Archive for September, 2010

An inconvenient truth: A year later, Tech isn’t all that talented

The hair is Anthony Allen's. The defenders are all State's. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The hair is Anthony Allen's. The defenders are all State's. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Now we know. The Georgia Tech offense isn’t as good, and the defense isn’t any better. And that’s why the Jackets, who suffered their second regular-season loss of 2009 two days after Thanksgiving, have lost twice before October this season.

This isn’t a failure of tactics, be they Paul Johnson’s or Al Groh’s. This has to do with players, and the lack thereof. Even when the defense was hemorrhaging yards last season, there was always the chance Derrick Morgan would make a play. There’s really only one playmaker on this roster now, and he’s the quarterback. And even Joshua Nesbitt needs help.

“We had 81 plays on defense,” said Groh, the new coordinator. “We made three plays of significance — Brad Jefferson’s two sacks and Jerrard Tarrant’s interception.”

North Carolina State came to town and left having hung 45 points and 527 yards on Tech. Whenever the Jackets drew close, the Wolfpack …

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Live from Ga. Tech, where N.C. State hopes to drive safely

Here we are at historic Bobby Dodd Stadium on another sun-splashed Saturday. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Here we are at historic Bobby Dodd Stadium on another sun-splashed Saturday. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The North Carolina State Wolfpack arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson late Friday afternoon, just in time for what we Atlantans know to be the absolute worst traffic period of any week. The Wolfie entourage piled into four chartered buses for the ride up the Downtown Connector  to their Buckhead hotel.

Buses 1 and 4 made it.

Buses 2 and 3 ran into each other.

According to Debbie Yow, State’s athletic director, the bus drivers weren’t at fault. Apparently pesky Atlanta motorists kept buzzing between the buses, who were endeavoring to stay in formation. Buses 2 and 3 were rendered inoperative after 3 rear-ended 2 — one of them needed to have its door pried open — and no other charter coaches were available for rescue duty and the only solution was for Buses 1 and 4 to drop their passengers at the hotel and return for the occupants of 2 and 3.

“We weren’t crazy about the idea of 60 people …

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Even after three dark nights, the Braves still should make it

I think we've seen just about enough of this scene. Wouldn't you agree? (AP photo)

I think we've seen just about enough of this scene. Wouldn't you agree? (AP photo)

Philadelphia — If the Braves win the next nine, they’ll make the playoffs. They still, as ballplayers love to say, control their destiny. (The Padres and Giants and Rockies cannot all win the rest of their games — because they play one another.) This might sound like cold comfort after the sobering series here, but it’s not nothing.

Even in their diminished state, the Braves should make it. They’ve got three against the last-place Nationals, three against the middling Marlins and three more against the Phillies, who should have clinched and will be resting guys. (Meaning no Hamels-Halladay-Oswalt in Games 160-1262.) They should win seven or eight, and that should be enough.

And now I’ll field a few questions posed by you folks the past three days. (And I thank you for your live-blog patronage, I must say again.) You mightn’t like the answers, but here goes:

Did Bobby Cox err by not juggling his …

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Swept in Philly and nearly no-hit, the beaten Braves move on

Tommy Hanson: Six innings, two hits, no runs, one fine outing. (AP photo)

Tommy Hanson's night: Six innings, two hits, no runs, one fine outing. (AP photo)

PHILADELPHIA — They got the start they needed. Alas, they got nothing else. Heck, they nearly got no-hit.

They came here thinking one win — one crummy win — would leave them in good stead for the wild card. Instead they got swept. They weren’t overwhelmed in any of the games, which made it even worse. Three nights running, the Braves got to see firsthand how vast the expanse is between them and the Phillies.

“We got beat all three games,” Brian McCann said. “We were in every ballgame. We just got beat.”

Wednesday’s loss was sweet excruciation. Tommy Hanson matched Roy Oswalt for six innings, and Roy Oswalt was all but untouchable over his seven. (The Braves’ one hit was Martin Prado’s two-out double in the fourth.) In the eighth Jonny Venters opened by plunking Chase Utley, but induced Ryan Howard to hit into a double play.

Then Venters pitched around the right-handed hitting Jayson Werth, which …

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Live from Philly: The Braves approach Game 3 in a jolly mood

Nate McLouth will again be stationed in left field for tonight's game. (AP photo)

Nate McLouth will again be stationed in left field for tonight's game. (AP photo)

Philadelphia – The Braves seemed in fine spirits Wednesday afternoon. Players were sitting in the visiting clubhouse laughing over a Will Farrell sketch from “Saturday Night Live.” Bobby Cox had his managerial feet propped on the desk in his office, and he was mock-cringing over the notion of yet another Farewell Ceremony about to be staged in his honor.

In sum, the Braves weren’t glum. They’d lost the first two games of the series, but they had one more to play. And then they’d hop on their chartered Amtrak car for the haul down to D.C. for a weekend series against the Washington Nationals. And then they’d be done with this final road swing of 2010.

Asked if his team needed to win Wednesday, Cox said: “We need to have a good road trip. I look at road trips.”

