I’m going to level with you, readers. Game recaps aren’t my forte. Maybe that’s not fair -- this is only my third, and I’m still rounding into form. Writing down an account of what happened just really isn’t my speed, if I’m being honest with you, though. The downside, for you, is that this is all you get. Well, that’s not quite true -- Skyricesq is writing recaps in the FanPosts pretty much every day, and they’re what you actually want from the recap you’re about to read. Just to be clear, though, that’s not what you’re going to get here. Here you’re going to get some nonsense, and at the end I’ll tell you the score.
Today, I’m watching the Braves broadcast, because the last recap I did was a recap of the Cardinals booth, and boy howdy did that get me tired of them. The Braves booth is actually kind of amazing -- Chip Caray (great name) and Jeff Francoeur (incredibly fun player for a bit there). The game, such as it is, is two truths and a lie. Every inning, I’m going to focus on three happenings. Two of them are going to be real, and one won’t. Some will be game-related. Some will be announcing-related. Your job is to figure out which one is a lie. Also, I suppose I’ll recap things as we go, and reveal the answers at the end.
Mike Soroka was cooking to start the night, getting Carpenter with a 96 mph fastball on a full count and Paul Goldschmidt on three pitches. Paul DeJong hardly put up more of a fight -- he popped out harmlessly in foul territory. That’s a bad omen for the Cardinals, too, because (1) Mike Soroka has given up three times as many runs in the first inning this year as he has in all other innings combined.
The home plate umpire is calling an expansive strike zone tonight, and I could believe that it’s because he just wants to get out of Atlanta quickly. Why, you ask? Well, (2) he was the umpire who called the infield fly in the 2012 Wild Card game between the Braves and Cards, and that could make for an unpleasant working environment.
Wacha wasn’t quite pitching at the same level as Soroka, to say the least. After two solid outs to start the inning, he went 3-0 on Freddie Freeman before allowing a single and walked Josh Donaldson. Luckily, Nick Markakis was up next, and Wacha absolutely owns Markakis for their careers in a small sample. (3) Markakis had never gotten a hit off of Wacha before tonight, and he continued the trend with a puny groundout to first.
Soroka continued dealing, putting my ability to come up with nonsense on the spot to the test. Jose Martinez had the first solid contact of the day, smashing a line drive directly at Ronald Acuna in center, but aside from that the inning was short. About the only notable thing was Yadier Molina taking the first pitch of his at-bat. Ambushing first pitches is very much Molina’s game -- (1) he’s slugging .611 when he puts the first pitch in play this year.
When rookie Austin Riley stepped to the plate to start the bottom of the inning, he did so as maybe the hottest batter on the planet. (2) He has a preposterous .382 ISO in the minors this year and hit a grand slam in his last minor league game. That said, uh, he struck out, and didn’t look particularly good doing so. Wacha continued to have no command, walking Tyler Flowers on four straight pitches, but he recovered to strike out Soroka and escape the inning.
The highlight of this inning, from the Braves broadcast side, was Jeff Francoeur’s incredible memory. He reeled off his batting line from his first game, (3) 1-4 with a game-winning three-run home run from the seven spot. He also talked about how for him, the challenge early in his career was to work out what was wrong with his process even as tons of bloop hits landed and propped up his production, which is just tremendous self-awareness for an athlete making his major league debut. His recall and actual (not pretend) humility complemented discussion of Dansby Swanson’s up-and-down career incredibly well.
After cruising through two innings, Mike Soroka ran into a bit of a speed bump in the third. After Fowler and Wong walked to start the inning, Matt Carpenter got hit by a pitch in the least damaging possible way (a toe-tap that had to be reviewed), loading the bases for Paul Goldschmidt. Jeff Francoeur continued to impress in the booth -- after the field reporter mentioned that he didn’t mind the HBP because it put the double play in order, Francoeur actually laughed out loud and said “Yeah, I wish it wasn’t Paul Goldschmidt at the plate though.” Well done, sir.
Incredibly, (1) Soroka hadn’t given up a hit with two outs and runners in scoring position yet this year, so if you’re a believer in narratives, the Goldschmidt at-bat could prove pivotal. That said, it proved pivotal in a different way, because Goldschmidt grounded sharply into a double play (dangit, field reporter) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The bottom inning started out dangerously -- Ronald Acuna singled and stole second, and Freddie Freeman followed with a one-out walk. Against the next batter, Michael Wacha did something amazing: (2) he got his first swinging strike of the year on a curveball to Josh Donaldson. That curveball proved pivotal, as Wacha got a generous call on a 2-strike changeup to retire Donaldson -- the zone was consistently wide all night, but this one was well-timed for the Cardinals.
