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.) “You’re a bunch of choking dogs — now go relax and win this game”? (A bit of a mixed message, eh?)
It’s Game No. 162, you’re can’t install the Wishbone. And if you’re wondering why Fredi G. didn’t try to incite his men … well, these are grown men. They know what they need to do.
Chipper said Wednesday that the city of Atlanta was ready to box these players’ ears. (Or words to that effect.) Someone noted that at least such venom showed this city cares. Said Jones: “We care, too. Nobody cares more than we do. We just need to batten down the hatches and give ourselves a chance.”
Of his manager, Jones said: “I just don’t know what strings he can pull. It’s up to the players to put up good at-bats and up to the pitchers to put up zeroes.”
Of the Braves’ inability to score (four runs in the past four games), Jones said: “We have picked an inopportune time to make outs with runners in scoring position.”
Here he smiled. Baseball can be such a simple game. “If we could control when we struggle and when we’re hot, the game would be pretty easy.”
Nobody disputes that these Braves have made this much harder than it should have been. At the same time, they haven’t quite blown it yet. They’ve got Tim Hudson working tonight, and he’s the guy you’d want taking the ball even if Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson were hale and hearty. And the Cardinals will be facing a hot pitcher.
“We’re big Brett Myers fans,” Chipper said, speaking of Houston’s starter. “He went to my high school. I’m hoping for some Bolles mojo.”
The Braves didn’t appear a beaten team beforehand. They went about their pregame business the way they usually go about their pregame business. And Gonzalez sounded utterly upbeat in an extended media session.
He had, he said, packed “all the way through Sunday night.” If a one-game playoff with the Cardinals is required, the Braves will depart tonight. Should they win in St. Louis, they’d head for Milwaukee or Phoenix. Did Fredi pack attire for both the Midwest and the desert?
“They’re both indoor stadiums,” he said. “Besides, I don’t have that kind of wardrobe.”
The big news of the afternoon: Shortstop Alex Gonzalez could, his manager said, miss up to two weeks with a calf injury. Jack Wilson will start in his stead and bat eighth tonight. And batting seventh with be the right-handed hitting Matt Diaz; Jason Heyward has been omitted from the starting lineup for Game No. 162 — even though the Phillies are deploying righthander Joe Blanton.
Fredi’s reasoning: Blanton is actually more effective against lefties than righties — the numbers underscore the point — and Philly plans to bring in lefty Cole Hamels after three innings, which would force the Braves to pinch-hit early if Heyward started.
Gonzalez: “We’ve got a lineup capable of grinding out a group of at-bats.”
And that, assuming some of the at-bats conclude with hits, would be a good thing. And these Braves weren’t acting as if they were looking for a soft place to plop down. They want to keep playing. They want to win. I think they’ll be playing in St. Louis tomorrow night. So does their manager.
Asked if his team would win tonight, Gonzalez said: “Yes. We’re going to go out and play the best baseball game we can play.”
That might be enough. It might not. That’s why they play the game. “Hopefully at about 10:30 or so we’ll be shaking hands and seeing what’s happening with the Astros and Cardinals,” Gonzalez said.
And I’ll be here until we know what’s what, baseball-wise. I ask you to join me as Game No. 162 unfolds. I thank you, as ever, in advance.
By Mark Bradley