This game is kind of the companion piece to the July 4 game we covered last week, where the Braves lost to the Marlins despite one team being good and one team being really not so good, just because baseball is always excited to teach you new dimensions of disappointment and rage. It goes without saying that for much of the background, check out that flashback/recap, if you care.
The gist: The Braves and Marlins somehow battled to a 1-1 standstill for 13 innings, with Mike Minor allowing just one run, and Kevin Slowey allowing zero in his last start of the year. The Marlins kept threatening, the Braves just did not. After the Braves scored their run in the sixth thanks to a leadoff triple, they literally did not have a baserunner until the top of the 14th. And then, against Chris Hatcher, they found all the runs — sending 11 to the plate and scoring six runs to come away with a blowout-but-not-really, 7-1 victory.
The set-up: Again, for most of the set-up, see the July 4 game linked above. The Braves lost that series to the woeful Marlins, and followed that up by going to Philadelphia and losing a series there, too. As a result, their division lead was down to four games, the smallest it had been since May 20. Still, the Braves were 50-38, though at this point, this was only the league’s sixth-best record, given that the Braves had now lost four of five after winning six of seven. The Marlins followed their series win over the Braves by getting swept in St. Louis. They were 32-55, in last place in the NL East, but toting only MLB’s second-worst record.
For the Braves, Mike Minor was making his second straight start against the Marlins. He struck out nine but lost his last one, giving up four runs in six innings (three walks, one homer). While Minor was having a good year overall (85 ERA-, 95 FIP-, 93 xFIP-), he was fading a bit lately on the surface (130/114/95) over his last four starts.
For the Marlins, the starter du jour was Kevin Slowey, who was banished from the rotation in June after being pretty bad. Slowey had provided livable long relief with one spot start since, and here he was making another. On the year, his pitching slash was 115/110/108. In their only win in the prior Braves-Marlins series, the Braves had tagged him for four runs in two relief innings in a blowout. Earlier in the year, Slowey made his second start of the season against the Braves, and was the loser in a 2-0 game.
How it happened: In cavernous Marlins Park, this game was a Monday night pitcher’s dream even as it turned into a marathon. Slowey and Minor exchanged 11-pitch and 12-pitch 1-2-3 innings in the first. Freddie Freeman led off the second with the game’s first hit, a single over first, but was immediately erased on a 3-6-1 double play off the bat of Brian McCann. That meant Dan Uggla’s double high off the left-center fence didn’t drive in a run, and B.J. Upton struck out to end the inning.
There wouldn’t be any further baserunners until the top of the fourth, when Justin Upton connected for a one-out double, flaring one between Giancarlo Stanton and the right-field line. Slowey then pitched around Freeman, but got a groundout from McCann and a looking strikeout from Uggla to strand Upton on second. The Marlins finally got their own baserunners against Minor in the bottom of the inning, as Ed Lucas doubled on what should have been a single (B.J. Upton didn’t get the ball in quickly, Uggla dropped the ball when he could’ve tagged Lucas out) and Stanton walked, but just like the Braves, the Marlins blew it. A harmless fly and a grounder sent the game to the fifth.
Chris Johnson got a one-out single off Slowey in the fifth, but it too amounted to nothing. The Marlins then actually scored a run. Leadoff (Adeiny Hechavarria) and two-out (pinch-hitter Placido Polanco, batting for Slowey) singles up the middle set up Justin Ruggiano’s RBI liner to left. Lucas flew out, stranding two.
The Braves, though, immediately countered. Southpaw Dan Jennings came on for Slowey (five innings, no runs, one walk, three strikeouts) and immediately gave up a triple to Jason Heyward. Justin Upton followed with a deep looping fly to right that easily scored Heyward. The Braves got nothing else; McCann flew out in a 3-0 count.
Minor stayed in for the bottom of the sixth and had a pretty annoying inning. It started with a leadoff four-pitch walk to Stanton, was extended by a Hechavarria two-out single, and then once again when Derek Dietrich hit a little nubber that stayed fair in the vicinity of third base. Fortunately for Minor, Jeff Mathis was up next, and though it took seven pitches, Minor finally struck him out on a challenge 90 mph four-seamer down the pipe.
With the game tied, though, the Braves went into some kind of extreme, fairy-tale esque stupor. The Marlins’ bullpen went 21 up, 21 down, (plus technically three more from Jennings earlier) with Ryan Webb starting the train with an inning, and then Chad Qualls, Steve Cishek, and former Brave Mike Dunn throwing two frames each. Only five of the outs were strikeouts, so the Braves weren’t being dominated... but they were kept off the bases all the same.
That could not be said for the Marlins vis-a-vis the Atlanta relief corps. Minor left after a pop-out from pinch-hitter Juan Pierre, giving him 6 1⁄3 innings of one-run, four-strikeout, two-walk ball. Jordan Walden came on and issued back-to-back walks to Ruggiano and Lucas before succeeding at the harder task of retiring Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. Luis Avilan navigated the eighth and ninth near-perfectly, but for a leadoff hit-by-pitch in the eighth. Anthony Varvaro, Craig Kimbrel, and David Carpenter followed with perfect innings thereafter, but Carpenter got close to giving the game away in the 13th. The inning started with a solid Stanton single to left. A very wild pitch moved him to second, and another wild pitch hit Ozuna on 3-2. For whatever reason, despite Carpenter’s lack of control, Morrison swung at the first pitch he saw and promptly hit into a lifesaving 3-6-3 double play. A shallow pop into right with Stanton on third kept the Braves alive for another inning.
