Archive for September, 2011

Parrish the thought: Braves change minds, can hitting coach

Larry Parrish, seen in his one and only spring training with the Braves. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Larry Parrish, seen in his one and only spring training with the Braves. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

It made no sense that Fredi Gonzalez would announce, barely 12 hours after the worst collapse in National League history was complete, that his entire coaching staff would return. It made no sense that such a flop wouldn’t spawn at least some measure of re-evaluation.

Today the Braves started making sense. They fired hitting coach Larry Parrish. We can only assume Frank Wren saw what everybody else except Fredi G. saw — that the hitting had been substandard all season.

To reiterate: This should not have been a bad-hitting team. This wasn’t a lineup built around the fanciful notion that Troy Glaus might revert to 2002 form. (Although Troy Glaus did, in May 2010, revert to 2002 form.) The lineup the Braves trotted out after the trading deadline was comprised of seven guys who have made an All-Star roster and the league’s best-hitting rookie. Wren stitched together a fine everyday …

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Fire Fredi? No, but the Braves did some major mismanaging

Esteemed colleague Mike Luckovich with a flattering bit of imagery.

Esteemed colleague Mike Luckovich offers this extremely flattering bit of imagery.

Midnight had come and gone, and Frank Wren stood in Bill Acree’s office just off the main clubhouse. (Acree is the Braves’ director of travel, and earlier he’d been triangulating the hoped-for trip to St. Louis and then to Milwaukee or Phoenix. Moot point now.) The general manager was staring at a TV above the door. Boston had just lost. Tampa Bay had just won.

“Coming into September,” Wren said, disbelief in his voice, “we [meaning the Red Sox and the Braves] had two of the four best records in baseball.”

Neither will be part of the sport’s eight-team tournament, and today the Braves’ one source of consolation is that the Sox choked even harder than they did. (Unbelievable that two of the three biggest September flops in the game’s century-long annals were concluded within moments of each other. The third happened in 1964 to the Pholdin’ Phils.) There were similarities in these contemporary …

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Update: After 13 innings, the Braves’ epic failure is complete

Brian McCann can't bear to watch. Can't blame him. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Brian McCann can't bear to watch. Can't blame him. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They’d been portrayed, not without cause, as choking dogs. They finished September having won two of nine series and having watched, numbly if not nimbly, an 8 1/2-game lead go poof. But even a choking dog can have his day, or night, and the 2011 Braves tried to give themselves one Wednesday.

They failed. They failed in the way this entire month had been a failure. They took an 8 1/2-game lead and threw it all away, and by the time they got done losing Game No. 162 they had made us suffer through all the failures that comprised this failed month.

They led 3-1 after three innings and 3-2 after eight, but Game No. 162, like the season itself, lapped into overtime. They hit early, then stopped hitting. They saw a key run thrown out at the plate. In sum, they suffered the kind of wobble that had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

Before Game No. 162, Chipper Jones had noted that the …

Continue reading Update: After 13 innings, the Braves’ epic failure is complete »

Live from Game No. 162: Fredi tries, gently, to rally his Braves!

Is darkness about to descend on the 2011 Atlanta Braves? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Is darkness about to descend on the 2011 Atlanta Braves? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

You wanted a team meeting? Fredi Gonzalez convened (a brief) one after Tuesday’s game. “He let his feelings be known,” Chipper Jones said, but now I offer this warning:

You’re going to be disappointed.

The Braves’ manager did not hurl invective or furniture. What he said was essentially what he told the press moments later. “I told them I wouldn’t pick another bunch of guys to go out and win one game,” Gonzalez said. “I also told them to get a nice sleep and come out ready tomorrow.”

Then: “It wasn’t like Knute Rockne. But maybe 50 years from now it’ll be in a book of great speeches.”

When you’ve handed back an 8 1/2-game lead and there’s only one game to go, what else is there to say? “If we blow this, you’re all fired”? (Those pesky longterm contracts might mitigate against such a purge.) “Take two and hit to right”? (Sounds like something the hitting coach should have been saying.) …

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At least the Braves have experience in win-or-blow-it games

Here's how it turned out last season. For reference purposes. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here's how it turned out last season. For reference purposes. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Looking on the bright side — and even finding a bright side takes concentrated effort — there’s this: If any team in the history of baseball knows how to win the 162nd game of a season behind Tim Hudson after losing two to the Phillies and entering Game No. 162 tied for the wild card after blowing a massive lead … well, the Braves are that team. Because they did it last season.

And that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Rating the collapses, this season’s is much worse than last’s. The 2010 Braves ran out of everyday players; the 2011 Braves have run low on starting pitchers. Last year’s team had a hard time scoring for a pretty good reason; this team has a hard time scoring for no good reason.

