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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 29

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Maybe the most frustrating game we’ve covered yet, from a Braves perspective

Marlins v Mets Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images

This game took place in 2005. In some ways, that may have been a blessing. While the internet and Braves fan sites were certainly around in 2005, the churning rage associated with each setback in a season was not quite a broadly-broadcasted, public phenomenon at that point. If this game had happened at some point in the last few years, well, I shudder to think...

The gist: The Braves jumped to a 4-1 lead early, thanks to homers by Andruw Jones and Kelly Johnson off Al Leiter. The bullpen held the Marlins off in relief of Kyle Davies for most of the game, but four straight one-out singles off Chris Reitsma, including two infield singles and one off a fielder’s glove, led to a tie game. The Braves nearly lost the game multiple times in extras, including surviving a man on third, none out situation in the 12th, and seemed like they might somehow win anyway when Andruw went deep once again to start the 13th. However, Adam Bernero blew the game in the bottom of the inning, as the Marlins once again had a four-single inning to score the tying and walkoff runs.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: The Braves came into this game winners of five straight (including the first two in this four-game series), 43-34 and 2.5 games behind the Nationals (yes, the Nationals, in 2005). The NL East was absurdly crowded during the 2005 season — at this point, only seven games separated the five teams, and the fifth-place team had a .500 record. (By season’s end, the Nationals had fallen into last place, with a .500 record.) The Marlins were in third place at 38-36, six back of Washington and 3.5 back of Atlanta. They had led the division as late as May 3, but had played mediocre, below-.500 ball since. This was already the 11th meeting between the two teams; the Braves had gone 7-3, winning two series and splitting one before guaranteeing them at least a split in this one.

Unlike many of the games we’ve covered in this series, this was definitely not a marquee pitching matchup. For the Braves, it would be Kyle Davies, making his ninth career start. Davies had a fairly generic 113 ERA-, 94 FIP-, 107 xFIP- in his prior eight outings, but had been absolutely obliterated in his last three starts (16 runs in 12 23 innings, 6/7 K/BB ratio). The Marlins had last-gasp veteran Al Leiter going for them. Leiter had had a long, often-solid career, but after the Mets declined an option on him, he signed on for a second stint with the Fish. It was going terribly. Though he’d held the Braves to three runs in two starts (albeit with a 5/7 K/BB ratio), he was getting brutalized by everyone else — 154 ERA-, 132 FIP-, 140 xFIP- were his marks coming into this game. Yet, the Marlins weren’t moving on from him, at least not yet.

How it happened: Lots of baserunners, fly balls, and the like in this one. Rafael Furcal started the game by reaching on a bunt single. He moved to second on Marcus Giles’ one-out single, but the inning ended when Andruw Jones hit into a first-pitch, 5-3 double play. Davies had a random, errant four-pitch, two-out walk to Miguel Cabrera in the bottom half of the inning, but got an 0-2 flyout from Carlos Delgado to end the frame.

After Leiter walked Julio Franco to begin the second, it was Johnny Estrada’s turn to hit into a double play (4-6-3). That stung a bit, because Brian Jordan then connected off Leiter for his third (and last) homer of the season to ope the scoring. Davies gave up back-to-back baserunners with one out in the second, but a popout behind the plate and Leiter striking out swinging kept the lead intact.

A couple of doubles in the third from Furcal and Giles added a second Atlanta run. Davies once again issued a walk in the bottom of the inning, giving him three straight frames with a free pass, but retired Cabrera and Delgado on pops.

The Braves just kept hammering Leiter. They got a single and a double in the fourth, but unfortunately, another Estrada 4-6-3 double play ball came between them, so no runs scored. Davies didn’t give up a walk in the fourth, but he did give up a two-out moonshot to Juan Encarnacion, cutting the lead in half. After a single, he again went to the “strike out Leiter swinging” well to end the frame.

The Braves, though, negated that run pretty quickly. Furcal walked with one out in the fifth, stole second and moved to third on an error on his steal attempt, and then had all of that rendered pointless when Kelly Johnson creamed a Leiter pitch into right-center, making it 4-1 Braves. Leiter was completely discombobulated at this point, following his homer with back-to-back walks. That prompted the Marlins to remove him in favor of Nate Bump, a below-replacement multi-inning type making one of his last career appearances. Bump retired Franco and Estrada to keep it a three-run game. Leiter ended up yielding four runs in 4 13 with four walks and four strikeouts each; that this wasn’t a terrible start by his 2005 standards says a lot about his final season.

Davies was his same, not particularly effective self in the fifth, his final inning. A leadoff walk, a single, and a wild pitch was a terrible start. Cabrera then lined the ninth pitch of his at-bat back up the middle for an RBI single. Davies was able to strand a runner at third with three straight flyouts, but all in all, he needed 102 pitches to clear five innings, while allowing four walks and striking out just two batters.

