2008 was not a good season for the Braves. In fact, it was their worst since 1990. That doesn’t mean, though, that it was a bad season for every Brave. Both Jair Jurrjens and Mark Teixeira were bright spots in a fairly dour affair. This game showcased both. It makes a fun comparison to the game we covered earlier this week, which featured a resurgent Jurrjens for the last time. He was “resurgent” because this game was part of his original surge during his first two excellent seasons with the Braves.
The gist: Jair Jurrjens flummoxed the Jays with eight scoreless. Mark Teixeira gave him a two-run lead in the first with a homer, and also drove in a third run with a double. The Braves won 4-0 in just 2 hours and 33 minutes.
The set-up: After a disappointing 2006 and 2007, it wasn’t too clear that the 2008 Braves were going anywhere either. They came into this game 39-41, 4.5 games back, but more critically with three of the division’s five teams ahead of them. Consistency was a bigger issue than any awful stretches — while the team won a series here and there, it hadn’t won back-to-back series in over a month. On the flip side, Jair Jurrjens, acquired from the Tigers in the offseason, was a treat to watch in his first full season. He came into this game with a 76 ERA-, 85 FIP-, and 95 xFIP-. Given that the Braves had one of the better offenses in the league and a pretty strong defense as well, they could feel reasonably confident when Jurrjens was on the hill.
The Blue Jays were in more or less a similar boat. They were 38-42, in fifth place and 10.5 games back, despite a not particularly terrible record. They had recently snapped a seven-game losing streak, but that wasn’t really the driver of their place in the standings — the division was just a nightmare. (The Jays would finish in fourth place despite 86 wins, in a weirdly lopsided season where every division but the NL West was pretty brutal.) They actually had one of the best rotations in baseball to date, with their worst starter by fWAR matching the Braves’ top two (Tim Hudson and Jurrjens). Dustin McGowan was a big part of that, building off his breakout 2007 (3.4 fWAR) with a strong 97/86/97 effort.
How it happened: This game flew by, though the Braves didn’t make the first easy for McGowan. With Chipper Jones a bit shaken up, Ruben Gotay started in his place at third and poked a double down the left-field line with one out. Two batters later, Mark Teixeira obliterated McGowan’s 2-1 pitch into right field for a two-run homer. Brian McCann followed with a single, but Greg Norton, DHing in the game, flew out to end the frame.
After that, Jurrjens took over, and this game was vintage Jurrjens — easy outs in the field. Flyout, groundout, groundout set down the side in order on 11 pitches in the first. McGowan bounced back with two strikeouts in a perfect frame, and groundout-groundout-lineout on 12 pitches followed from Jurrjens.
Teixeira once again tagged McGowan in the third. Gregor Blanco led off the frame by shooting a liner into left-center. Gotay bunted the ball into himself for an out, and Kelly Johnson hit one deep into left-center but not deep enough. Teixeira then followed with by making contact on 2-1 again and sending it to a similar place as Johnson, but this time the ball found turf for an RBI double. Jurrjens just kept rolling, mixing in his first two strikeouts of the night in the bottom of the third.
After that, the game zipped by. The Braves didn’t do anything with Norton’s leadoff single in the fourth, and Jurrjens once again faced the minimum (groundout, lineout, groundout) on nine pitches. Gotay walked but got thrown out stealing, giving McGowan his second 1-2-3 inning. With one out in the fifth, the Blue Jays finally got their first hit, a single into center by Matt Stairs. But, it was promptly erased two pitches later, when Scott Rolen hit a weak roller to short that turned into a double play. Jurrjens had gone 15 up, 15 down.
The sixth was kind of funny for the Braves — they had three near-homer flyouts (Teixeira, McCann, Francoeur) and a walk. Jurrjens gave up his first walk in the bottom of the inning, this time to Gregg Zaun... but once again, two pitches later, he got another double play. This time, it was a 3-6-3 version off the bat of Adam Lind.
Brandon Jones led off the seventh with his only career triple. Blanco scored him with a one-out liner into right, giving the Braves a 4-0 lead that stood as the game’s final score. Gotay, who had an eventful night despite not really doing much, followed by hitting into a 7-6-4 double play resulting from a bad but meaningless tag-up by Blanco.
Finally, with two outs in the seventh, the Jays got their first baserunner over the maximum. It wasn’t a clean hit, either — a grounder to third that Alex Rios was able to beat out ahead of Gotay’s diving stop and throw. Vernon Wells followed with an 0-2 comebacker.
