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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 10

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This game featured 10 runs in the first six innings, and then no runs for the next eight innings.

Twins celebrate

15 innings is a long time. 15 innings is even worse if you play them and lose. That’s just what happened to the Braves when they visited the Metrodomeon June 10, 2002. In very strange fashion, the game featured a ton of scoreless innings after a bunch of scoring, not exactly your usual low-scoring extra-innings affair.

The gist: The Twins scored five runs off Greg Maddux in the first, peppering him with singles again and again. Maddux settled down, and the Braves got to Eric Milton for the same five runs, this time spread across two frames. After that... silence. Neither team could push a run across despite a bevy of baserunners until the 15th, when a two-out single by Tom Prince was followed by a double by Cristian Guzman to end the game.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: In 2002, the Braves headed up north in mid-June to do something they’d never, ever done before: play the Twins in a regular-season game. These two teams had only ever met in a “meaningful” game in the 1991 World Series, and never again... until now.

Both teams were sitting pretty. The Twins were 36-27, five games up in the AL Central. The Braves were 37-26, with a 5.5-game lead of their own. The Twins hadn’t actually been back to the postseason since that 1991 World Series win, but they were on an upswing, having won 85 games in 2001 and coming into this game with the best position player group in baseball. Their bats were furious — the lineup in this game featured just one player with a sub-100 wRC+; the next-lowest was 115. The Braves, who had an average position player group, were all about pitching, which is where the Twins were average.

The Braves had Greg Maddux going in the series opener, who was pitching much better, if not quite Maddux-esque, after a rough April. For the Twins, the starter was lefty Eric Milton, who had a 3.6 fWAR season in 1999 and had declined since, posting just 2.1 fWAR over a full season of 220 innings in 2001. He seemed to be declining even further to this point in the season, with a 127 ERA-, 108 FIP-, and 108 xFIP- coming into this game, including getting shelled in two straight outings.

How it happened: The Twins absolutely thrashed Maddux in the first after Milton worked a perfect frame to start the game.

  • Jacque Jones started the home half of the inning with a first-pitch liner into center.
  • Cristian Guzman, the one member of this lineup that couldn’t hit (48 wRC+ coming into the season, 72 career wRC+ coming into the year, though he did put up 111 in 2001), followed by rolling one up the middle that moved Jones to third.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz followed with a liner into left-center, also on the first pitch. Jones scored, Guzman moved to third. 1-0.
  • Matt LeCroy then hit another liner into right, again on the first pitch. Mientkiewicz moved to second, 2-0.
  • Torii Hunter followed with a single into left, hit hard enough to load the bases and prevent Mientkiewicz from scoring.
  • Corey Koskie hit a deep fly to right for a sacrifice fly. 3-0.
  • On the first pitch to Dustan Mohr, Hunter stole second. Henry Blanco’s throw overshot the bag, allowing LeCroy to score, and Hunter to dash over to third. 4-0. Mohr then singled on a liner into right. 5-0.

Finally, Maddux got a couple of two-pitch outs to end the inning. The Twins had batted around with six singles, including five straight to start the inning. Even so, it only took Maddux 24 pitches to get through the inning, as three of singles came on the first pitch.

After that, the game was super-quiet for quite a while. There were no baserunners over the next three frames. The Twins got a couple of singles in the bottom of the third, but a double play ball off Hunter’s bat erased one, and Mohr had a first-pitch flyout to end that inning. It was a funny frame — two hits, but just seven total pitches. Both pitchers then faced the minimum in the fourth, with Maddux again getting a double play to retire a leadoff baserunner, and give him another quick frame (six pitches this time) despite allowing a hit.

Milton had retired the first 12 Braves in order, but in the fifth, ran into deep trouble. Chipper Jones broke his streak with a first-pitch leadoff double, poked into the right-field corner. Andruw Jones followed with a second-pitch single into left, putting runners on the corners. A second-pitch single past short from Vinny Castilla got the Braves on the board. With one out, Blanco knocked his own grounder past second, making it a 5-2 game and allowing Castilla to make it to third. Jesse Garcia grounded a ball that nearly became a double play, but he juuuust beat it out, scoring Castilla in the process Rafael Furcal grounded out to end the inning. Similar to the first for Maddux, Milton allowed four hits and three runs, but needed just 14 pitches to get through seven batters.

The Twins put more pressure on Maddux in the bottom of the inning, but they were no longer getting those good results in early counts. Mientkiewicz drew a seven-pitch walk and LeCroy followed with a single, but Maddux ended the inning with his third double play in three frames, once again getting Hunter to hit into a 6-4-3 variant. (Hunter came into this game as a top-20 player in the season, with 2.4 fWAR already in just 268 PAs and a 137 wRC+; he’d set a career high with 122 wRC+ when the season was over.)

