From worst to first — in two weeks. Even the legendary worst-to-first Braves of 1991 didn’t manage that.
“That’s true,” Tom Glavine said, then the National League’s best pitcher, now an interested observer with two children in tow on Memorial Day. “We were slow and methodical.”
From worst to first in two weeks. From being the team that couldn’t manage an earned run against a Philadelphia starter during a three-game set here in April to the one that led 2-0 after three batters this star-spangled holiday. From being Frank Wren’s rent-a-wreck to wresting the division lead from the league’s flagship team.
The reversal has transpired, as reversals do, for many reasons, among them Jason Heyward and a lockdown bullpen and the continuing excellence of Martin Prado. But the biggest reason the Braves will greet June in first place is because of a general manager’s offseason reach.
Worst to first? Well, yeah. Troy Glaus was the worst player you’ve ever seen in April; he’ll surely be the National League’s player of the month for May.
Said Brian McCann: “He’s been unbelievable.”
Said Chipper Jones: “Twenty-eight RBIs in a month — I’ve never had a month like that.”
On May 1 Troy Glaus was hitting .194 with more strikeouts (21) than hits (14). On May 31 Glaus hit a three-run homer to clinch the game that lifted the Braves to the top of the NL East. The guy we couldn’t wait to bench — I described the Glaus of April as having undergone Greg Norton surgery — has become one of the two men (Heyward being the other) these Braves can’t do without.
Obvious question: What changed? Glaus’ answer: “It didn’t feel any different in April. It’s the results that are different.”
Glaus has been around. As an Angel, he was the MVP of the Rally Monkey World Series in 2002. Last December he became Wren’s greatest reach: A 33-year-old coming off shoulder surgery who was being asked to play first base, a position mostly foreign to him. So how did it feel, coming to a new city and playing on the other side of the diamond and hearing boos from the first week on?
“It wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” Glaus said. “I thought I was having good at-bats — obviously some bad ones, too — but this is a result-oriented business. At some point you’ve got to say, ‘I need to get a hit now.’ ”
In April he couldn’t buy a hit with American Express. In May he batted .330. And the reconfigured first baseman who’s making $1.175 million has driven in more runs in 2010 than the Phillies’ first baseman, and Ryan Howard just signed a contract extension for $125 million. Funny old world, huh?
“I’m not here for numbers,” Glaus said. “I’m here to help the team win. That’s been the goal from Day 1. For the first 3 1/2 or four weeks, it didn’t work out that way.”
But now it is. The Braves’ much-derided first baseman has become the run-producing engine on a first-place club. Said Jones: “That’s what happens when you get a hitter whose confidence is up and you get runners on base in front of him.”
The Braves were reborn when Prado became the leadoff hitter and Heyward moved into the No. 2 hole. Even though Jones and McCann haven’t had great hitting seasons, they’re still among the league’s top 10 in on-base percentage. And the guy who seemed to strike out in every key at-bat in April was recast as Old Reliable in May.
Glaus: “It’s about having opportunities. The guys at the top [of the order] have been on base a bunch.”
But the Glaus of April had RBI chances, too. He just didn’t avail himself of them. Now he is. And now his team is in first place. You wouldn’t have bet on either thing occurring, but here we are. A team has gone from worst to first. A player has gone from pitiful to potent. And the man who brought him here? He’s not doing so bad himself.
Said Chipper Jones: “Troy Glaus is making Frank Wren look pretty good right now.”