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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 5

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A big inning and a missing timely hit spelled doom in 2006

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

I know that hating opposing players is part of the fun of baseball for some people, but I’ve never really gotten into it. I pretty much hate two players, both of whom were Braves at one point. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t (and didn’t) find certain others vexing. One of those: Livan Hernandez. Honestly, Livan Hernandez had a pretty great career! He compiled 34 fWAR, and had three seasons with four-plus wins. Yet, watching him, it was always like, “This guy? This guy exists? This guy is pitching well?” Part of it was that Hernandez was on the loathed Giants in their loathsome early 2000s period. Part of it was that he then went to the Natspos, where he was annoyingly not-awful (and actually really good) while the rest of the team wasn’t. That’s pretty much the gist of this game. Stupid Livan Hernandez. Stupid 2006 Braves.

The gist: The Braves went ahead against Livan Hernandez early, but were essentially knocked out by a five-run sixth. A Jeff Francoeur homer brought them to within a run, but they stranded the tying run in scoring position in three of their next four chances to lose the game by a lone run.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: The Braves were scuffling. At one point, a week before this game, they were just a game out of a Wild Card spot. Since then, they had lost six of their last seven, including getting swept in a doubleheader by the Diamondbacks as part of an overall four-game sweep at home. As a result, they were now under .500 for the first time since May 20, and now six games back in the division. Their 18-11 May seemed like a distant memory. The good news? The lowly Nats were coming to town at 25-32, though they’d won four straight.

The Braves also had reason to feel optimistic, as Tim Hudson was their scheduled starter. Hudson had good stats through the season’s first two months (89/83/83 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-), and was trying to put a career-worst 1.8 fWAR (192 innings) in 2005 (his first season as a Brave) behind him. On the flip side, Livan Hernandez was the Nationals’ scheduled starter, and he was kinda the opposite of Hudson: 118/119/113.

How it happened: Both teams wasted little time threatening the opposing starter. After Hudson struck out Alfonso Soriano to start the game, Royce Clayton hit one over Andruw Jones for a double. A groundout moved him to third, and Hudson walked Nick Johnson to face Marlon Anderson, whom he got to ground out to end the inning. The Braves responded with a one-out single and steal by Edgar Renteria. Hernandez walked Chipper Jones to bring up Andruw, who lined into a double play that erased Renteria at second.

The Nats strung together two singles in the second, including one by Hernandez himself (a career 32 wRC+ hitter!), but Soriano flew out to thwart that rally. The Braves responded with two straight singles and a walk to lead off the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with none out. Todd Pratt, who I completely forgot was a Brave in 2006 (and with -0.4 fWAR in just 152 PAs, you can’t blame me too much) hit a routine fly into center that scored the first Atlanta run. Hudson followed with a suicide squeeze attempt that went right back to Hernandez for an out at the plate, and Marcus Giles grounded out to first to end the inning with just the lone run to show for it.

Pitching with a lead, Hudson had a 1-2-3 inning despite a leadoff walk, thanks to a caught stealing to end the inning. The Braves then went right back to putting men on against Hernandez: Renteria drew a leadoff walk, moved to third on Chipper’s double into deep center, and scored on a sacrifice fly from Andruw, that had the unfortunate result of getting Chipper thrown out trying to take third.

The Nationals threatened in the fourth once again, as Anderson connected for a leadoff double. Hudson then plunked Brendan Harris, and a comebacker yielded the inning’s first out but put the tying run into scoring position. Hudson then reeled off consecutive strikeouts against Damian Jackson and Hernandez, stranding both. Hernandez had his first perfect inning afterwards, striking out the last two batters looking.

Both pitchers had weirdly easy fifths given how messy the game had been so far. Hudson needed just six pitches to get the top of the Nats’ order, batting for a third time, to each ground out. Hernandez went groundout-strikeout-groundout, though it took him 15 pitches to do it.