At that point, I guess, they decided they better find the runs. And they did, oh boy, how they did. The new Miami reliever was Chris Hatcher, who’d had very brief stints with the Marlins in 2011 and 2012, and was making his first appearance of 2013 in this game. With the way it went, you could be a little surprised it wasn’t his last appearance of 2013.
The inning started with the Braves’ first baserunner since the Heyward triple in the sixth: a Reed Johnson walk on seven pitches. (Reed Johnson had been double-switched in for B.J. Upton when Minor left the game.) Andrelton Simmons followed with a bunt attempt (why?) but ended up bouncing the ball off the back of the the plate and into his own arm and thigh as he got out of the box, creating ye olde batter bunt interference out. Hatcher followed with a four-pitch walk to Heyward, and Upton, who had tied the game in the sixth, untied it with a smashed double over third. The Braves were up 3-1, but they weren’t done. After an intentional walk to Freeman, pinch-hitter Tyler Pastornicky reached on an “infield single” that was really just a combination of a mental and physical mistake by new first baseman Greg Dobbs, who had entered the game along with Hatcher. That loaded the bases and Hatcher still had a chance to get out of it having yielded just two runs when he struck out Uggla, but Gerald Laird followed with a single up the middle to make it 5-1. Chris Johnson followed with another single to left that handcuffed Ruggiano, and it was 7-1. Reed Johnson then reached base for a second time in the inning on a throwing error by Hechavarria at short, and then finally, Simmons ended the inning with his second out in it, a fly to left-center.
Alex Wood, still a reliever at this point (he’d turn into a starter in a couple of weeks) wrapped it up with a scoreless bottom half of the 14th, giving up a one-out single but nothing else.
Game MVP: Justin Upton, who tied the game with his sac fly in the sixth, and untied it with his double in the 14th. Upton went 2-for-5 with the double and those three runs driven in overall. He was still scuffling mightily at this point, with a 59 wRC+ over his last 160 PAs, but this game was somewhat of a turnaround for him, as his next 160 PAs featured a 167 wRC+ and he finished the season at 129. (As a result of a crazy-good April, he entered the game at 119.)
Game LVP: Who else but Chris Hatcher, who completely imploded and spoiled some ridiculously dominant work by the Miami bullpen? Hatcher only made seven (mostly really bad) appearances in relief for Miami in 2013, but turned the corner in 2014 to put up a very quality relief season (0.8 fWAR). Since then, he’s bounced around effectiveness-wise and team-wise. He’s had three worse outings WPA-wise since, but this was his worst outing in that regard until 2018. (All three worse WPA outings have come with Oakland, despite the fact that only 57 of his 250 career appearances have come in the green and yellow.) Hatcher was sent back to the minors after this game, but came back up later anyway.
Biggest play: Upton’s go-ahead double in the 14th. Finally.
The game, in context of the season: Again, most of this was covered under the July 4 game. The Braves cruised and won this series as a small measure of revenge for the ignominious series loss in the prior week. The Marlins were mostly bad.
Minor had a breakout year with 3.4 fWAR, his best total until 2019. Slowey returned to the bullpen but made just two relief appearances before a flexor strain ended his season. He finished the year with 0.9 fWAR in 92 innings, which isn’t half-bad. In 2014, he was much worse and was released partway through the season, retiring after failing to latch on with a team in 2015. He currently works as an assistant to MLBPA head Tony Clark.
Condensed game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9DeGq_j9AY
TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Much of the focus was on getting Freddie Freeman an All-Star Game selection. Game-wise, mostly discussion about the lineup and the need to get Andrelton Simmons out of the leadoff spot.
Anything else? This game featured a stretch where seven relievers combined to retire 30 straight batters. Baseball! And relievers!
This game started with the roof at Marlins Park opened. The roof closed mid-game, but the Marlins fell to 0-13 in games that at least started with the roof open.
Brian McCann had an absurd 351 wRC+ in his past eight games coming into this one, but went 0-for-5. Even so, he had a 181 wRC+ for the month of July. What remains absurd is that that isn’t even one of his best four monthly marks of his career — he tops out at a 199 wRC+ across 92 PAs of June 2011. Brian McCann was so, so good.
Heyward’s triple in this game was his only one of 2013. He had a still-a-career-high six in 2012, and has hit multiple triples in every season so far but 2013 and 2016.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about July 8: The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was done on this day in 1776 in Philadelphia by John Nixon. The Liberty Bell was potentially one of the bells rung to call attention to said reading, but no one really knows for sure. After all, even though the Liberty Bell was built in 1752, no one really cared about it until it was used as an abolitionist image starting in the 1830s. (The story that the big crack in it came from vigorous ringing post-Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 is apocryphal.)