Archive for September, 2010

The Braves lose Game 1, the wonder being that it was close

One that got away: Jason Heyward misses Shane Victorino's liner. (AP photo)

One that got away: Jason Heyward misses Shane Victorino's liner Monday. (AP photo)

PHILADELPHIA -- The two best teams in the National League met in Game 1 of the series that could well decide the NL East. A clash of the titans it wasn’t.

The Phillies’ starting pitcher: Cole Hamels, most valuable player of the 2008 World Series.

The Braves’ starting pitcher: Brandon Beachy, a rookie who wasn’t on the team’s 40-man roster as of Sunday.

The Phillies set their rotation for this series so as to give each of their Big Three — Hamels and the two Roys, Halladay and Oswalt — a turn. The Braves didn’t know who’d start Game 1 until 3 p.m. Monday, when it was decided Jair Jurrjens’ knee was too sore. Said Beachy, speaking late Monday after two days of motion and uncertainty: “I’m here right now; two days ago I was down in Orlando [in the instructional league].”

The wonder was that it was even close, but this Braves’ season has been a series of wonders. They took a early lead and wasted a …

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Live from Philly, where the Braves hope Beachy is just peachy

Here we are Citizens Bank Park, which is among the nicest. (Shadowy photo by M. Bradley)

Here we are Citizens Bank Park, which is among the nicest around. (Shadowy photo by M. Bradley)

Philadelphia — For Game 1 of  the biggest regular-season series the Braves have known since 2001, they’re handing the ball to Brandon Beachy, who had never before pitched a big-league inning. And this, in the grand scheme of all things Braves, made perfect sense.

The season began with a rookie hitting a three-run homer on his first big-league swing. The season turned when a guy who had nothing left became the National League’s player of the month for May. A season that has seen Chipper Jones lost for the duration and Brooks Conrad conjure up grand slams to order entered its final fortnight at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, and the starting pitcher was to be a young man the old skipper hadn’t seen pitch.

“Never have,” Bobby Cox said, speaking before the game. Then, brightly: “But our guys like him.”

Said Freddie Freeman, the young first baseman who watched Beachy work this summer at …

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Update! The Philly series: Braves sweep? Braves get swept?

This was Doc Halladay against the Braves in April. Note zeroes. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This was Doc Halladay against the Braves in April. Note zeroes. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A couple of updates: As you’ve heard, the Braves will NOT deploy Jair Jurrjens tonight. They’ll hand the ball to Brandon Beachy, of whom you’ve never heard. And — here’s the good news — I’m in Philadelphia and will be monitoring developments from the press box at Citizens Bank Park, and this development induced Bobby Cox to pause during his pregame media briefing and say, “Mark Bradley is here. He’s our good-luck charm.” (Which I’m not, but never mind.)

Here we see two ways of approaching a regular-season series. Charlie Manuel, the homespun Philly manager, has set his rotation as if these were the playoffs: Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Bobby Cox, the greatest regular-season manager ever, has chosen not to tweak his rotation.

Thus will the Braves attempt to counter the Phillies’ Big Three with Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson. This isn’t a bad threesome — and a …

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OK, so what happens with Richt if UGA loses in Starkville?

Quality-of-life-wise, it would behoove this man to win next week. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Quality-of-life-wise, it would behoove this man to win next week. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Not to say I’m smart or anything, but the Georgia season has played out the way I figured: Win, loss, loss. (No, I wasn’t so all-seeing as to know A.J. Green wouldn’t have played a down.) I also had the Bulldogs winning eight of the next nine games and finishing 9-3, which I do believe will occur. That said …

The Mississippi State game has long seemed to me the pivot point of Georgia’s season. It’s a game UGA should win, but it’s on the road in a different time zone, and strange things can happen in the realm of the cowbell. And today I pose the musical question: What happens if Georgia doesn’t win in Starkville?

Nothing much, I submit, but I’m willing to concede I might be in the distinct minority. Opening the SEC season 0-3 hasn’t happened under Mark Richt — to be accurate, the Bulldogs have never before been 0-2 in league play under Richt — and would loose all manner of outcry …

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In its first ACC test, Georgia Tech plays like … Georgia Tech

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The team that got overrun at the end by Kansas last week in Lawrence? Those weren’t these Yellow Jackets as driven by this coach. Those were impostors. Here on Saturday we saw … well, let’s let the coach express it.

“The encouraging thing,” Paul Johnson said, “was that we played like Georgia Tech.”

A Georgia Tech game doesn’t have so much a rhythm as a heartbeat, and at the end it’s usually Johnson’s men who have the bigger heart. There will be palpitations en route, most of the due to Tech’s defense or the lack thereof. But these Jackets are accustomed to that by now. They don’t get antsy when they fall behind. They didn’t get antsy here, where they trailed three times in the first half and again in the second.