And then, in the top of the sixth, the game imploded on Hudson and the Braves. Nick Johnson started the inning with another seemingly innocuous grounder to Adam LaRoche, his first-base counterpart. LaRoche flubbed it by letting it roll under his glove, and the leadoff man was on. (Earlier in the 2006 season, LaRoche had made another mistake on a Johnson grounder, loafing to first. He was benched for the blunder the next game, and the incident thrust his ADHD into the spotlight.)

Anderson then shot a weak flare that skipped past the infield, allowing the really slow Johnson to make it over to third. A flyout not deep enough to score Johnson was a positive sign, but catcher Brian Schneider followed by expelling a liner into left, totally away from how the Braves were playing him, tying the game. Jackson followed with an 0-2 liner into center that forced a throw home by Andruw. Not cut off, the throw was sufficient to prevent Schneider from scoring, but Jackson moved up to second. That was a key play for many reasons — namely that Hernandez followed with a grounder to second. Had Jackson not moved up, the ball could have been a double play. Instead, Giles attempted to throw home and failed miserably, allowing both Schneider and Jackson to score, and Hernandez to move up to second. After an intentional walk to Soriano and a groundout from Royce Clayton (get him out of there, Bobby, it’s the fourth time through the order!), Jose Vidro crushed a double into right, giving the Nationals run number five. That was it for Hudson, who had pitched 5 23 innings of five-run ball. He hadn’t allowed a homer, but the 4/3 K/BB ratio wasn’t particularly great. Macay McBride came on to face the two upcoming lefties. Johnson, who had led off the inning by reaching on the fumbled grounder, promptly drew a five-pitch walk, but Anderson finally popped out to Chipper in foul territory to end the inning. A two-error, five-run inning, with a bunch of other mistakes too. Brutal.

The Braves needed to get back into it, and they did. Hernandez, was, of course, left in to face most of the Braves’ order for a third time, and got two quick outs against the Jones boys, though Andruw’s may have cleared the fence if not for wind blowing in. But, LaRoche drew a two-out walk, and Jeff Francoeur made him pay for that by drilling his first pitch into left-center for a two-run homer. The Braves weren’t done there, either. Ryan Langerhans singled on a grounder up the middle. Pratt then hit a ball to right that Anderson straight-up goofed on, allowing Langerhans to move to third. The Braves pinch-hit for McBride with Wilson Betemit, who took Hernandez to a full count... but ended up hitting a weak fly to strand the tying run at third. Hernandez finished with a very blah line of four runs in six innings, a homer allowed, and a 3/4 K/BB ratio.

The Braves’ bullpen was just fine in this one. Chad Paronto was the first guy out for a full relief inning. He gave up a leadoff infield single, but then got three outs in the air. The third one, from pinch-hitter Daryle Ward (hitting for Hernandez) was scary, but didn’t quite get far enough to clear the center-field fence. The Nationals countered with the majestically-coiffed Gary Majewski, who threw a 1-2-3 frame. The Braves hit it hard — Giles lined out to short and Renteria nearly hit a first-pitch homer into center, but got nothing to show for it. Majewski struck out Chipper to send the game to the eighth.

Tyler Yates allowed two singles but nothing else in the eighth, ending the inning by striking out Marlon Byrd, who had come into the game in place of the other Marlon (Anderson). Majewski stayed in to face Andruw, but gave up a single into center. Former Brave Mike Stanton, in the midst of a renaissance season at 39 years of age (driven mostly just by a very low HR/FB), replaced him to face LaRoche. The Braves then tried to get fancy, with LaRoche trying to drop a bunt down when faced with the lefty-lefty situation. On the first hittable pitch, LaRoche did get a bunt down successfully, but was thrown out by the third baseman, moving Andruw to second. After an intentional walk to Francoeur, the Braves inserted the lefty-killing Matt Diaz to face Stanton, but the Nationals countered by putting in big, heavily-tattooed righty Jon Rauch. The moves went in Washington’s favor, as Diaz fouled out on the first pitch, and Pratt flew out to center on a full count.