The game then turned to the bullpens, and seemed to be going just fine in this regard for Atlanta. Bump cleared the sixth despite a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans. Kevin Gryboski came on for the Braves, allowed a leadoff hit, erased it on a double play, and then got a flyout from pinch-hitter Jeff Conine.

Guillermota Mota came on for the seventh and gave up an awful four-pitch leadoff walk to Johnson, but then struck out Giles on three pitches. (What a turnaround). The Braves then ran themselves out of the inning with a full-count Andruw strikeout and Johnson getting gunned down trying to steal second. Blaine Boyer (departed after a two-out walk to Cabrera) and John Foster combined for a scoreless seventh, and Mota went 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Veteran Jim Brower, who had been released by the Giants earlier in the season and added (for some reason) to the Braves’ bullpen, worked a scoreless bottom of the eighth despite a leadoff walk of his own. Todd Jones, the Florida closer, worked a scoreless top of the ninth (I guess he needed work), striking out pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche and Johnson after walking Langerhans. (LaRoche was pinch-hitting in the #1 spot because Furcal left the game with a leg injury and was double-switched out in the eighth, with Pete Orr coming on to play third and Wilson Betemit moving to shortstop.)

The bottom of the ninth was the beginning of the slow-motion unraveling that was this game. While many Braves fans have very negative impressions of Chris Reitsma, those largely stem from his 2006 season, where he indeed had a legendary implosion. In 2005, though, Reitsma was far and away the team’s best reliever. He stepped into the closer role after the runaway disaster that was the Dan Kolb experiment, and to this point, had an 82/62/70 pitching line with positive WPA and only four meltdowns on the year, though one did come in his last outing a few days ago. Unfortunately, this was another meltdown, though it wasn’t really Reitsma’s fault.

The inning started fine enough, with pinch-hitter Damion Easley lining out to Betemit at short. Juan Pierre then trickled an 0-2 pitch to Giles at second and beat it out. Luis Castillo followed with a first-pitch single up the middle, moving Pierre to third and reaching base as the tying run. Cabrera followed in Pierre’s footsteps and beat out an infield single of his own, making it a 4-3 game. Delgado followed with a first-pitch roller through the left side that tied the game. After Mike Lowell flew out, Paul LoDuca grounded one hard back up the middle. It probably would have gotten through the infield and ended the game, but the ball hit Reitsma in the chest, turning it into a groundout rather than a walkoff hit. In any case, though, the Braves now had more work to do.

The bullpen battle continued, with the Braves a little bloodied up. Jim Mecir threw a quick frame for the Fish in the 10th, as Andruw’s one-out single was immediately erased when Mecir caught Franco’s liner back at him and doubled Andruw off first. Kolb matched Mecir with a perfect inning of his own, including two strikeouts. In the 11th, the Marlins got another 1-2-3 inning, this time from Valerio de los Santos. Kolb then nearly lost the game in his second inning of work, as he gave up singles to Pierre and Castillo to start the inning. However, Cabrera hit into a double play, and after intentionally walking Delgado, Kolb induced a pop from Lowell to send the game to the 12th.

De los Santos walked pinch-hitter Brian McCann with one out, and after striking out Johnson, gave way to John Riedling, another below-replacement Marlins reliever that didn’t quite pitch like it in this game. Riedling threw one pitch in the 12th, and Giles turned it into a groundout to short.

At this point, the Braves had already used six relievers, and were out of position players. Their next-to-last man out of the bullpen was Jorge Vasquez, making just his seventh major league appearance. Vasquez was acquired in the offseason as the exchange piece in the Eli Marrero salary dump to the Royals, and was really only up with the big league club because the bullpen had few reliable options at this point behind Reitsma, Gryboski, and the recently-called up Boyer. Somehow, some way, Vasquez found a way to not lose the game in the 12th. Two pitches in, LoDuca connected for a double down the left-field line. Before Vasquez had even thrown another pitch, he was called for a balk, putting the walkoff run on third with none out. Encarnacion hit one to third, and LoDuca had to stay put. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez followed with a grounder to second, which allowed Giles to throw LoDuca out at the plate. After a four-pitch walk to Lenny Harris (who actually entered to play the field in this game, one of his final non-pinch-hit appearances ever), Vasquez finally got out of it wholesale with a Pierre groundout to first. Phew.

