(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
You know it’s not good when you’re walking to the car a little before 1 a.m. last night and a great stat dawns on you just as you’re leaving the building, long after your game story is filed.
Well, I couldn’t do anything about it in that moment, so I’m rehashing it for your reading pleasure now. How ironic was it that the key at-bat last night in a 5-3 extra inning loss to the Cardinals was when Brian McCann grounded into a double play with the bases loaded, and the Braves couldn’t add on to Nate McLouth’s homer in the second inning.
That was the guy who’d been killing it with runners in scoring position – leading the majors in fact with a .688 (11-for-16) average with RISP and 13 RBIs. As manager Fredi Gonzalez said last night, Chris Carpenter made a great pitch at the right time to get McCann and avoid key add-on runs.
McCann had come up with a runner at second in the first inning and lined out to left, hard out.
It would have been nice to point that out in my gamer. Nothing like great timing. Moving on…
Chipper like a young buck
It’s a day game after a night game, and a night game that went 11 innings at that, and Chipper Jones is back in the lineup today at third base. This is pretty much the trend this year, for the recently-turned 39-year-old who seems to be in the lineup as often as a 20-something.
Jones is making his 25th start in 28 games this season on Saturday. He’s missed only one start with a nagging injury – a sore right knee last weekend in San Francisco, the opposite one from his surgically-repaired left knee.
“It’s early and I’m fresh,” Jones said. “I want to take advantage of it while I got it.”
He gave that the familiar wry smile. And judging from the way he sounded like morning, he wasn’t fresh, fresh. West Coast road trip will mess with your clock and he said he was still awake at 5:30 a.m. this morning. Then he was up early to see his 6-year-old son Shea play in a machine pitch game at 8:30 a.m.
Shea went 2-for-2, by the way.
But Jones and Gonzalez seem to have developed a trust already where Gonzalez leaves it up to the veteran to tell him when he needs a day off.
“He and I have had great conversations,” Jones said. “Pretty much every day game he comes up and asks me, especially after a late night game like last night. I feel fine. And this is an important time of the year for us. I think you need to be in there as much as you can.”
“Dude – you faced Albert Pujols”
In the game-within-the-game department last night, we had the rookie reliever Cory Gearrin taking on the best hitter in the game Albert Pujols in the 10th inning with the game on the line.
Gearrin wound up taking the loss allowing a two-run triple to Nick Punto in the 11th, the first hit Gearrin has allowed in a charmed week to begin his major league career.
But let’s not forget about the 10th inning, when he mowed through the heart of the Cardinals order – Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman. Gearrin said he was told he might come on to face Pujols in the seventh inning, so when it happened in the 10th, he was ready.
“I was excited,” Gearrin said. “That’s what you want. You want to face the best and see how you stack up.”
Stacked up well last night. The young sidearmer got Pujols to ground out to second base on a 2-2 fastball away. He struck out Holliday, who was leading the majors with a .433 average coming into the series, and coaxed a groundout from Berkman, who was hitting a cool .410 coming in himself.
What made it all the better for Gearrin was having a host of his former teammates from his Young Harris College baseball team, as well as his family, at Turner Field to see his home debut.
He said his old teammates were gathered around the Braves bullpen the whole game and were there to watch him warm up. They came around behind home plate once he came into the game.
They were among 30 friends and family to make the trip down to see the Chattanooga native pitch.
“They were like ‘Dude, you faced Albert Pujols,’” Gearrin said. “That’s a lot of fun, knowing what he’s done in this game, the quality player he is. Getting to share that with friends and family here was something none of us will forget.”
I’m going to write a note on Craig Kimbrel here shortly so I’ll leave the serious stuff for that. For now I’ll just point out the hard-hitting news that he’s changed his entrance song.
The rookie closer ditched “Devour” by Shinedown and went with the more familiar “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns-n-Roses. I think it was a good choice. It’s more upbeat, more people know it. Resonated better in the stadium.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” said Kimbrel, who’d actually changed the song before the West Coast trip but the game staff needed some time to get it ready to go.
As for “Devour?” he said, “It just didn’t sound good on the speakers.”
Beachy vs. Westbrook
Brandon Beachy is on the mound today looking for a third consecutive quality start and a third consecutive Braves win in a game he starts.
Jairo Asencio’s four-run seventh cost Beachy a win his last time out in San Francisco, but Beachy allowed only two runs in six innings in the outing. He’s still looking for his first home win (he finally broke through for his first major league win in a 10-1 win in LA). He’s 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in three starts at Turner Field, where opponents are hitting .309 off him.
The Braves face groundball specialist Jake Westbrook, who’s ranked 11th in the National League with 56 groundouts and seventh in double plays induced (12). He has the best groundball percentage in the majors (76.9 percent) since being acquired by the Cardinals from Cleveland at the trade deadline last year.
Westbrook is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts against the Braves but allowed them only two runs in six innings in a no-decision last September.
1. Prado LF
2. Heyward RF
3. Jones 3B
4. McCann C
5. Uggla 2B
6. Freeman 1B
7. Gonzalez SS
8. McLouth CF
9. Beachy P