McCann saves Braves, who are in position to make move

Dan Uggla and Martin Prado trap Brian McCann for his ceremonial dirt shower after his walkoff home run in Braves' win. (AP photo)

Dan Uggla and Martin Prado trap Brian McCann for his ceremonial dirt shower after his walk-off home run in Braves' win. (AP photo)

On the last day of the homestand, the Braves were shut out for the first 8 2/3  innings, came to within one strike of blowing a series to the worst team in the National League and watched as Chipper Jones struck out three times with runners on base (twice looking)

It did not start out as a blueprint for winning a division.

“Not pretty,” Jones said.

Didn’t matter. The Braves left town after a 3-1 victory over Houston on Tuesday to begin a seven-game road trip at Arizona. They were two games behind Philadelphia in the National League East (pending the outcome of the Phillies’ game at St. Louis Tuesday night), after opening this homestand four games back.

When they return, don’t be surprised if they’re looking down the rest of the East.

The Braves found an improbable way to win a game: Brian McCann hit a two-out, two-strike, game-tying, pinch hit homer in the ninth, and then he won it with a two-run, walk-off blast in the 11th. What followed was the Braves’ new tradition of a ceremonial dirt shower at home plate.

“I ate six pounds of dirt,” he said. “It was in my mouth, my ears . . .”

Earth, sweet earth.

It may seem strange that a win and a two-game sweep over the 15-27 Astros would be cause for such celebration. But the Braves strangely have had problems with teams not named Philadelphia. They finished a road trip by winning a series over the Phillies, only to come home to lose a series to the Washington Nationals, only to follow that up with another series win over the Phillies.

See where this is going?

Jones, who looked strong in the field but tentative at the plate after returning from a knee injury (“Cortisone is a beautiful thing”), said as far back as spring training that he was not concerned with how the Braves would fare straight up against Philadelphia. He was more worried about the lesser teams.

“This was very big,” he said Tuesday. “Philly in the first month and a half of the season played some teams that, let’s just say, are not towards the top of the standings. But they take care of business against those guys. They don’t just win those series, they sweep guys. We have to stop settling for just winning the series and sweep the teams we should beat. This series wasn’t pretty. But we did what we had to do. When we play the lower-echelon teams, we have to better.”

He referenced Washington. Since 2007, the Phillies are 56-22 against the Nationals. The Braves are 40-38. That’s a 16-game difference. Last season, the Braves went 23-20 against Washington, Florida and Arizona. That’s 6½ games worse than the Phillies did (29-13). The difference in the division race was six games.

On this road trip, the Braves will travel to Arizona (17-23), the Los Angeles Angels (22-20) and Pittsburgh (18-23). Two teams have losing records. It’s opportunity time. Philadelphia, meanwhile, will play Colorado (21-18), Texas (22-19) and Cincinnati (24-17). All have winning records.

Granted, it’s only May. But a little reassurance by the Braves against the weaklings would be comforting.

“You’ve got to beat everybody, and believe me I’d rather have a team coming in red hot,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “After the series we had against Philly, this was a nice thing to see.”

The Braves can thank McCann, who homered off two Houston relievers after starter Wandy Rodriguez blanked them for eight innings.

“Not bad for a day off,” cracked catcher David Ross, who had started to give McCann a day off. “Maybe Mac should’ve come in and hit for me in the seventh and we wouldn’t have had to go extra innings. When he hit his first home run, the first person I high-fived was Fredi for putting him in.”

World domination it wasn’t. But they’re in position to make a move now.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

57 comments Add your comment

First

May 17th, 2011
6:59 pm

wxwax

May 17th, 2011
7:01 pm

Do you know how the dirt celebration started?

#1 Heyward Fan

May 17th, 2011
7:22 pm

The first time I remember seeing it this year was when Conrad hit a walk-off winner, and you could tell it was planned as they were all laughing very hard as they walked off the field. I had to rewind and play in Slo-Mo several times as I could see that they were all doing something intentional, I just couldn’t make out what it was. It was odd too because one of the rookies actually looked mad as he was fighting to get his hand full of dirt in Conrad’s pants. Anyway, I love this stuff. Bobby was an awesome manager but that whole “professionalism”, no celebration stuff just didn’t seem right, almost looked like they didn’t care. Those celebrations show a teams desire, to get that game winning hit, or that awesome final out deserves some hard core celebration on the field…it shows their passion, it promotes the commorodorie that a team needs to be successful. Create something that is exciting to watch, and that other want to be a part of and you create a dynasty that can last 10-12 years. We have done it before.

