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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 20

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My only game ever at Turner Field!

Kansas City Royals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This game has deliberately been chosen, for the basic reason that I was there. For some of you, perhaps many of you, that wouldn’t be anything special. Big deal, you went to a Braves game, right? But for me, this was the only game I’ve ever seen where the Braves were the home team. I’ve seen tons of games with them on the road, at a handful of parks. But I’ve only been to Atlanta once in my life, and it happened to be fall on June 20, 2010, when the Braves were hosting the Royals. (Why was I in Atlanta? We were headed to the World Cup in South Africa, and the only flight we could get flew out of Atlanta. Since the flight schedule meant we’d have to stay in Atlanta overnight no matter what, I convinced my then-girlfriend, now wife, to go a day earlier so we could, you know, go to the park of the team I had been following avidly for a decade. So we did.)

The gist: Both starters were terrible, but the Braves’ four-run lead in the first turned into a 5-4 deficit after the top of the third. Chipper Jones’ double off Kyle Farnsworth finally tied the game in the sixth, but a very inexperienced Craig Kimbrel had a wild inning in the eighth, loading the bases with none out before escaping. Eric Hinske’s two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the inning gave the Braves the lead, and Billy Wagner slammed the door.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: These 2010 Braves were cruising. They had won four straight and had gone 12-6 in June coming into this game. They hadn’t lost a series since May 7-10, and at 41-28, led the NL record-wise. They also had a 1.5-game lead in the division. The 2010 Royals, meanwhile, were floundering. At 29-40, they had already fired their manager after a 12-23 start, and replaced him with former Braves coach Ned Yost. Their failure was mostly just a weak team across the board, with a particularly-problematic bullpen. By comparison, the Braves had good position players and good relief pitching to this point, with a pretty weak rotation performance (the Royals actually had more rotation fWAR than the Braves coming into this game).

Starting for Kansas City was another former Brave, Kyle Davies. The right-hander was no good as a Brave, and after being traded to the Royals, was sometimes okay (2008) and sometimes not okay (2009). His 2010, so far, was somewhere in between those: 144 ERA-, 108 FIP-, 120 xFIP-. He had pitched reasonably well through mid-May, but had been mostly crushed since, especially in his last three outings (17 runs, 2/9 K/BB ratio).

The Braves, meanwhile, had Kenshin Kawakami taking a turn on the hill. Kawakami got more derision than he deserved, and his whole saga was just a weird, saga chapter in Braves history. He was a fourth-starter type in 2009, which was fine, and he had a same-y 110/111/109 line in 2010 coming into this game.

So, it wasn’t quite a marquee pitching matchup, but hey, I was at Turner Field anyway! It was very hot. But I had good seats! But a veritable mountain of a human was right in front of me. But hey, Braves baseball! The Braves had already won the first two games of the series, so whatever happened on this Sunday afternoon matchup was going to sit pretty well with me.

How it happened: This game had action almost immediately. It was a pretty fun one to be at, despite the fact that the pitching and defense were pretty poor. Kawakami breezed through the first on nine pitches, and we were off. Davies, though, did not breeze.

First, he walked Martin Prado. Prado stole second on an 0-2 pitch to Jason Heyward (the throw beat him, but the tag wasn’t a good one), and eventually, Davies actually lost Heyward and walked him as well. Chipper Jones followed by pulling one just down the left-field line on a bounce, scoring both runners. After that, Davies walked another batter, Troy Glaus this time, before finally getting his first two outs. But then, Omar Infante swatted the first pitch he saw into left-center for another double, scoring both runners once again. David Ross flew out to end the inning. That seemed like a pretty cool start, but the Royals made it substantially less cool almost immediately thereafter.

The top of the second started with a leadoff baserunner, as Kawakami failed to scoop up a comebacker. Eventual Brave Alberto Callaspo followed with a liner juuuust over a jumping Prado’s glove at second, putting runners on the corners. After another liner to Prado, this time caught, former Brave Brayan Peña and Chris Getz hit back-to-back RBI singles, trimming the lead in half. After a Davies bunt, yet another liner to Prado ended the inning. The Braves got two more walks in the bottom of the inning (Heyward, Chipper), along with a stolen base and a wild pitch that put both runners in scoring position. Glaus, however, ended the inning with a weak comebacker.

