their home opener amidst a bunch of crazy stuff and a ton of runs being scored in a game that extended into extra innings. The starters in that game were Tom Glavine and Ian Snell, though the decision had little to do with either in the end. A few days later, we went back to that same series for its conclusion, where the Braves again dropped a one-run game in extra innings. Jeff Bennett started for the Braves in that one, in pseudo-emergency fashion. So, we’re going back to 2008 again... where the Braves lost another one-run game to the Pirates, with Tom Glavine and Ian Snell being the starters, and Jeff Bennett again featuring prominently into the proceedings.

The gist: Despite way too many walks, both Glavine and Snell kept runs mostly off the board in the middle innings. Jeff Francoeur gave the Braves a lead, and then after the Pirates scored twice to go from trailing by a run to leading by a run, he drove in another run to tie the game. But, with two outs, Freddy Sanchez walked the Pirates off against Bennett,

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: Much of what you need to know about the 2008 season, big-picture has been covered in the other two games above. This was the Braves’ worst season in the span of games we’ve been covering, up until the horrendous rebuild years of 2015-2017. With that said, though, they came into this game having won all of their games in May, six straight. That put them at 18-15, third place in the division but just 1.5 games back. The Braves had actually been streaking all over the place: they last went win-loss-win or loss-win-loss as far back as the second through fourth games of the year. Since then, it had been streaks of consecutive wins or losses.

The Pirates, meanwhile, had won just two series all season. One came during the season-opening set against the Braves, and one was a sweep of the Giants that immediately predated this game. They were 15-19, five games out and in fifth place (of six teams) in the NL Central.

Since they met in the Braves’ home opener, Glavine had had a rough go of it, including a 8/10 K/BB ratio. He had a start where he left without getting an out, and had allowed six runs in his outing before this one. Snell had given up a lot of runs without a lot of homers, and wasn’t really dominating or anything of the sort.

How it happened: Very little happened in this game early on. The first baserunner was Brian McCann, with a one-out double off Snell in the second. He was stranded by consecutive lineouts from Jeff Francoeur and Mark Kotsay. Kotsay’s was creamed into center, but flagged down by fellow center fielder Nate McLouth, then a Buc. Ryan Doumit gave the Pirates a matching hit, a flare into right field, to lead off the second against Glavine, but that was it in that frame. Kelly Johnson drew a two-out walk in the third and stole second, but was stranded when Snell struck out Yunel Escobar. Glavine allowed another leadoff single to Brian Bixler in the bottom of the inning, but Snell bunted into a 2-6-4 double play.

The Braves got more offense cooking in the fourth. Chipper Jones battled Snell into a leadoff walk, and after McLouth again brought in a deep drive in the outfield (this time off the bat of Mark Teixeira), Snell walked McCann on five pitches. However, a Francoeur strikeout and Kotsay pop fly ruined that scoring chance. Snell again walked Kelly Johnson with two outs in the fifth, but again, nothing doing. Glavine gave up his own two-out walk to Jose Bautista in the bottom of the inning, but ended the inning on a soft tapper in front of the plate from Bixler. Through five innings, Snell had a 2/4 K/BB ratio, and Glavine’s was 2/1, yet the game was scoreless.

In the sixth, finally, a run! Snell walked Chipper to lead off a frame, again. Teixeira followed with a free pass of his own. McCann flared one that got down into right, but the Braves didn’t risk sending Chipper. Francouer followed by bouncing one to former teammate Adam LaRoche at first, playing well off the line. LaRoche threw to second for the force, and Chipper scored to make it 1-0 Braves. Kotsay then hit into a 4-6-3 double play, bailing Snell out of his two-walk inning with minimal damage.

Glavine nearly gave that run right back. Snell himself, of all people, still batting despite being well through the Braves’ order a third time and a pretty gnarly set of peripherals, connected for a leadoff double into the right-field gap. The Pirates then bunted him to third in a bid to tie the game. However, McLouth’s fly into center was too shallow to score Snell, and after pitching around Jason Bay, Glavine got Doumit to roll out to Teixeira to end the inning with the lead intact. Snell then countered with a 1-2-3 inning to end his night, his first since, well, the first inning.

Like Snell, Glavine hit for himself before the bottom of the seventh (but he didn’t double), and he came right back out there for more third-time-through-the-order-and-the-last-inning-wasn’t-great-so-maybe-pull-him-but-I-guess-not-oh-well shenanigans. Xavier Nady, who single-handedly killed the Braves in their home opener, started the frame with a double. Glavine followed by walking LaRoche, and the Pirates bunted both runners to second. (The bunter here was Jose Bautista, still not yet the masher he would become. Imagine asking the Jose Bautista that everyone knows these days to bunt.) Glavine then intentionally walked Bixler to force up Snell’s spot in the lineup. The Pirates pulled Snell for Jason Michaels, but Glavine struck him out on three pitches. He had a chance to once again squeak out of trouble, but he didn’t. On the first pitch of his fourth (yes, fourth, ugh) PA of the night against Glavine, Freddy Sanchez shot one into the right-field corner. Nady and LaRoche both scored easily. Bixler tried to extend the sequence into a bases-clearing double, but a relay of Francoeur-Johnson-McCann cut him down.

Suddenly with a lead and with just six outs to get, the Pirates went to pretty good southpaw setup guy Damaso Marte to lock it down. Marte got the first two outs handily (including a weird 3-0 flyout into shallow right-center from Chipper), but then gave up two straight singles into left to Teixeira and McCann. Rather than let Marte face the righty-hitting Francoeur, the Pirates went to Tyler Yates, who had been traded from Atlanta to Pittsburgh less than two months before. (Yates was pretty good in 2007 but very unlucky.) Yates also failed to lock it down, as Francoeur lined his first pitch over the infield into right, scoring Teixeira. The Braves tried to push the advantage by pinch-running for McCann with Ruben Gotay, but Kotsay again ended a rally, this time by grounding out to LaRoche.