Just when it felt like Wacha might make it out of the inning (3-2 to Nick Markakis, two outs), the game took a weird turn. Wacha picked off Acuna, but due to the shift, he had to hit a moving Matt Carpenter, and he wasn’t up to it. The ball bounced into left field, and Acuna scored, 1-0 Braves. Chalk this one up to the shift -- (3) Carpenter was a bit flat-footed on his break to third, and even if Wacha hit him in stride, Acuna would probably have been safe. Markakis grounded out, and an inning with basically no hard contact by either team and five total baserunners was in the books.
Soroka got three groundballs to Josh Donaldson for his outs the fourth, his only misstep a pretty good pitch that Jose Martinez dumped into left field. This led to a long discussion of infield defense, and the cameraman cunningly cut to (1) Moneyball notable (and Braves coach) Scott Hatteberg in the dugout. How hard could first base be, indeed?
As I mentioned in the second, Austin Riley has been hot. How hot? Well, (2) he led the International League in extra-base hits, home runs, and slugging when he was called up, and had 12 home runs in his last 17 games. Slugging, as in walloping a piped Wacha fastball way out of left center for a 2-0 lead? Yep, that kind of slugging. The rest of the inning was a Wacha sampler platter: (3) a walk, two fly outs, and altogether less command and more hard contact than Cardinals fans would prefer.
With two grounders to start the inning before a Wacha pop out, (1) Soroka was up to eight groundball outs. The Wacha plate appearance was at least low-leverage, but it was still questionable -- Wacha had thrown 80 mostly ineffective pitches on the night, with four walks and a lot of solid contact.
Austin Riley was still the order of the day -- the Braves interviewed his father, (2) who was wearing a gorgeous alternate Braves cap, about the beer he had spilled in his exuberance while celebrating the home run. Josh Donaldson smacked a hanging curveball for a double, (3) prompting the observation that the curve has allowed a .375 batting average this year. Luckily, though, Kolten Wong plays for the Cardinals -- Nick Markakis smashed a screaming groundball (106 mph off the bat) to Wong, who made a slick play to close the inning.
Chipper Jones was in the booth for the sixth, (1) due to his close relationship with Mike Soroka. He discussed a decent amount of nothing, but also seemed incredibly happy to talk about baseball. Francoeur in particular had great rapport with him. With one out and a man on first, Paul DeJong did some DeJong things -- (2) he smashed a line drive to left for his first hit of the day, a 105 mph laser that is just classic DeJong.
At this point, though, things got weird for me. Though I thought I had the time for the game blocked off, (3) I realized I had to go pick up dry cleaning for my wife. Even on the west coast, this game ends late enough that I couldn’t go afterward. Luckily, the dry cleaners’ is only a few blocks away, and I had GameDay on my phone. In the meantime, though, the Cardinals’ rally came to nothing, with Ozuna grounding out (but advancing the runners!) and Martinez striking out.
John Brebbia came in for the bottom of the inning, and did Brebbia things. Oh, you want to know what that means? A fly out and two strikeouts. Next!
This Soroka dude is good. Admittedly, Molina/Fowler/Gyorko isn’t a murderer’s row, but Soroka set the three of them down without much fuss. The only blip was a bunt single to Kolten Wong, (1) which gave him a league-leading four bunt singles on the year.
Giovanny Gallegos came in for the bottom of the seventh, and the announcers flashed back to a weird Chipper Jones statement. (2) “In ten years, just imagine how good Riley and Soroka will be,” they relayed, and given baseball’s current aging curves, I assume he means that they’ll both be holding out in-season waiting for a contract that will never come, because they’re both 21 already, and 31-year-old players get sent to the glue factory these days.
Meanwhile, Gallegos continued to show his recent good form. He (3) tripled up on sliders to Ronald Acuna for a three-pitch strikeout that doubled as pitching nirvana -- two taken sliders in the zone and a swing at a slider that nearly bounced. Yeah, Luke Voit is great, but Gallegos has been a revelation this year. He followed that with a Brebbiesque four-seam fastball to get Dansby Swanson -- the bullpen being steadier than the rotation continues to feel weird.
