They’re back in it. We can’t know if they’re going to win it, but they’re in it. The Braves went 6-4 on their loudest homestand in years, and if 6-4 doesn’t sound all that hot, let’s recall they were 2-4 as of Sunday morning. Let’s also recall that only five days ago a lot of us figured they’d wind up 2-8.
But they didn’t. They roused themselves and played at a higher level than we had seen since Memorial Day, which not coincidentally marked the last time they had won a series. Back then they swept the Blue Jays, who were leading the AL East. This time they swept the reigning World Series champs, who arrived leading the NL East but who depart in a first-place tie.
The Florida Marlins are now co-leaders, and the Braves, while still in fourth place, are only two games back. Talk about exquisite timing. Lose three to the Phils and they would have been eight games out and surely looking to dump salary at month’s end. They’re not dumping anything now. They figure with their pitching and the expected return of Tim Hudson, they’ve as good a shot as anybody. They might be right.
Good things are happening now, the sort of things that didn’t happen for nearly three months. Martin Prado turned into Joe Morgan. (Slight hyperbole there, but you get the point.) Matt Diaz turned into Joe Rudi. (Again, you get the drift.) Derek Lowe found himself. Yunel Escobar finally played a game and made it a beauty. And the Braves began to get a little lucky, which never hurts.
Thursday night, top of the eighth, tie game. Mike Gonzalez, who nearly blew Tuesday’s game, walks Jayson Werth, who steals second and moves to third on Brian McCann’s throwing error. Then Gonzalez make an even worse delivery, sailing a pitch over McCann’s mitt to the backstop. (”I lost it in the scoreboard,” McCann will say afterward.) But the catcher pivots and pounces and whirls and throws, and Gonzalez tags Werth and the inning is done, the tie still in place.
And then the Braves, who to hear their critics know nothing of fundamentals, play a lovely half-inning. McCann singles to left. Escobar bunts Jair Jurrjens, in to pinch-run, to second. Diaz doubles him home. And then Garret Anderson hoists the first pinch-hit homer of his career — the first pinch-hit homer any Brave has struck this season — into the home bullpen. Three-run lead. Three-game sweep
“Winning this series is huge, huge for the year,” Gonzalez said. “It could be a changing series for us. We played as a team.”
And when the Braves do that, they’re not half-bad. Their pitching could scarcely have been better over the concluding two series — the Red Sox and the Phils mustered 13 runs between them — and the Braves begin to hit a bit. “Timely hitting,” Bobby Cox said. “That’s what does it.”
In the aftermath of the bitter 1-0 loss to Boston on Saturday, the Braves’ season seemed down to its final throes, realistically if not mathematically. But Tommy Hanson got out of bed and threw a big game, and here his team sits, resuscitated and perhaps reborn.
“Two games out,” said a buoyant Frank Wren, making his way to clubhouse. Two games out, and the Men of Wren suddenly wear the look of a contender.