They just kept fighting, and for once the fight wasn’t all about Johnson’s stylized offense. Though the offense did muster 448 yards, and Joshua Nesbitt did complete three of four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, and the Tech offense did …

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Live (but not so well) from Chapel Hill: Tech needs this one

What every pretty stadium needs: More luxury suites! (Photo by M. Bradley)

What every pretty stadium needs: More construction! More luxury suites! (Photo by M. Bradley)

Chapel Hill, N.C. — At the risk of conveying a tad too much information, I can tell you that, as of 8 a.m., I’d decided I wouldn’t be covering this game. I’d fallen ill during the night, and the morning brought no relief. But I finally fell asleep for an hour or so, and I awoke feeling, if not refreshed, then at least able to walk without it hurting.

So here I am, ensconced in the press box atop lovely Kenan Stadium, which is a tad less lovelier this visit. The old fieldhouse that sat behind the South end zone has been razed, replaced by trailers and scaffolding and, unless my eyes deceive me, a green Port-a-Potty. The idea is to build new end-zone luxury suites, which will push Kenan’s capacity to 63,000.

About the game: Georgia Tech needs this one. It stunk out the joint at Kansas, which just lost again. (The KU season to date: Lost to North Dakota State, beat Tech, lost to Southern …

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Am I the only one in the world who likes the Braves’ chances?

Cheer up, Omar! MB still believes! (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Cheer up, Omar! MB still believes! (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They trail the Phillies by three games in the National League East. They lead the Giants by a half-game in the wild-card standings, and they could be tied by the close of West Coast business tonight. They’ve lost nine of 14 games. They just lost a home series to the last-place Nationals. And still I believe the Braves will make the playoffs.

Apparently I’m alone in this. (Well, not alone alone. I’m sure Bobby Cox shares my feeling.) But the tenor of the comments on this little blog indicates that the Chance Bros. — Slim and None — have not only left town but fled the country. Nobody likes the Braves anymore because (pick one or more) Cox is a moron andFrank Wren is a moron and Derrek Lee is a has-been and Troy Glaus was a one-month wonder and these players have no heart and would just as soon lose now as lose in the playoffs.

The playoff probabilities on ESPN.com show the Braves, Padres and Giants in a virtual …

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With the ACC in such disarray, might Georgia Tech benefit?

Tech was brought low against KU. But the chance to rise remains. (AP photo)

Tech was brought low against KU. But the chance to rise in the ACC remains. (AP photo)

Five ACC teams were ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll. After two weeks, only one remains — Miami, at No. 17.

Results from last weekend: Miami lost at Ohio State; Florida State lost at Oklahoma; Georgia Tech lost at Kansas and Virginia Tech lost to James Madison of the FCS (formerly Division I-AA). This after an opening weekend that saw half-strength North Carolina fall to LSU and Virginia Tech blow a lead against Boise State.

The fallout was swift and predictable: The ACC, which is seen as a basketball league, has again been cast as the weakest of the Big Six BCS football conferences. And it doesn’t look good when Georgia Tech, the reigning ACC champ, loses to a Kansas team that had been beaten by North Dakota State one week earlier, or when Virginia Tech, widely considered the ACC’s strongest football program, begins its season 0-2. That said …

At least ACC teams dare to go out …

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With a season in peril, what can the Braves do? Pitch better

It was a sunny day without sunshine, if you get my drift. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It was a sunny day without sunshine, if you get my drift. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They haven’t quit. When a team in contention loses only its second home series of the season to a last-place club in September, it’s easy to make that allegation. But it’s not true. The Braves are trying. They’re trying too hard.

They’re trying too hard because they see a happy season slipping away. They’re trying too hard because the commodities that sustained them for five months — starting pitching and late-inning lightning — are failing near the finish. The two go together: Good starting pitching keeps a team close enough to win at the end. But now they’re getting too far down too soon, and a weariness has taken hold.

Had Wednesday’s game been played a couple of months ago, they’d have won it on gall alone. But too often lately they’ve been forced into rally mode in the early innings, and the capacity to keep grinding after 146 games of grinding would tax a roster far more robust than …

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Live from the ballyard: The good news is Livan’s not pitching

This man has tormented the Braves for more than a decade. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This man has tormented the Braves for more than a decade. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Thirty years from now, Livan Hernandez will beat the Braves in a key game. Doesn’t matter how old he is or what sort of year he has had. That’s what Livan does. As a Marlin, he did it in Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS, sometimes known as the Eric Gregg game. As a Giant, he did it in Game 4 the 2002 Division Series. As a Nat, he did it again last night.

He’s Livan Hernandez, and he beats the Braves when the Braves don’t need to be beaten. I can’t explain it, but there you go.

The good news: He’s not pitching today. John Lannan is. (And he beat the Braves last month.) But Lannan isn’t the nemesis Livan is. Nobody is.

The Braves trail Philadelphia by two full games. That’s the furthest from first place they have been since May 26. Suffice it to say, they need to win today.

And I’ll be here to watch and observe, and I hope you’ll join me. But I confess going in that I’m a bit distracted. Walking into …

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