When the Braves fell behind 5-1 in the third game of the Nationals series on Thursday night, it looked like they were headed for the dreaded home sweep. But Martin Prado wouldn’t have any of that when he dug into the batter’s box in the bottom of the 7th with the bases loaded. After fouling off tough pitch after tough pitch from Nats closer-turned-middle reliever Sean Burnett, the Braves’ clutch left-fielder drew the count full and finally got a pitch to his liking, and he knew just what to do with it, cranking a grand slam over the left-center field wall and knotting the game up at 5-5. The Braves would go on to win it in the bottom of the 10th, when (who else) Martin Prado scored on a Brian McCann frozen rope down the right field line after Chipper Jones was intentionally walked.
So the Braves salvaged 1 game in this series, after the defense let down Tim Hudson in the first game, and the bullpen (namely closer Craig Kimbrel and virtual BP tosser Scott Linebrink) let down Tommy Hanson in game two. After a valiant effort from Dan Uggla (who hit a 3-run bomb late in the first game to trim the once 7-1 lead down to 7-6) and the rest of the Braves offense fell just a touch short, the team and skipper Fredi Gonzalez had to have a good attitude going into the rest of the series considering they didn’t throw in the towel. For Kimbrel, it was his 3rd blown save in 10 chances when he coughed up the 3-1 lead in the 9th inning of the second game, ultimately leading to a 7-3 runaway loss in 11 innings – which has to concern Gonzalez a touch, especially with Jonny Venters being so lights out lately. But the last 3 outs are a different animal entirely – when you know you’re the last line of defense, without the luxury of a security blanket behind you like Venters has had all year pitching the 8th, and Gonzalez said after the game he’s sticking with Kimbrel in the 9th inning role, and I agree with the call. Young closers have to endure a baptism by fire of sorts, and this should only make Kimbrel tougher and more competitive. He certainly has the stuff and the proven track record on every level, so I see no need to make a change…yet. First pitch strikes are the key to his success – when he keeps that first guy from reaching, he’s much more effective. I liked what I saw out of Brian McCann in the third game too, when Kimbrel was back out there in the 10th in yet another tight game, Mac went out to the mound to calm down the young fireballer at the first hint of overthrowing – and soon thereafter Kimbrel had settled down and mowed right through the heart of the Nats order, striking out the side and giving his team a chance for the walk off win.
Now the Phillies come calling again as the Braves and Phils will square off in a 3 game set for the second time in as many weekends. The Braves are 4.5 back of Philadelphia in the standings and will have a chance to put a dent in that deficit. I expect the lead story in this series once again to be starting pitching. Beachy vs. Hamels will get things kicked off tonight. Jurrjens vs. Blanton scheduled to go on Saturday, and the main event – Hudson vs. Halladay will close things out on Sunday afternoon. The Braves might be without the services of young star RF Jason Heyward for the weekend, still feeling the effects of a sore shoulder. We’ll see where these 2 NL East rivals and contenders stand when the dust settles on Sunday night. Should be fun!
The Good: One word: Resiliency. The last time the Braves gave away 2 wins at home to start a series (against St. Louis), they got a come from behind walk off win to end the series, then went on to win the next 5. Let’s hope recent history repeats itself.
The Bad: While the MRI on Jason Heyward’s non-throwing right shoulder showed no structural damage on Thursday, he’s still experiencing numbness and general discomfort with range of motion. The team is hoping to have him back in the lineup at some point over the weekend or early next week after a cortisone shot to relieve the pain and swelling.
The Ugly: The defense was atrocious early in this series, highlighted by Nate McClouth’s crucial drop of a fly ball to right-center in game 1 that would have ended the inning for Tim Hudson. Of course the very next batter, Laynce Nix, deposited a 3-run homer deep into the right field seats. In Nate’s defense, he took a peak at a roaming Jason Heyward at the last second, and had to have a flashback of the 6′ 6″ Heyward trucking him in a nasty collision in Arizona last year costing the 5′ 10″ McLouth a chunk of the season. The usually sure-handed Freddie Freeman also inexplicably dropped the ball on his way to touch first en route to a 2 error day for him. No long term concerns for either player though, both good defenders who should be even less careless going forward.
About the Author
Written by Marcus Young
"A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He is...SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!...Braves win!" The late great Skip Caray with my favorite sports call of all time as a lumbering Sid Bream was able to beat Barry Bonds' three-hopper to the plate by an eyelash in the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to secure the Atlanta Braves' miraculous back-to-back World Series trips in 1991 and 1992. I grew up in Atlanta, I am still a die hard Braves, Falcons, and Hawks fan and am hungry for another championship to put alongside that lonely 1995 World Series trophy! I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2002 and am back living in Hot-lanta now. Go Deacs and Go Dawgs! My favorite athletes are John Smoltz, Magic Johnson, and Brett Favre. Braves are on a mission in 2011 in the 20th anniversary of that magical 1991 season!