It was (momentarily) good that the game didn’t end right there and then, because Andruw greeted Riedling in the 13th with a mammoth homer into left, giving the Braves their first run since the fifth. The Braves weren’t done yet, either. With one out, Estrada singled. With two outs, Betemit reached on an infield single, knocked down by Gonzalez behind the second-base bag. The Marlins then tried to force the issue, intentionally walking Langerhans to bring up Vasquez’ spot in the order... and the Braves, for whatever reason, didn’t pinch-hit or do anything. Granted, they were out of position players, but still, this was the first and only major league PA of Vasquez’ career, and though he actually fouled off a few pitches, he went down swinging in the end.

Here’s why the move ended up being baffling. You could make the case that the Braves simply didn’t want to use Adam Bernero, their last remaining pitcher (who was actually doing pretty well to this point, but had a gnarly-bad ERA due to the usual culprits of a high BABIP and low strand rate), except that after Vasquez gave up a single to Castillo to start the bottom half of the inning, the Braves just went ahead and pulled him for Bernero anyway. Not that Bernero really did any better or saved the Braves in this one. Instead, his performance was reminiscent of the Reitsma pratfall that got the Braves into this mess. After entering the game, Bernero gave up a single to Cabrera. A couple of fly balls put him an out away, but on a full count, LoDuca hit one back up the middle that, this time, did not connect with a Braves pitcher. Castillo scored easily, and the game was tied. Encarnacion followed with a clean single to right on the very next pitch, ending the game because Langerhans’ throw from right didn’t have enough juice to beat Cabrera to the plate. Welp.

Game MVP: Paul LoDuca, who went 3-for-7 with a double, nearly ending the game once, and then tying it back up to set up the win. LoDuca’s 2005, his first full year in Miami, was pretty mediocre (1.3 fWAR in over 400 PAs), and this was his highest-WPA game over the season with .527, though not the highest of his career.

Game LVP: Adam Bernero, whose failure was not entirely the result of him getting crushed, but still not great after a hard-fought and frustrating game. This was by far his worst outing, WPA-wise, of the season (took a lead and turned it into a loss), and the second-worst of his career. Despite not being as much of a problem, relief-wise, as some other members of the team, Bernero only made three more appearances as a Brave before being sent to the minors and getting DFAed in September.

Biggest play: LoDuca’s game-tying single off Bernero, because it didn’t clip Bernero the way a similar ball did clip Reitsma earlier.

The game, in context of the season: As frustrating as this loss was, it didn’t really have many ill effects long-term. The Braves did drop the next game to split the series with the Marlins, but they then won seven of eight as part of their awesome 18-8 July. The Braves came into that July 4.5 games back; they left it five games up, gaining ground or not losing it every day between July 20 and July 31 (going 8-2 in that span). The Marlins mostly just hung around at the periphery of the playoff picture, finishing with 83 wins (which put them fourth in the tough 2005 NL East).

After this start, Leiter temporarily lost his rotation spot. He’d make just one relief appearance before returning, then took just one more turn as a starter in Miami before being dealt to the Yankees, where he finished his career. He finished 2005 with 0.5 fWAR in 142 innings, though he was below-replacement as a Marlin and had 0.6 fWAR in 10 starts and six relief appearances as a Yankee. Davies rookie season was only marginally better — 0.7 fWAR across 14 starts and seven relief appearances spanning 87 23 innings. At least he got his K/BB ratio above 1.00.

Video? Nope.

TC Anything: No, too early, and thank the deity of your choice for that.

Anything else? This game took 4:43 to play. It was by far the longest game of the year for the 2005 Braves, who otherwise had no games spanning more than four hours. The Braves and Marlins played a different 13-inning game in April (the Braves won 2-1), and that game took 57 minutes less to complete than this one. It was the Braves’ longest game since 2002, though they’d play an even longer one the following season (and have played 13 longer ones since). The Marlins wouldn’t play a longer game in 2009, which happened to be the second game of a doubleheader (brutal).

This game was managed by Harry Dunlop, as normal Florida manager Jack McKeon was away at a funeral.

Andruw Jones, of course, had his career year in 2005, with 51 homers, a 134 wRC+, and 7.9 fWAR. Just like he did for the whole season, he was already the league leader in homers at this point with his 25th in this game. Andruw’s homer in this game was his 13th of June, which still stands as a single-month record for any Brave. Justin Upton had 12 in April 2013, and there have been a handful of instances of 11, including Ronald Acuña Jr. twice.

2005 was also Furcal’s career year (4.5 fWAR). From June 6 through July 31, Furcal put up a 142 wRC+; he had a 57 wRC+ before June 6.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 29: On this date in 1975, Steve Wozniak first tested his prototype Apple I. (The building it of it was financed, in part, by Steve Jobs selling his VW Microbus.) 32 years later (2007), coincidentally on the same date, Apple first released the iPhone.