Last year’s Braves lost a seven-game division lead because the Phillies got hot and got healthy (and got Roy Oswalt) and blew past them. This team has lost an 8 1/2-game wild-card lead to St. Louis, …

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Update: The Braves lose another game but hold their ground

Chipper Jones got the Braves started with a homer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Chipper Jones got the Braves started with a homer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A lead once bulbous had been reduced to a pimple in the time it takes to say the words, “A lead once bulbous.” But, being a professional athlete, Chipper Jones broke out the usual brave bromide Monday afternoon. “We still control our own destiny,” he said, blithely ignoring the cold truth that these Braves have controlled nothing this past month.

They’d led the wild-card chase by 8 1/2 games on Sept. 1, the day they posted their 81st victory. It’s nearly October, and there’s no guarantee these Braves will ever win a 90th game. They’ve lost six of the past eight series, and one of the two exceptions wasn’t really a series but a rescheduled doubleheader in New York.

They’ve watched the Cardinals draw ever closer, and now the regular season had been reduced to three games. Win two and the Braves would assure themselves of no worse than a tie for the wild card and a Thursday play-in game; win three …

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Live from Braves-Phillies: A playoff series to reach the playoffs

A tight-lipped Fredi Gonzalez before tonight's tilt. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A tight-lipped Fredi Gonzalez before tonight's titanic tilt. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One game up, three to go. If the Braves take two of three from Philadelphia, they’ll be assured of playing beyond the 162nd game — even if it’s a Thursday play-in in St. Louis. If they sweep the Phillies, this nose-diving team will have bounded into the playoffs and all those who’d dismissed their chances will conveniently forget those dismissals.

“We still control our own destiny,” Chipper Jones said, speaking late Monday afternoon. And it’s true. They do, at least for the moment. But the colder truth is that these Braves haven’t controlled much of anything since Labor Day.

The Braves led the wild-card chase by 8 1/2 games on Sept. 1. They’ve won two of the eight series since, and one of those two wasn’t really a series: It was a doubleheader in New York rescheduled from the washed-out Irene weekend of August. On Sept. 1, these Braves won their 81st game.  Twenty-two games later, they …

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Key question: Do the Falcons still know what they’re doing?

It's this bad: Even the Bucs are mocking the Dirty Birds. (AP photo)

It has gotten this bad: Even the Bucs are mocking the Dirty Birds now. (AP photo)

Tampa – The Falcons are too good to be playing this way. They’ve trailed by double figures in all three games. They look great when they finally get serious, but by then their margin for error has been reduced to the nub, and any more wobbles — a dropped pass, a sack that shouldn’t have been taken, a lurch offside with the game literally on the line — can result in a good-looking team taking a big ugly L.

Asked Sunday night if he has been seeing the team he thought he’d see, coach Mike Smith said: “No, I’m not seeing that team … We’re making way too many mistakes.”

The same question was posed to center Todd McClure,  who said: “No. We’ve got a great group of players, but we haven’t put it all together.”

Then this: “I feel like we’re holding ourselves back. We’re not making the plays that are there to be made.”

The obvious next questions: Why not? Why is a team fancied as a Super Bowl winner darn …

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Live from Tampa: Former punter says Falcons weren’t fun

Michael Koenen, shown kicking a Georgia peach. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Michael Koenen as a Falcon, here kicking a Georgia peach. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Tampa  — Michael Koenen used to punt for the Falcons. Now he works for Tampa Bay. Anwar Richardson of the Tampa Tribune asked Koenen to compare and contrast cities. In shocking revelations, Koenen declared that he prefers Florida oranges to Georgia peaches and that Atlanta has worse traffic.

Asked about Mike Smith, who coaches the Falcons, and Raheem Morris, who coaches the Buccaneers, Koenen said: “The atmosphere is way different … Up there, it’s a lot tighter. There is a little more nervous energy, but here it’s light-hearted and just fun energy.”

Wow. Who knew the coach who bears a passing resemblance to the comic/actor/author/musician Steve Martin wouldn’t be a wild and crazy guy?

Then again, Koenen can afford to crow — a bit. By way of a different comparison, he seems the greatest punter in 21st Century Falcons annals. Koenen left as a free agent and was lavished with a $19.5 million …

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Georgia Tech is no longer untested, but it’s still undefeated

Roddy Jones wheels down the sideline on the game's biggest play. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The biggest play: Roddy Jones down the sideline. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech hadn’t been tested, so it decided to test itself. It watched North Carolina score three second-half touchdowns and override a 14-point deficit, and suddenly serious stuff had arisen. The nation’s No. 25 team was tied at home, 7:22 to play.

“We thought we’d try to make a game a little more exciting,” Paul Johnson would say afterward, half-smiling but not nearly laughing. That said …

Johnson mightn’t have enjoyed every detail of this game — the two turnovers, the missed field-goal attempt, the never-ending run of lousy special-teams play, the dropped touchdown pass by the otherwise ascendant Stephen Hill, even his own loss of  fourth-and-1 nerve — but he had to be tickled by its outcome. A coach can’t know about his team until it’s forced to make plays for the express purpose of game-winning, and Johnson’s Jackets aced that exam.

Tied with 7:22 remaining, Tech led with 5:20 to go. Nice …

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