In the sixth, the Braves struck quickly to tie the game. Gary Sheffield drew a one-out walk, and Chipper Jones, who had the only extra-base hit of the game so far, yanked an 0-2 Milton pitch over the wall in left for a game-tying two-run homer.

At this point, you’d think the third time through the order would be gnawing at both pitchers, especially after each had already allowed five runs, but... not so much. Milton gave up a two-out grounder single to Castilla before ending the top of the sixth. Maddux ended his night with back-to-back perfect frames. Milton’s outing ended with a seven-pitch seventh. Maddux’s final line was 11 baserunners in seven innings, but a 4/1 K/BB ratio. Milton allowed just seven baserunners in seven innings, but only had a 2/1 K/BB ratio and allowed a homer.

The first reliever to enter the game was 37-year-old journeyman Michael Jackson (no, not that one). He was in his first year with the Twins, who were the seventh team he’d pitch for in the majors. The Braves definitely had their chance against Jackson, as Sheffield singled and stole second, prompting an intentional walk to Chipper. However, Jackson jumped ahead of Andruw 0-2 and got him to hit into an around-the-horn double play, able to walk off the mound with the game still tied. Mike Remlinger followed in relief for the Braves, and commensurate with his great 2002, fired a perfect inning. Jackson stayed in for the ninth, allowing a leadoff single but then ending the inning when Blanco hit into a first-pitch double play. In regulation, there were five double plays in 18 frames in this game.

Chris Hammond, another very strong reliever on this pitching-rich Braves team, shut down the Twins in the ninth, forcing extras. Koskie notched a leadoff single on a flare into center, but Hammond later picked him off. His other two outs were strikeouts.

J.C. Romero was the Twins’ relief choice for the tenth. A converted starter, Romero was killing it in relief so far for the Twins, and kept the Braves off the board despite a two-out Julio Franco double. All three of Romero’s outs were grounders to short. Kevin Gryboski was Bobby Cox’s counter, and he threw a perfect frame with three groundball outs of his own. At this point, the last time the Twins had more than three batters complete a plate appearance in an inning was the fifth.

Romero stayed in for the 11th. Chipper collected a leadoff single and moved to second on a wild pitch, but then three straight groundouts stranded him on the bases. Andruw’s groundout actually moved him to third with one out, but he couldn’t score on Castilla’s ball to short, and Wes Helms’ ball to third ended the inning. Gryboski started the bottom of the 11th with a leadoff walk, but a flyout and back-to-back strikeouts of Hunter and Koskie ended the inning.

Closer Eddie Guardado took over for Romero in the 12th, and was perfect. Darren Holmes replaced Gryboski and struck out the side, working around a one-out single. One of the batters he struck out was pinch-hitter David Ortiz, playing his last season for the Twins before being released and moving to Boston, where his career exploded. (Ortiz’ best season in Minnesota was a 108 wRC+ and 1.1 fWAR; in 14 seasons in Boston, he would underperform those marks once, in 2009. His turnaround and success is well-documented and humorous given his skillset versus the small-ball approach the Twins attempted to force onto him, especially in light of the most recent Twins teams.)

Guardado was done after just an inning, and Minnesota went with Tony Fiore, a generic swingman with good outcomes but uninspiring peripherals to this point in the season: 57 ERA-, 86 FIP-, 119 xFIP- in 34 23 innings, including two five-inning starts. Fiore, though, did pretty much the same as the rest of the Twins’ relievers to this point — hold the line. With one out, he walked Sheffield, but then struck out Chipper and got Andruw to pop out. The Braves gave the ball to Kerry Ligtenberg after Holmes, and he breezed through the Twins’ 2-3-4 on 12 pitches, including two pop-outs.

At this point, both teams were basically just okay letting Fiore and Ligtenberg finish out the game, for better or worse. Fiore gave up a leadoff single to Castilla in the 14th, and later walked pinch-hitter Matt Franco after a bunt moved Castilla to second. But, the Braves couldn’t avail themselves of the opportunity once again, as Fiore struck out the other two batters in the inning. Lightenberg cruised again, needing just nine pitches this time, and it was back to Fiore for the 15th. This time, he gave up a two-out walk to Chipper on four pitches, but then had the inning end on him as new catcher Tom Prince (who had come in during the 13th, as part of four personnel swaps the Twins made) gunned him down trying to steal second.

Lightenberg was perfect so far in the game, and he went 8-for-8 on retiring Twins as he got two quick outs to start the 15th. Prince, though, snapped this streak by legging out a first-pitch grounder that bounced off Castilla’s glove despite his 37-year-old, career backup catcher’s speed, and the Metrodome turf. That brought up the meek-hitting Guzman, who had gotten the ball out of the infield just once in six tries since his first-inning single. Anyway, you can probably figure out what happened next: in a 2-2 count, Guzman drilled a liner that soared over Gary Sheffield’s head in right and banged off the wall. Prince was able to motor home and score the walkoff run ahead of Helms’ relay throw, ending the game.