The Braves crew (and honestly your narrator) were basically done with this game. They’d started in on it in the seventh, but (1) they got into the mascot’s continual harassment of field reporters in earnest. Blooper, who punked Manny Machado earlier this year with a fake 300-million-dollar check, apparently carries around silly string to unleash on unsuspecting reporters, and YES, I am in for this. Francoeur and Blooper are apparently in a blood feud, and goodness gracious this whole segment made me happy.
When Matt Carpenter drew a four pitch walk to start the eighth, things got considerably less jovial. Dan Winkler was all over the place, and literally fell over on the mound while delivering his seventh straight ball. He called out his manager, who in turn called out the ground crew to fix the hole in the mound, (2) and a whopping eight crew members walked out to observe one person pour a bit of dirt in a hole. Shockingly (Ron Howard voice: It wasn’t shocking), the mound wasn’t the issue, as Winkler poured in an eighth straight ball before being replaced. Glad we got the mound fixed, though!
Luke Jackson came in to put out the fire, and after a shaky few pitches, the bottom fell out of the rally. DeJong shot a ball to Josh Donaldson, who stepped on third and fired to first to complete a devastating double play. Jackson then got Ozuna on a questionable check swing -- Tyler Flowers was so sure it wasn’t a swing that he didn’t even appeal, yet the home plate umpire rung Ozuna up himself.
After the sugar high and subsequent crash of the top of the eighth, the bottom felt dead. John Gant was in, and he started lights out. (3) Jeff Francoeur made basically his first misstep of the game with a poorly placed pun. “You know what the most important part of Gant’s vulcan split-finger is? You have to hit your Spocks.” Woof. Anyway, Gant looked good for a batter or two, and then things went wrong. Gant missed his spot (Spock? Oh god please no) to Charlie Culberson, and bingo bango bongo, a two-run home run to the left field corner ended the suspense.
As Dansby Swanson popped up on screen to start the ninth, something truly devastating occurred to me. (1) With Charlie Culberson having shaved his beard down to stubble, he and Swanson no longer form the interchangeable ur-lax-bro duo of Danslie Swanberson. In any case, the fight was out of the Cardinals right away. Luke Jackson got another check-swing strikeout, and yet again umpire Sam Holbrook called it himself. (2) Francoeur was all over it -- he asked if Holbrook had a dinner reservation, and I think I developed a bit of an announcer crush on Francoeur during this game. Caray is kind of terrible, but Francoeur has the feeling of a star in the making to me. A third straight check-swing strikeout finally led Holbrook to check with first, but this one was the most of a swing of any of them.
Just when it seemed like the game would mercifully end, (3) a Braves fan charged onto the field and stopped play. The broadcast cut away, but not before the crowd gave a roar as a security guard linebacker-style tackled the fan to the ground. After the indignity of a Chip Caray imitation of Harry Caray, Fowler grounded out. Fin.
Spoiler space: there will be answers below. Don’t look until you’re ready.
Score yourself using the key below:
1st: 3. Markakis was 1 for 9 with 2 strikeouts against Wacha coming into the night.
2nd: 3. The home run wasn’t game winning. The Braves were already ahead and never lost the lead. This was a cheapie, I’ll admit.
3rd: 2. His fifth swinging strike, of 90-some curveballs. It hasn’t been great, guys.
4th: 1. It was Braves coach Ron Washington, not Hatteberg. Tell him, Wash.
5th: 2. He was wearing a camo-print MVP Baseball hat. Not nearly as gorgeous.
6th: 1. He’s Austin Riley’s deep-south compatriot, and was there to talk about Riley’s debut.
7th: 1. Victor Robles, bunting madman, has five.
8th: 3. That was Chip Caray, not Francoeur. Francoeur audibly winced.
9th: 1. Swanson is rocking the stubble now. Culberson kept his bro beard.
How did you do? Use this handy Cardinals shortstop scale:
0-2 correct: Ruben Tejada. Hey, at least you gave Aledmys a chance to shine.
3-4 correct: Pete Kozma. Nationals fans hate you, but you’re not the team’s mainstay.
5-7 correct: Jhonny Peralta. A canny free agent signing. I never trusted your defensive metrics, though.
8-9 correct: Paul DeJong. I didn’t think you had it in you, but you’ve exceeded every expectation.