You could say the umpiring was bad last night. Skip Caray could well have said Jerry Meals made a dogs dinner of the game. Everyone in the park knew that Julio Lugo was out on Scott Proctor’s 19th inning ground ball. Everyone that is but Meals who said McKenry missed the swipe tag and Lugo was safe, ending the longest game in Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates history. Looking at the reverse angle replay this morning however, it looks like Michael McKenry might actually have missed Lugo and Meals made the right call.
Whether Meals really has x-ray vision or after six hours and thirty-two minutes in the Atlanta heat, simply thought he saw the glove miss Lugo’s leg I don’t know. That call capped an already bad night for Meals from the Braves perspective. His quick trigger finger sent Nate McLouth and Fredi Gonzalez to the showers early and a strike zone that wandered to the right handed batters box and just above the shoe tops for Pirates pitchers yet not including the outer third off the plate belt high when Cristhian Martinez sliced a hunk off of it in the 15th or 16th inning, brought continued and justifiable howls for him to find a zone and stick with it. I thought Meals was going to throw Martinez out of the game in the 15th or 16th – at this point the innings are a blur for me -when he walked around in front of the plate and yelled at the obviously frustrated pitcher. The game however should not have gone that far.
The Braves lineup once again failed with RISP over and over again going 2-19 on the night leaving 23 runners on base. Noted lineup black hole Alex Gonzalez didn’t start the game and only left one man in scoring position. Martin Prado went 0-5 with RISP and 0-9 on the night. (If 4 ks is a golden sombrero, Prado must have his own Mariachi band.) Nate McLouth struck out in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out. Freddie Freeman failed twice with two out RISP and Lugo once.
A serious body blow to Braves hopes came in the tenth when Brian McCann left the game after straining an oblique on a throw to second base. He was put on the 15 day DL this morning and J.C. Boscan is expected to be called up. His injury hurt the Braves already faltering lineup on many levels.
- McCann is the leader on and off the field. When things start to get out of hand Mac always steps in and calms things down. With Chipper now out and fragile when playing, we have no every day player to take that role and leadership down the stretch is essential.
- McCann is our best hitter all around hitter and the man no team wants to face in the clutch. He leads the team in RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS and is tied with Dan Uggla for homers. As long as McCann gets to the plate you feel the Braves always have a chance to win.
- While Ross is a superb defensive catcher his batting average declines pretty quickly when he’s asked to play every day over a long period.
- Boscan is okay behind the plate but hitting under .200 at Gwinnett. When (if) he gives Ross a day off, the lineup deteriorates further.
The table below shows where we are now, where we and our challengers will be if everyone continues to win at the same clip and the winning percentage we need to overtake the Phillies. You judge whether the division is in reach.
I think the likelihood of overtaking the Phillies is rapidly vanishing into fantasy land. There are too few games left and the winning streak required too big for our depleted roster. We must focus on winning the wild card and being strong enough to make it through multiple rounds of the playoffs. A one and done year should not be acceptable.
The lineup is now in disarray and bullpen divided between the overworked and the inconsistent. The outfield, including the suddenly slumping Prado, seems unable to unable to deliver in the clutch and McLouth’s recent public acting out after making a mistake or getting a bad call, makes me think he’s feeling the pressure of a pennant chase.
Chipper Jones’ strained quad not only keeps keeps him out for “a few games” it highlights the difficulty even a fine athlete like Jones has keeping himself game ready at age 39. Jordan Schafer’s broken finger could send him to the DL and the hit he took on his wrist last night was no love pat. He showed a lot of guts by staying in the game but it may feel different today. Gonzalez increasing futility at the plate appears to be incurable. Julio Lugo – not withstanding his play last night – is not a major league shortstop anymore.
Wisely chosen, multiple roster improvements are needed now, in the pen and on the bench, to keep us in front of the other potential Wildcard teams. A small decrease in our winning percentage and similar increase in that of either the Bucs, Brewers, Cards or DBacks could easily see us playing golf in October while they play in the post season.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the heroes of the game. For the Braves it was their bullpen led by Christhian Martinez and the play of injured center fielder Jordan Schafer. For the Bucs it was Daniel McCutchen and Michael McKenry.
George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink came in to p[itch shutdown innings. Martinez threw six superb innings allowing two hits and walked no one while striking out six. Two of those Ks came with runners on third and a dangerous hitter at the plate. Even the much maligned Scott Proctor managed to get through two nail biting breath holding, runners on base innings to hit the ball that allowed Lugo to score. I appreciate how difficult that was for Proctor in particular, being the last guy in the bullpen while Martinez polished his résumé and gained respect from everyone watching.
Jordan Schafer who couldn’t hold a bat tightly before the game because of a chip fracture to his finger, played good defense, manned up when hit in his oft injured left wrist, lay down a superb two strike bunt base hit and singled to center in the 19th to put Lugo on third.
Daniel McCutchen – normally a one and done setup man who doesn’t bat – threw five really good innings striking out three. He also hustled – actually ran like his pants were on fire every time he hit the ball and almost beat out two ground balls for hits. Pirates catcher Michael McKenry gets an atta-boy and a hot bath with massage for catching 19 innings superbly.
One last thought. Throughout the game and into extra innings our announcers kept pointing out how every Pirate was up on the railing watching every pitch, how they hustled after every ball, ran out every ground ball and popup. It was obvious that they all want this very badly, believe they can do it and leave their egos in the hotel at game time. Once upon a time I saw those same things every game from the Braves.