BigDawg

May 17th, 2011
7:23 pm

Hope the Braves can play with heart! No more Chipper Jones saying: We did the best we can and if not good enough, so what?

NorCal Brave

May 17th, 2011
7:25 pm

Don’t want to rain on the Braves’ victory celebration, but certainly they can think of something more hygienic than throwing dirt. All we need is for it to get in somebody’s eyes or ears (like Mac’s today). An infection of some kind could put a guy down for a while.

Chief pitchanono

May 17th, 2011
7:28 pm

Yep, these are the games that we have been loseing. Your not going to win every game, but if your going to win this divsion sometimes you have to find ways to win even if the team is not playing their best. The offense needs to wake a little in this next series, the diamondbacks hit well at home so we gotta take advantage of their pitching to win. Chipper’s totally right, if were going to hang with the phillies we have to put away the cellar dwellers, can’t let up. Go Braves!!

Larry

May 17th, 2011
7:41 pm

Heroics are great but this you cannot always count on. What we need to compliment this great pitching is a manager smart enough not to put a .220 hitter back in the 2 spot in the batting order and enough courage to realize when his #3 hitter might better serve the interest of the team to be relocated when all he can do is watch strikes down the middle with runners in scoring position.

With this manager and his batting order, the ONLY reason we are this close to the Phillies is the great pitching handed to him by our GM and minor league system.

-=Alp=-

May 17th, 2011
7:42 pm

Heck of a pitching duel – The better bullpen Won with just a little help from Mr. McCann

Too tough

May 17th, 2011
7:43 pm

I was at the game with my senior citizen residents of Spring Harbor…(it was cooldddd in the shade! lol)
What a fantastic finish Braves! Yall made my residents have a great Braves experience! Go BRAVES! Thanks, Lets Keep on Keepn ON!

D Man

May 17th, 2011
7:45 pm

Way to go McCann…

Larry

May 17th, 2011
7:50 pm

Someone please tell Fredi Cox this should be his batting lineup:

Againt RH Pitching:

1. McLouth
2. Prado
3. Heyward
4. Jones
5. McCann
6. Uggla
7. Freeeman
8. Gonzalez

Againt LH Pitching:

1. McLouth
2. Prado
3. Uggla
4. Jones
5. McCann
6. Heyward
7. Gonzalez
8. Freeman

Stop batting McCann 4th so he has to undress and redress in the first inning. This is tiring by August and a catcher works hard enough already. We saw today what a more rested McCann can do.

Dawgdad (The Original)

May 17th, 2011
7:52 pm

I know Chipper deserves some leeway, after all theee years, but if he is not ready to swing the bat, he needs to stay on the sidelines. He looked awful today. How after taking a called third strike the AB before, do you stand there and take 3 called strikes with the game on the line. We learned to “go down swinging” in Little League.

McCann thank God has replaced him as the best player and leader of the team.

reckingball

May 17th, 2011
7:54 pm

Great comeback.
The Braves don’t like to do anything, easy.

GO BRAVES!!!!!

Hey Marcel

May 17th, 2011
8:03 pm

NorCal Brave

May 17th, 2011
7:25 pm
Don’t want to rain on the Braves’ victory celebration, but certainly they can think of something more hygienic than throwing dirt. All we need is for it to get in somebody’s eyes or ears (like Mac’s today). An infection of some kind could put a guy down for a while.
*************************************************
“Fungus is in the air, in the dirt, in the carpet, on the floor, and on your skin. Fungus loves heat and humidity, so locker rooms, shoes, and other hot, damp places are perfect environments for breeding fungal infections.”

Must be crotch fungus with all that rearranging.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 17th, 2011
8:04 pm

For the last two seasons: MCCann = Cake.

Jones = Icing.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Double Zero Eight

May 17th, 2011
8:17 pm

McCann is the most consistent and best player on the team!
Hinske deserves to play everyday while he is hot.

Tripple Lindy

May 17th, 2011
8:18 pm

What about the, um, Marlins?

meh, never mind.