Game MVP: Tony Fiore, who threw three scoreless innings, more than any other Twins reliever. Fiore did walk three Braves, but he allowed just one hit and struck out three as well. The only time a Brave reached second against him was because of a bunt. This was actually the most WPA Fiore ever had in a game in his entire career, by quite a margin (0.45 to 0.36). Fiore finished said career with -0.3 fWAR in 152 innings, so this was definitely his shining moment.

Game LVP: In a game with 36 baserunners, one of only two guys to do absolutely nothing in this game offensively was Wes Helms. Playing first base in this game as Julio Franco was inserted as the designated hitter, Helms flew out his first four times up, including a flyout during the Braves’ first run-scoring rally, then grounded out and bunted (for some reason) fruitlessly in extra innings. Rafael Furcal was a close second in uselessness, as he went 0-for-7 with two strikeouts, but Furcal only made one out with men on base; five of Helms’ six outs came with highly meaningful runners present. Helms’ 2002 was a pretty good summary of his career — part-time action (200+ PAs), but a replacement level line driven by bad hitting (74 wRC+ in 2002, 87 career).

Biggest play: Guzman’s walkoff double. Weirdly, it wasn’t even his highest-WPA play of the season... which mostly goes to show you, if you didn’t know it already, that even someone who ends up finishing the season with a 74 wRC+ will kill one team or another here and there.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves’ division lead fell to 4.5 games, but it didn’t matter much. They actually beat the Twins in the next two games and cruised to a 101-win season in which their division lead never faltered after May 27. Though this game snapped Atlanta’s six-game winning streak, they won four straight after, then had another six-game streak after a couple of losses, and later took a five-game streak across the end of the month. In the end, the Braves went 21-5 in June 2002, which I thiiiiink is their best month ever. It’d be pretty hard to top.

The Twins were similarly solid, cruising to a 94-win season in which they led the division from May 2 on, until losing to the Angels in the ALCS (the Braves lost to the Giants in the NLDS, of course).

Despite their outings in this game, both Maddux and Milton had quality 2002 seasons, finishing with 3.9 and 3.2 fWAR, respectively.

The Minnesota offense faltered down the stretch, sliding back down to an average 101 wRC+ for the whole year, on par with the Braves. Their pitching, though, didn’t improve too much. Still, it was a fun first half for the Twins.

Video? Would you really watch video of a 15-inning game?

Anything else? This game only lasted 4:23, which is pretty wild given that it lasted nearly a full 15 innings. The Braves had actually played a 16-inning game earlier in the year (they lost both games by a 6-5 score).

2002 was Ligtenberg’s worst year with the Braves (0.3 fWAR) since his rookie season in 1997, and also his last. He had come into this game having last allowed a run on May 7 (over a month), but his peripherals were pretty gnarly (49 ERA-, 117 FIP-, 128 xFIP-). All of these things would normalize at least a bit going forward, and he’d end the season at 73/98/112. Still, Ligtenberg had two whole months (May, July) where he only allowed runs in one outing, which is pretty wild.

2002 baseball alert: Guzman hit second for the Twins, despite being by far their worst hitter. The Twins also had Matt LeCroy batting cleanup in this game, which was notable because he had just been called up from the minors before this game. That isn’t to say that LeCroy was some kind of hotshot prospect, more that the Twins had demoted him after he mostly hit cleanup and put up a 146 wRC+, kept him down for a month, and then promoted him and put him right back in at cleanup.

In the eighth, after Andruw hit into a double play to end the inning with two on, Bobby Cox got tossed for arguing the call at first base. Replays actually vindicated Cox this time, but it didn’t matter. Jacque Jones also got tossed in this game, in the bottom of the 12th, for arguing balls and strikes after Darren Holmes got him looking on a 1-2 pitch.

The Braves are 11-8 against the Twins all-time in regular season play (this game was their first-ever regular season meeting). They were swept by the Twins in 2007 and have won every series since.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 10: The Senate’s 75-day filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was broken on this day, the first time that a Senate filibuster had been broken for a civil rights bill. The Civil Rights Act passed through Congress nine days later, and was enacted into law on July 2, 1964. The filibuster had killed a version of the bill a year earlier, as proposed by President Kennedy. For those that need a refresher, the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, banned unequal application of voter registration requirements, and prohibited racial segregation in most contexts. (“Most” because segregation in and of itself wasn’t declared unconstitutional until a few years later, and the legal framework for segregation was only largely dismantled about a half-decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.)