On a day when rain delayed the start and a hail storm hastened Tommy Hanson’s exit, the Braves seemed as changeable as the weather. In spite of double digit hits off National’s pitchers the Braves only scored 3 times, 2 on solo homers and one thanks to a Chipper Jones single. The pattern of the game seemed eerily reminiscent of last summer; with runners in scoring position the bats went to sleep. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
From the start Tommy Hanson seemed to have mislaid the strike zone. Tweeters watching the game with me complained he was getting squeezed by the umpire but it didn’t seem that way to me. I saw a pitcher who had no idea why he was missing and was searching for an answer. As a result he surrendered 4 runs in 3 2/3 innings before a hail delay allowed him to leave quietly to be replaced by Cristhian Martinez. The pitching after Hanson was pretty good. Martinez, Linebrink, Sherrill (against the lefties) and Moylan did their jobs but we couldn’t string the hits together .
Looking at the line score (3-10-1) you would think we just hit in bad luck. Actually our situational hitting was, with the exception of Chipper’s single in the second, absent. Dan Uggla’s 6th inning homer momentarily seemed to ignite the Braves. Heyward popped out but Gonzales walked and when Nationals brought in lefty Doug Slaten to face Freeman he was greeted by a double. Yet, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 1 out we managed not to score. On the day we were just 1 for 6 with RISP. Most will remember that this happened frequently last year and cost us a lot of games.
As I said, Scott Linebrink pitched well enough in his inning plus but Nate’s decision to attempt a diving catch turned a single into a Zimmerman triple. I know the official scorekeeper may not call that an error but it was certainly ill advised when we were already down by 2 runs and Zimmerman would surely have stopped at first. Zimmerman eventually scored when Rick Ankiel who had homered earlier lay down a perfect suicide squeeze off of George Sherrill. I know some will disagree with me but I think this was a clear case of the National’s manager Jim Riggleman out thinking Fredi Gonzales.
The Nats were leading and Rick Ankiel who had already homered was coming up to face George Sherrill, Sherrill had induced a ground ball out from LaRoche and walked Hairston to get to Ankiel who has no chance at all against a tough lefty like Sherrill. In my mind I could see Bobby on the top step whistling and making that bunting motion but Fredi gave no such indication. Riggleman called it and ex-pitcher Ankiel executed the squeeze perfectly with the defense caught flat footed. Although Alex Gonzales (3-3 and a walk) hit an almost one handed homer into the bullpen in the 8th the Braves were done.
Having said all that, it’s only game two and the news isn’t that bad. Chipper’s still hot, Uggla has flexed his muscles, Gonzales and Heyward have shown pop as well. Freeman continues to hit left and right handed pitching, Prado will hit and with him on base McLouth will get better pitches. The runs will come and we have the power bats we’ve been missing for a while. Except for Hanson – who may have found holding on to the ball in 40 degree weather after being in Florida difficult and will get better – the pitching remains very good.