Tripple Lindy

May 17th, 2011
8:21 pm

Larry, I’m hoping that even if McCann is batting 5th, he still has to undress and redress in the 1st inning.

mike

May 17th, 2011
8:57 pm

great job jeff…go bravos

Worm

May 17th, 2011
8:57 pm

The Phillies are without Oswalt,Lidge, Contreras and Utley..They will bury the Braves ,who haven’t suffered any major injuries other than Moylan..Lowe and Hudson will be worn out by season’s end and Chipper will be on the DL..Freeman will be back in the minors and Hinske playing first..McCann will be pitched around and Ugly is done.

Pluto

May 17th, 2011
8:57 pm

Not sure that I ever remember Chipper saying “if not good enough, so what?” I’d love to see that quote, with context.

Ekim

May 17th, 2011
8:58 pm

Damn, Worm. I guess there’s no point in even playing the rest of the games.

5150 UOAD

May 17th, 2011
9:04 pm

The BRAVES are like SEX.
WE/THEY could seal the deal early and just spend time working to finish the game
OR
It could take EXTRA Innings to get the Job done with a Great and Exciting Finish.

jwill

May 17th, 2011
9:09 pm

i smell fear worm, i smell fish.

jwill

May 17th, 2011
9:12 pm

gulp gulp guy

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Skeezix

May 17th, 2011
10:05 pm

Pathetic offense today (as most days), but what a great performance by McCann-PUT THE WHOLE TEAM ON HIS SHOULDERS and bailed us out.

Are you starting to believe?

Biff Pocaroba

May 17th, 2011
10:14 pm

Worm is an idiot.

The Braves will be fine and for the record, I agree with Larry on the lineups. Still laughing at Fredi Cox too……rofl.

jmarable

May 17th, 2011
10:40 pm

Fredi has got 2 put Venters, Kimbrel ,Oflattery ,on ice a couple of games. The arms wont b worth a crap come august. They pitch every game thats close. hell ,all of them r gonna b close with this offense. The rest of the pen gotta earn there checks 2. not just mop up duty.

Ghost Chaser

May 17th, 2011
10:48 pm

Thanks BIG MAC . . . you saved the day! I know it’s impossible to win every game, but we all expect better performances against the lower teams. That’s how you accumulate lots of wins! Beat up on the weak and battle the strong. Still think team needs a more daring type game, bunts, steals and stretching hits to force other team to make perfect plays. It at least makes the game more exciting than waiting for homers. Amazing pitching staff, holding our own with the (elite?) Phillies!

Watkinsville Hound

May 17th, 2011
10:51 pm

Schultz,

You are a much, much more enjoyable journalist when you are writing using anything other than your antagonizing tactics toward the college football fans.

Keep it up, and keep out of the college football world!!!

Largo

May 17th, 2011
10:59 pm

Throwing dirt on people is stupid and childish for any reason.

Innocent Bystander

May 17th, 2011
11:35 pm

I love the dirt celebrations. Makes it so much more fun, and it’s better than stomping on home plate and breaking your leg.

John10:10

May 18th, 2011
1:53 am

Let’s hope dirt doesn’t temporarily blind one of our guys after a celebration.

Joseph

May 18th, 2011
1:54 am

Is Uggla twisting his nipple?

RTW

May 18th, 2011
3:32 am

JS: “Chipper Jones struck out three times with runners on base twice looking”. The last two CJ’s AB’s drove me nuts. Don’t get me wrong, Chipper’s a Hall of Famer, but those those last two AB’s were the most, least inspired at-bats I’ve seen in a while (if that makes any sense). Men on base, go-ahead run in place. The game was on the line. Not feeling well?, don’t play. Feeling well?, SWING! But then McCann, WOW. Braves skirted problems in extra innings, but got out of it. Braves not earth-shaking yet, but it was only a few short weeks ago we were under .500. Much better now! Not pretty baseball, but winning baseball. Duh!

Stinger2

May 18th, 2011
3:41 am

One never knows what to expect from this Braves team. Hope they keep up the suspense and surprises like they did yesterday. A great but most unlikely win. Go Braves.

Larry

May 18th, 2011
6:42 am

I would do to Chipper what I do with my kids…go sit in your room (the bench) and do not return until you have a better attitude.

