Thursday, April 12, 2007

Random Thoughts on the Braves-Nationals Game

Watching Jason Bergmann survive the Braves in the first few innings was like watching Courtney Love on live television. You knew the catastrophe was coming; it was just a question of when and in what form. Every reaction shot of the pitcher when something didn't go his way - a hit, a borderline call going against him - was the same: cheeks puffed out, eyes rolled at the sky, shoulders rolled in a "how-am-I-gonna-get-out-of-this-one" slouch. Somehow, he got out of it, and as the game went on, you could see him visibly gaining in confidence, trusting his stuff more and more. By the time he was taken out, it was less "thank God they got him out in time" and more "he could have gone another inning, easy".

It's an odd thing to watch against the Braves. They're the Terminators of the NL - the comeback is inevitable, no matter how deep the deficit. It's as foreordained as a lousy start for the Phillies, pointless August drama for the Red Sox, or someone complaining mid-July about the necessity of interleague games between the Royals and the Pirates. They may get down, but you know that some how, some way, they'll find a way to win every damn time (at least until the postseason). It's not superior talent - this is a team that's won running Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser and Otis Nixon and Alejandro Pena and Mike Mordecai and Walt Weiss and pretty much any other alliteratively named shortstop you can think of out there. But they always did it, and after a while it got to be self-fulfilling prophecy. You watched the guys on the field start to tense up, wondering where the dagger was coming from when the Braves came to bat.

Tonight, that seemed to change. Ronnie Belliard made the miracle plays, not Kelly Johnson. Ryan Church made the on-the-run catches in deep center, not Andruw Jones. And despite every opportunity to give the game away, Chad Cordero - previously noted for his generosity to the Braves - muscled up and made Scott Thorman look silly with the bases loaded and two outs. The Atlanta announcers had been positively gleeful about Cordero coming in, considering how thoroughly he'd belly-flopped against them in the past. You could see what they were talking about - the bounced slider, the one out single, the walks to load the bases - but this time, somebody wrote a different ending. The game wasn't handed over to the Braves as their due.

And that will make it very interesting the next time these two teams meet, and every time thereafter.
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