The third was, well, pretty brutal for the Braves. Mike Aviles started the inning by singling back up the middle. Billy Butler followed by smashing another ball into center. (F’n) Melky Cabrera misplayed the ball, allowing Aviles to make it to third. Jose Guillen followed with a single to right, making it just a one-run game... aaaaand that was it for Kawakami. He’d thrown just 36 pitches, hadn’t walked anyone, and some of his baserunners weren’t on his pitching, but that was it. In came Cristhian Martinez, for long man duties.

A warning track flyout from Callaspo moved the runners up. Mitch Maier followed with a comebacker that Martinez, with his dramatic follow-through after delivering the pitch, couldn’t snag. It bounced off his glove and went towards second too slowly to either allow a force at second or at first, and Butler scored the tying run in the process. After a groundout that was hit too slowly to be a double play, Chris Getz dunked a stupid flare into shallow right, close to the foul line, on a 0-2 pitch. That allowed the Royals to take the lead at 5-4. Martinez finally retired Davies on a groundout to end the nightmare inning, in which the Braves had squandered their initial four-run lead and then some.

The Braves couldn’t immediately strike back, either. They got two singles off Davies in the bottom of the third, but both Ross and Martinez struck out to end the inning.

After not helping matters in the third, though, Martinez was mostly fine. He allowed a leadoff double to David DeJesus in the fourth, but stranded him there, striking out both Butler and Guillen to end the frame. Davies had his first 1-2-3 frame in the bottom of the inning, and then Martinez followed with one of those of his own. In the end, Martinez ended up throwing three full “scoreless” innings, though in reality, it’s just that the runs weren’t charged to him — his pitching added two tallies to Kawakami’s ledger.

In the bottom of the fifth, Davies got himself pulled. In short, he walked Glaus, and after a first-pitch pop-up, he walked Cabrera. Those were his sixth and seventh walks of the game, and that was that, after 4 13 innings. Seven walks was not only a season high, he would never even walk six in a game in 2010. It also ended up being his career high. At least he had five strikeouts to go with it, though again, it was another very weak start for the former Brave, and his fifth of six in a row where he would yield four or more runs.

Rookie reliever Victor Marte (eventual career was parts of four major league seasons, all below-replacement level performances) replaced Davies. Infante’s slow roller to short was the inning’s second out, and after Marte walked Ross, pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad hit a routine fly to right to end the inning with the Braves still trailing.

Eric O’Flaherty (this was pre-O’Ventbrel, and O’Flaherty was an okay but not dominant reliever at this point) came on for the sixth. He struck out Getz, walked former Brave and current pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit, and then got two straight groundouts. For the bottom of the frame, the Royals went with Kyle Farnsworth, the 12-year veteran who was volatile in more ways than one. With one out, Heyward hit a low liner through the infield and into right-center, and hustled into second ahead of an off-target throw. Chipper followed with a far more conventional gapper double, and the game was tied. Farnsworth’s adventures continued briefly, as Chipper actually stole third and Glaus drew a walk, but Eric Hinske struck out and Cabrera grounded to short to end the frame with a 5-5 score. (A funny thing about that Chipper steal — it really happened in part because Glaus just stood there in the box and didn’t move or flinch, forcing Peña to essentially throw it into his face, which didn’t happen.)

The seventh was Peter Moylan’s inning, and he scattered a single amidst three groundouts. Farnsworth stayed in and threw a 1-2-3 inning, starting with two strikeouts and then retiring pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco on a fly. Farnsworth and Blanco (among other players) would be traded for one another later in the season.

Now, the eighth is the inning I remember most clearly. It started with a rookie Craig Kimbrel coming on for just his eighth career appearance. At this point, many of us knew that Kimbrel had some of the nastiest stuff... but control and command were definitely an issue. Through those first seven career outings, Kimbrel had a 37 percent strikeout rate, but a 23 percent walk rate. It didn’t take long for that issue to manifest itself here, as Kimbrel’s day started with a six-pitch walk to Peña. Things got more concerning when Kimbrel got Getz (haha, got Getz) into an 0-2 count, but then bungled the comebacker hit to his left and allowing it to trickle wide of Prado. Then there was just a ton more Kimbrel wildness, including a very inside pitch on 2-0 to pinch-hitter Scott Podsednik that somehow didn’t hit him but couldn’t be corralled by Ross, followed by a walk to load the bases with none out on the next pitch.