Mike Jay

May 18th, 2011
7:06 am

For a sport that doing something good 30% of the time is considered great some of you sure to get your panties in a wad about a couple of at bats by Chipper.

timbo

May 18th, 2011
7:26 am

Its time to move chipper out of the 3 hole.

adam larson

May 18th, 2011
7:29 am

Several stupid comments again above:
1. Larry criticizing Fredi for not batting McCann LOWER in the lineup because it’s too tiring to catch the first inning, then come in the dugout and “undress” to get ready to hit. Maybe taking off two shin guards and a chest protector would be too tiring for you Larry, but I assure you Brian is just fine.

2. #1 Heyward Fan suggesting Bobby Cox didn’t let the team celebrate and Fredi now does. Did you watch any games last year? Remember McClouth returning to an empty dugout after hitting a walkoff? If anything, you should be giving Bobby credit this year for how he let the guys have fun last year.

3. Chipper criticism- he had a bad game, so what? Martin grounded into 3 straight double-plays two games ago with the game on the line. It happens, but it’s not from a lack of effort.

blue

May 18th, 2011
8:15 am

BigDawg

May 17th, 2011
7:23 pm
Hope the Braves can play with heart! No more Chipper Jones saying: We did the best we can and if not good enough, so what?

Yeah, bigdawg…that’s what Chipper says all the time. Idiot.

Remarkable

May 18th, 2011
8:21 am

Who are all these idiots that are upset by guys playing a kids game and acting like kids. Dirt never hurt anybody. Get a life.

wares mah grape soda?!?

May 18th, 2011
8:56 am

And just the other day on 680 some nearly retarded homie called in and said the Braves should trade McCann for a leadoff hitter. You cannot make up this type of stupidity.

TheAntiMe

May 18th, 2011
9:01 am

Way to go, B-Mac. It seems like destiny since this happened on the same day that some dude set the world record for eating 25,000 Big Macs so far during his lifetime.

1991Braves

May 18th, 2011
9:09 am

Chipper Larry Jones needs to shutup and either play the game the way it should be played, or do the team a favor and sit on the bench beside Fred. This guy bad mouths his teammates, and says they don’t play as hard as the Phillies every game, and he puts on that pitiful performance yesterday at the plate. Braves desperately need a new leader, this guy has had his time, and now he is beginning to sound like a broken record. A leader doesn’t bad mouth his fellow players, and then go out and stink the place up like he does over and over again. If he isn’t going to support and rally behind his team mates then he should just shut the hell up, or i have a better idea, how about retiring like his dad did.

TheAntiMe

May 18th, 2011
9:19 am

OK, Larry, you’ve now made three comments on this thread. It goes without saying that they were all negative since all of your comments always are. The Bravos have won something like 17 out of their last 24 games but all you know how to do is b_itch, b_itch, b_itch!

You must be a real hoot at parties. If it bothers you so much to see the Braves doing well then maybe you should become a Winnipeg Thrashers fan. You probably are still ticked off because your mom bought Superman Underoos and you wanted the Aquaman Underoos instead. Come on get over it already.

enz

May 18th, 2011
9:22 am

Interesting information…I don’t think we can make a legitimate push without base stealers:
7. Speed is more important than it has been in years.

With scoring down, teams are placing more of an emphasis on stealing bases, manufacturing runs and gaining that extra base. Stolen bases are averaging .68 per team per game, the highest since the same total in 1999. From Baseball Prospectus, the top five baserunning teams (incorporating steals and advancement on base hits, etc.).

1. Nationals, +9.5 runs
2. Mets, +7.7 runs
3. Dodgers, +5.7 runs
4. Blue Jays, +5.5 runs
5. Giants, +5.4 runs

The bottom five:

30. Braves, -9.5 runs
29. Cardinals, -6.7 runs
28. Marlins, -5.0 runs
27. White Sox, -4.7 runs
26. Rockies, -4.1 runs

With more close games, every little edge counts. Pay attention to how your team runs the bases.

Chris

May 18th, 2011
9:44 am

I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we DESPERATELY need more team speed. If it’s a coaching thing, figure it out. McLouth has speed and Prado, Gonzo, and Heyward aren’t exactly flat-footed either. I just want someone, ANYONE to steal 20 bases this year.