With Glavine done after seven, the Braves used a combination of Royce Ring (for one batter, in true LOOGY fashion) and Blaine Boyer to get through the eighth. Boyer allowed a two-out double over Kotsay’s head to Doumit, but got Nady to ground out to Chipper on a 3-1 pitch. The Pirates decided to leave Yates in against his old mates, but it went terribly once again — Gregor Blanco pulled a single on the ground into right, and Yates walked pinch-hitter Greg Norton. With the lefty-hitting Johnson due up, the Pirates went to another lefty in their arsenal, pseudo-LOOGY John Grabow. That move may have saved the game for them, as Grabow struck out Johnson, and despite lacking the platoon advantage, got Escobar to hit weakly into a routine 6-4-3 double play. The Braves botched one of their best scoring chances of the game, and it would prove costly indeed.

Given that the whole lefty-righty reliever thing worked so well in the eighth, the Braves decided to try it in the ninth. Will Ohman came on, got LaRoche to fly out (albeit to an uncomfortably deep left field), and departed in favor of Jeff Bennett. Bautista greeted Bennett with a squeaker past Chipper, and after Bixler grounded into a forceout, pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz pulled one on the ground and into right field. That ball rolled for a while, giving Bautista plenty of time to reach third. Up next was leadoff man Freddy Sanchez, the only Pirate to have driven in any runs on the night. So, of course, you can figure what happened next: Sanchez rolled a ball up the middle, scoring Bautista as the walkoff run.

Game MVP: Freddy Sanchez, who drove in every Pittsburgh run. 2008 was actually Sanchez’ worst season (0.5 fWAR, next-lowest total was 1.1) and the year his offense completely tanked. Yet, in spite of all that, it was when he recorded his highest single-game WPA ever: 0.64, in this contest. This game was part of a nice run for Sanchez with a flimsy narrative: on May 6, ahead of the Pirates’ sweep of the Giants, Sanchez was moved from second to first in the batting order. He proceeded to put up a 123 wRC+ in 60 PAs afterwards, after a 37 wRC+ in his first 125 PAs of the year. The chatter was that moving to the leadoff spot had helped him (in other news, imagine moving a guy hitting for a 37 wRC+ to leadoff...), but of course, no one bothered to extend that analysis further when he hit for a -9 wRC+ (yes, that’s a minus sign) in his next 49 PAs out of the leadoff spot. He then moved to third for a bit, mostly back to second (63 wRC+ in 191 PAs), back to leadoff again (103 wRC+ in 40 PAs), and then mostly back to second (122 wRC+ in 143 PAs). In conclusion: it doesn’t matter.

Game LVP: It wasn’t really Jeff Bennett’s fault, but hell, let’s go with him anyway. The ninth isn’t quite the time to give up all those baserunners, even if they came on grounders through the infield. Bennett was fairly awful to this point in the season (117 FIP-, 112 xFIP-) but had had fine results (reasonable ERA-, positive WPA). He’d improve over the rest of the year to post a 95 FIP- and 98 xFIP-.

Biggest play: Sanchez’ walkoff hit, though his game-tying double is a close second.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves were on route for 72 wins; the Pirates were on route for 67; this game was pretty inconsequential in that schema. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Braves. They’d lose three of four to the Pirates and then drop a series to the Phillies for their first two series losses in May. Even so, the Braves went 17-12 in May, their only month where they finished more than a game above .500. They were 27-22, a game out of first on May 22, but then lost a bunch of games over the summer, including a 9-20 August.

For the Pirates, this was their fourth win in a six-game spree. The Braves would snap it with a win to avoid the four-game sweep. The Pirates also had a good May: at 15-13, it was their only above-.500 month for the year. They never got as close as the Braves, though, spending all year after April 15 under .500.

Glavine, as you may remember, had a disappointingly awful, injury-shortened year in Atlanta. He finished with -0.6 fWAR in 13 starts, essentially his first negative seasonal mark. He finished the year with as many walks as strikeouts. With this loss, the Braves had won just one of his first five starts in his return to Atlanta. This was also the third time in five starts that he had posted more walks than strikeouts. Snell, meanwhile, had an okay year (2.3 fWAR, 107 FIP-).

Video? I haven’t been able to find any. This game probably isn’t on anyone’s priority list for posterity-oriented video upload.

Anything else? Despite having more walks than strikeouts, this game moved Glavine into 24th place on the career strikeout list, passing Bob Feller and Warren Spahn. Since then, he’s been passed by C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Zack Greinke, so he currently sits at 28th, three behind Chuck Finley.

The double in this game was Snell’s second career (and last ever) extra-base hit. Prior to 2008, he had walked six or more batters in a start just once; he’d do so three times in 2008 alone, despite it being an okay year for him overall.

Despite the Braves being awful, Chipper had a great, 7.1 fWAR season in 2008, his highest total since 1999. His 174 wRC+ was his highest career mark. Through this game, he had a 206 wRC+ and nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts. Brian McCann went 3-for-3 with a walk. It was the first of three perfect (i.e., zero outs, more than one PA) games for him on the year.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 9: I screwed up yesterday and posted something for May 9 instead, so have something about May 8: this was the confirmed date, in 1980, of the eradication of smallpox. Woo.