At this point, I was pretty nervous, so for whatever reason, I channeled that by getting up and offering verbal encouragement. I doubt Kimbrel could hear me (I was close but not that close), so it was really just for my own benefit. (My now-wife had no idea why I was bothering. She was also melting from the heat. I was born in the Soviet Union, you’re from North Carolina, get over it, Jen.) Beyond Kimbrel’s lack of control and the whole bases loaded, none out situation, there was another issue: the lineup had turned over, and DeJesus, the Royals’ one actually-good position player (already 2.5 fWAR in 292 PAs, with a 147 wRC+) was due up. Kimbrel, though, somehow flipped a switch. Of the five pitches he threw to DeJesus, four were on the edge. The fourth of those was a perfectly-placed curve, the sort we’ve all seen from Kimbrel time and again at this point, and the first out of the eighth was in the books. My cheering got louder. Aviles came to the plate. Kimbrel dropped in a curve for strike one, and then pounded him with fastballs over the plate. Aviles whiffed on one, fouled one away, took one low for a ball, and then whiffed on another. Just one more out to go, but it was Butler, the other great Kansas City hitter (141 wRC+ coming into this game). Kimbrel threw four fastballs, three of them around letter-high. Two were balls, one was swung through for a strike, and Butler popped up the fourth for a harmless out clasped by Infante at short. Kimbrel had loaded the bases with none out, and then unloaded them with no damage. I was pumped.

And it was a good time to be pumped, because rookie reliever Blake Wood came on for his 19th career appearance, and he did not succeed like Kimbrel. Quite the opposite. Prado greeted him with a shot to right for a single, but Heyward then bounced into an easy double play. Wood then splintered, walking both Chipper and Glaus on nine total pitches, seemingly as a result of some kind of mechanical flaw where everything was just floating way armside. (The one strike was Glaus fouling off a pitch that could have hit him.) With Hinske at the plate, Wood started creeping a bit closer to the zone, getting a strike one call on a pitch still outside, and then finally throwing one actually in the zone (his first pitch squarely in the zone since the one Prado hit for a single)... which seemed like progress... except that Hinske was sitting on it and yanked it into the right-center gap for yet another two-run double. Cabrera followed by rolling one under Callaspo’s glove at third, allowing pinch-runner Brandon Hicks to score run number eight. Omar Infante flew out to end the inning.

At this point comes the only thing from this game my wife actively remembers, beyond it being hot: with Billy Wagner due in for the ninth, the stadium played an entrance theme of sorts, with Wagner’s name displayed in flames on scoreboards around the ballpark. “What is happening? Is he good? Why is his name on fire?” You get the idea. She still thinks Wagner is some kind of legendary baseball player because the stadium did that for him but wasn’t doing it for anyone else. Anyway, Wagner didn’t really disappoint her, or anyone else. He carved up Guillen on four pitches. Callaspo singled up the middle, but Maier was frozen with hittable 97 in the zone. That left Peña as the last hope for the Royals to avoid a sweep, but he grounded to Chipper, and that was that.

Game MVP: Hinske had the big hit, but really, this game was about Chipper. He went 2-for-3 with two walks, opening the scoring with a two-run double in the first and then tying the game with his double in the sixth. He started the “hey guys, let’s take Wood pitches” sequence and scored the eventual winning run. Hinske’s double was huge, but he was 1-for-4 before it, and struck out with Chipper on third as the go-ahead run with one out earlier in the game. By 2010, Chipper was mostly in his “solid but not anywhere near elite” phase, but the 2010 season itself was pretty strong for him (2.5 fWAR despite just 381 PAs; 4.4 fWAR/600).