That left just the ninth, where Ken Ray came on and shut down the Nats on just nine pitches, all of them strikes. The Braves had one more chance to get at least one run across, but they’d have to do it against Chad Cordero, the Nats’ closer. Cordero had been solid-to-really-good in 2004 and 2005, but was having a not-so-great 2006 through two months, with an ERA and WPA unsupported by some gnarly peripherals. That may have given the Braves some hope to start the frame, but two batters in, they were down to their last out. And yet, they made a game of it anyway. Renteria worked a full count and then smacked one deep to right, where it found ground for a double. Chipper worked a full count and got on base with a walk. Andruw didn’t really work anything — Cordero missed badly four times in a row, and the bases were packed. That brought up LaRoche, with the platoon advantage. Six pitches later, though, all LaRoche could do was roll one to second, and he was thrown out easily to end the game.

Game MVP: There wasn’t a huge, great showing by any individual player in this one. Jeff Francoeur was probably the closest to a standout performance, as he went 2-for-3 with a homer and even an elusive walk, though it was intentional. Francouer’s sophomore effort was far worse than his first — he put up 3.0 fWAR in less than half a season as a rookie, and followed that up with just 0.7 fWAR in nearly 700 PAs, with way worse everything (hitting, fielding, even baserunning) across the board. He did rack up the counting stats (and added some of those in this game), but a sub-.300 OBP was just brutal.

Game LVP: Some combination of LaRoche and Giles qualifies here, mostly for their defensive “contributions” in that fateful sixth. LaRoche also made the game’s last out in brutal fashion, though he actually reached base twice and scored half of Atlanta’s runs. Giles, meanwhile, ate an 0-for-5 with a strikeout, and his throwing flub was a huge problem. Despite this, LaRoche had his first okay season for the Braves (2.2 fWAR, actually the second-best season of his long career); for Giles, 2006 was his collapse year (1.0 fWAR after 5.2 the prior year). Both players were not on the 2007 team, with LaRoche traded and Giles sent packing.

Biggest play: LaRoche grounding out against Cordero to end the game. That two out, bases loaded situation is very backyard-ideal-scenario, and LaRoche didn’t come through.

The game, in context of the season: This game was part of the Braves’ doomed June, which really kept them out of the playoffs. With it, the Braves had lost five straight; they’d win just two of their first 20 games in June. The team went 6-21 in June overall, their worst month since April 2016. They actually had winning records in four of the other five months. 6-21 was the worst month in Atlanta Braves history, and you have to go back to 1935 to find a worse showing within the confines of a calendar page in franchise history (Boston Braves, 4-20). For the Nats, it was their fifth straight win, but they still coasted to a fifth-place, 71-win finish, hitting last place for good on July 5.

Hudson bounced back in 2006 somewhat, finishing with 2.5 fWAR. He wouldn’t really return to his earlier glory until the following season. He actually struggled a fair bit starting in June, with his good work in April and May really carrying his season. Hernandez was pretty much the opposite, plodding along ineffectively until the second half. He still finished with 2.0 fWAR, with half of that coming after a midseason, waiver trade to the Diamondbacks.

Video? Nope. Just a bit too old of a game.

Anything else? Earlier in the 2006 season, the Braves had beaten the Nationals by hitting a ninth-inning grand slam against Cordero, courtesy of Jeff Francoeur. This loss evened the season series between the two teams at 3-3; the Braves would lose this series but win the season series 10-8.

This game snapped a series of 11 straight times that Hernandez had taken the hill against the Braves and taken a loss. The Braves generally destroyed Hernandez in their meetings.

This was the first time the Braves had lost five straight at home since 2001.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 5: In 1995, “pure” Bose-Einstein condensate was first produced by a team of scientists, including Eric Cornell. I actually don’t really get what Bose-Einstein condensate is, but I’m pretty familiar with those three words arranged in that order, because A) Eric Cornell went to my high school and B) in college, one of my close friends (who is now a big fancy physicist human) almost “made” it or did something with it (look, I don’t know) as part of his senior thesis.