After McGowan issued a one-out walk to Teixeira in the eighth, he was pulled for Jesse Carlson, who went strikeout-walk-strikeout to end the inning. Jurrjens then gave up another over-the-minimum inning, once again facing a whole four batters. This time, it was Rolen sending a one-out dribbler past Gotay at third that led to a hit. The next two batters popped out.
The Braves got some more baserunners off Jason Frasor in the top of the ninth, but no runs. Brent Lillibridge collected his second career hit (and second career double) on a grounder through the right side. Blanco then drew a walk, but Gotay and Johnson made outs. Mike Gonzalez came on and finished off the game in very Jurrjens-esque fashion. He threw eight pitches, getting a groundout, a weak flyout, and an infield pop to wrap it up.
Game MVP: Jair Jurrjens, who shone like he already had been during this 2008 season. Jurrjens set a career high in innings with this outing, allowing just four baserunners in the process, while striking out three and getting two double plays. While he’d top it a month later (same line as this game, except six strikeouts rather than three), this was still a top-four start for his career (not just career-to-date) by Game Score (v2), Jurrjens finished his 2008 season with 3.3 fWAR.
Game LVP: Dustin McGowan, who had an uncharacteristically poor start. While this game was part of a stretch where he allowed four runs in five straight starts (and five homers in five starts after allowing just four in his previous 14 outings), it was the first time he walked more than two batters in over a month. It’s actually kind of impressive that he managed to pitch into the eighth, all things considered.
Two outings after this one, McGowin’s promising season and career suffered a huge blow. He left his start early due to shoulder pain, and was diagnosed with a torn labrum. His recovery featured setback after setback, such that he only made it back to a major league mound in 2011, more than three years after the original injury. Moreover, the recovery process sapped his effectiveness, as McGowan was mostly a below-replacement reliever afterwards, though he hung around with relief stints and even a few starts with the Jays, Phillies, and Marlins, all the way through 2017. That aside, McGowan still managed 2.1 fWAR in 2008 despite just 111 innings, actually an fWAR/200 rate superior to Jurrjens’.
Biggest play: Teixeira’s two-run homer to open the scoring. Teixeira was an absolute monster for the Braves, putting up 5.4 fWAR in 691 PAs from the time he was acquired in 2007 to the time he was dealt to the Angels about a month after this game. He was actually even more monstrous with the Angels, putting up a wRC+ in the 180s and 3.5 fWAR in around 200 PAs before signing his megadeal with the Yankees in the offseason. That post-trade performance made 2008 his career year, with 6.9 fWAR and a 152 wRC+. marks that he never got that close to replicating.
The game, in context of the season: Basically, it didn’t matter much. The Blue Jays won the next two games to take the series, but still finished June at 10-16. They were only able to escape the cellar thanks to a 45-33 finish, but never really sniffed a playoff spot. For the Braves, meanwhile, this victory was them climbing as close to .500 (40-41) as they’d get from here on out. The series loss pushed them into fourth place, where they’d stay the rest of the season, including through a brutal 9-20 August.
Video? What I’ve learned is that we have video from 2009-on, but 2008 and earlier are spotty.
Anything else? This game extended Jair Jurrjens’ no-earned-runs streak to 21 1⁄3 innings. Chase Utley snapped it in the first inning of his very next start by hitting a homer. It wasn’t purely a scoreless innings streak, as Jurrjens allowed three unearned runs in the start before this one. Jurrjens was still technically a rookie in 2008, and led all rookie pitchers that year with 3.3 fWAR. He lost the NL Rookie of the Year to Geovany Soto, who won it despite trailing both Jurrjens and Joey Votto in fWAR. (Though it should be noted that the discrepancy is due to retrospective framing dinging Soto for 0.7 fWAR; if you ignore this, he does finish ahead of both Jurrjens and Votto.)
Through this game, the Braves had won just 12 of their 39 road games, by far the majors’ worst record in that split. By the end of the season, even though they ended up far worse than a few games under .500, they had managed to not be dead last in that stat, finishing fifth-worst instead.
This game featured a rematch between managers Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston, who helmed these two teams in the 1992 World Series. Gaston lost his job after the 1997 season in a kerfuffle where he basically just walked off the job; the Jays rehired him for three middling seasons in 2008-2010, which were still better than much of the subsequent John Farrell and John Gibbons eras.
The Braves played this game down three regulars, with Chipper, Omar Infante, and Yunel Escobar all banged up.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 27: The first-ever aerial refueling was completed on this date in 1923 by Captain Lowell H. Smith (flying the refueled plane) and Lieutenant John P. Richter (doing the refueling). While it sounds fancy, in reality, it was as rudimentary (but still incredibly difficult) a process as you can imagine — basically a hose was just fed from one plane (with the fuel tank) to the other plane (needing the fuel).