Game LVP: Hard to see this as anyone other than Blake Wood, who had a two outs, bases empty situation and completely went into a tailspin with those armside misses. Wood had a bad rookie year in 2010 (-0.4 fWAR), but ended up with a fine relief season in 2011 (0.4 fWAR). He bounced around without much playing time afterwards, but resurfaced to have another two solid relief seasons (1.2 fWAR combined) in 2016-2017. An elbow issue requiring Tommy John Surgery appears to have ended his career in 2018, as he didn’t catch on anywhere for the 2019 season.

Biggest play: Hinske’s double, which at .351 WPA, was the only play in this game to add (or subtract) more than 20 percent win expectancy. Hinske was a fine role player for the Braves in 2010, though his overall 0.6 fWAR in 320 PAs wasn’t particularly impressive — it was dragged down by his (lack of) defense across that playing time. Hinske posted a 110 wRC+ in 2010, his last above-average mark.

The game, in context of the season: With the sweep, the Braves went up 2.5 games in the division. They’d open up a lead as big as seven games by late July, but a September collapse kept them from winning the NL East in the end, and they squeaked into a Wild Card spot by the narrowest of margins on the last day of the season.

The Royals finished with 67 wins, their seventh in a span of nine consecutive sub-.500 seasons, and yet another year in their nearly interminable, 1986-2013 playoff drought.

The Kawakami saga got weirder right after this point. The Braves were, for whatever reason, clearly fed up with him despite him not actually pitching that poorly (even in this game, he was yanked for something another pitcher probably would’ve been left in to work out of, and he had throw six scoreless two starts before), and even him throwing seven innings of one-run ball in his next outing couldn’t really save his role. The Braves sent him to the bullpen and essentially played a man down, using him just once in that role in 40 days, and then, after a five-game stint in Triple-A, giving him just one more start and one more relief appearance the rest of the way. Despite having one more year on his contract, he was outrighted to Double-A (not even Triple-A), not allowing to play for the big-league team despite fine career fourth starter numbers in the majors. Kawakami finished his 2010 with 0.7 fWAR in 87 innings.

Davies, meanwhile, actually had a career year in 2010, such as it was. He only put up 1.7 fWAR, and was worse on a rate basis than in his legitimately okay 2008, but made a career-high 32 starts. A shoulder impingement the next season limited him to just 13 starts, and he was released afterwards, all but ending his career (he surfaced for one outing with the 2015 Yankees, but nothing else). Even in 2010, Davies was occasionally able to string together a few decent starts, but the implosions, like this seven-walk game, were generally more common.

Video? There are weirdly no highlights of this game on YouTube, hence the lack of embeds above.

Condensed game:

Recap:

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2010/6/20/1527375/kawakami-braves-blow-big-lead

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2010/6/20/1527032/open-thread-6-20-braves-vs-royals (1); https://www.talkingchop.com/2010/6/20/1527261/open-thread-6-20-braves-vs-royals (2).

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Mostly, the mood was good, given the sweep of the Royals and the team rolling in general. Chipper, Kimbrel, and Heyward were the beneficiaries of many positive thoughts (and Wagner’s dominance was touched on as well). The quick Kawakami hook was a source of confusion, and as usual during the 2010 season, there were shouting matches about Kawakami’s quality. (Not that the Braves cared, their minds were already basically made up.)

Anything else? This was the Braves’ 14th win in their last 15 games at Turner Field. In 2010 as a whole, the team played nearly .700 ball at home, but was sub-.500 on the road.

This game was Kawakami’s shortest career start in the majors. Davies had never pitched against the Braves until this game. This was only the second series ever between the two teams, with the Braves having gone 8-9 in those games. The sweep that this series secured is the only series win the Braves have ever had against the Royals — they lost series in 2004, 2016, and 2019, and split series in 2013 and 2019. (2019 had two two-game series.)

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 20: In 1963, the USSR and USA agreed to establish the “red telephone” direct link between the two national leadership structures, following the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Note that the “red telephone” nomenclature is purely metaphorical — the link was never actually a phone line, and no red phones were used. (Instead, the link was based on Teletype, followed by fax machines (lol), and then email.) In some ways, this was actually the first non-unilateral action taken to reduce the risk of unintentional nuclear warfare.

Side note: is anyone still reading these? I mean, it’s fine if the answer is “no,” just figured I’d check.