Also this: “We win one here and a couple in Washington and we’re 7-2 or 6-3 on the trip. Every day is a big day.”

The Braves came to work …

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Michael Vick: ‘There’s no question this is a blessing from God’

Wednesday's Philly Daily News: Arf, arf.

Wednesday's Philly Daily News makes the obvious joke.

Philadelphia – Michael Vick arrived in Atlanta knowing the Falcons would someday be his team to run. He signed with the Eagles last August assured of nothing except a paycheck and a chance. But there he stood Wednesday, ringed at his locker by a media throng 50 members strong, a sign bearing the words “Walk Your Talk!” above his head.

There he stood, again an NFL starting quarterback.

“I’m very gratified to have this opportunity,” Vick said. “I’m very humbled by it.”

And that, it must be said, is how he seemed. This isn’t the cocksure No. 7 who came to the Falcons looking to revolutionize his position. Too much scar tissue has formed, the bulk of it self-inflicted. Michael Vick is 30 now, and he has been to jail. There was never a guarantee that he would work another day in the only league that matters, let alone run another team.

“Plenty of times,” he said, “I doubted I’d have [this] opportunity.”

But now he does. In a …

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A big series lost, the Braves must somehow salvage a game

Mike Minor walks to the clubhouse after being shelled Tuesday. (AP photo)

Rookie Mike Minor walks to the clubhouse after being shelled Tuesday night. (AP photo)

PHILADELPHIA – They’re not going to win the East. That fading dream was all but extinguished Tuesday night. They’re five games behind a demonstrably better team with 10 to go, which is another way of saying: Not happening.

But what the Braves cannot do is allow that five-game deficit to obscure the greater goal. They still lead the wild-card race. They’re still positioned to make the playoffs. To do it, however, they must not leave their heart in Philadelphia.

This was a big series for these Braves, and over the first two games they’ve been overmatched. They started two rookies against two classy veterans and paid the price. They flubbed most of the chances they created. They haven’t looked like a playoff team here, but they still can be one. They just have to remember how to play baseball.

On this night they forgot. Facing the estimable Roy Halladay, who needs little help, they nonetheless …

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News from Philly: Vick named starting pitcher … er, QB

Arthur Blank and Michael Vick before the Eagles beat the Falcons last year. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Arthur Blank and Michael Vick before the Eagles beat the Falcons last year. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Philadelphia — Talk about timing. I was planning to stop by the Eagles’ practice facility tomorrow en route to the final game of the Braves-Phillies series. My intention was to speak to Michael Vick about how graciously he has accepted his role as the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback behind Kevin Kolb. And then …

Ten minutes ago the press box at Citizens Bank Park, which is just across the street from the Eagles’ stadium and down the road from the training complex, went nuts, and it had nothing to do with the Phillies or the Braves. The Eagles just sent out a blast e-mail announcing that coach Andy Reid has named Vick the starting quarterback. (This represents a major reversal on Reid’s part: Even after Vick had led Philly to victory Sunday over Detroit, the coach maintained that Kolb, who missed the game with a concussion, would remain No. 1.)

And I’m thinking: Good for Michael …

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Live from Philly: Cox’s ‘hardest-working team’ faces Halladay

Matt Diaz was in a tripping mood Monday night, if you get my drift. (AP photo)

Matt Diaz was in a tripping mood Monday night, if you get my drift. (AP photo)

Philadelphia — The most optimistic man in the world all but admitted Tuesday what has become increasingly obvious: That these Atlanta Braves have come close to maximizing a modest set of assets. Asked how he would remember his final club, Bobby Cox said: “This is the hardest-working team I’ve ever had.”

Not the best. Not the most talented. The hardest-working. And it has had to be. Because talent-wise this team at peak capacity was never a colossus, and the Braves haven’t been at peak capacity since Chipper Jones hurt himself in Houston. They’ve been making do, plugging leaks, fashioning a semblance of a lineup with retreads and duct tape. And you know what?

They entered play Tuesday with the second-best record in the National League.

We Atlantans have noted and bemoaned the slide from seven games ahead in the NL East to four games back, but we can’t have been totally shocked. A lot had to go right …

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The new Philly hero: Matt Diaz, foiler of Red Man (with video)

"Down goes Red Man!" (AP photo)

"Down goes Red Man! Down goes Red Man!" (AP photo)

Philadelphia — Patrons at an Eagles game  infamously pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, but Philly fans weren’t booing Matt Diaz. On the contrary, the Braves’ outfielder became a local hero for his sidling takedown of an individual who has come already to be known as Red Man. (Not to be confused with Mark Redman, former lousy Braves’ pitcher.)

Seventh inning, Monday night, Jayson Werth batting: Red Man, clad in red spandex head-to-toe, capers from the left-field stands and heads across the outfield. Watching from the press box, you could see that Diaz, stationed in left, thought about impeding Red Man’s progress but decided against it.

Then, when security forces arrived and forced Red Man back left but started slipping in their pursuit, Diaz took matters unto his own hip.

He blindsided Red Man. Stuck out his right leg and Red Man went flying. “He got right up, but then the security guy crushed him,” Diaz said afterward.

Diaz …

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