Well, since he probably won't be an Atlanta Brave for much longer, I figured now was the time to write something that I've been meaning to write for a while. It's extremely hard-hitting, no-nonsense journalism, so please take it seriously.
Justin Upton's home runs in 2014 caused grief and agony for pitchers throughout both the National and American leagues. Pitchers from all tiers of the game's hierarchy, including elite pitchers such as Jon Lester and Jordan Zimmermann, to neophytes and forgotten hurlers such as Matt Stites and Tyler Lyons, all were moved to various stages of grief due to an Upton bomb in 2014.
When the Braves acquired Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks in early 2013, many of us looked forward to seeing his ability to impart great force on baseballs, launching them into the stratosphere with some of the best right-handed power in the game. What I didn't anticipate was how much fun it would be to watch pitchers react after serving up meatballs to him. At times, in fact, they were more entertaining than the home runs themselves.
Without further ado, let's take a look at some of my favorites from 2014, ranked in increasing order of hilariousness.
Gio González, April 13th, 412 feet
We start off with one of the most expressive and demonstrative pitchers in baseball, Gio González. Much like his partner in the Nationals' rotation, Stephen Strasburg, he seems to fare poorly against Atlanta, and doesn't usually have any reservations in expressing his feelings. Here, however, Gio genuinely thought that Upton's home run was just going to be a routine fly ball to center field. This picture, demonstrating a time when González was unspoiled and optimistic in his thoughts, represents a cruel sort of humor. Sometimes, baseball doesn't go as expected, and Justin Upton's impressive power turned what one poor pitcher thought to be a can of corn into a two-run shot. Sorry, buddy.
Jon Lester, August 17th, 423 feet
There's nothing too spectacular about this Jon Lester reaction. He's sort of a stoic dude, and he just gives us a run-of-the-mill "well, I probably shouldn't have thrown an 87 mile-per-hour cutter right into Justin Upton's happy zone" face. Wouldn't it be awkward if Lester and Upton both end up on the Mariners or something? I bet Justin would show him this article; my extremely credible sources tell me he has Talking Chop bookmarked on his iPad. Anyway, sorry Jon. You probably won't be making this face after you're handed nine figures this winter.
Tyler Lyons, May 6th, 457 feet
I remember watching this game and being befuddled for the first few innings as to why the Braves weren't touching Tyler Lyons (a theme that would recur throughout the 2014 season). Lyons is a not-very-good lefty who's sort of a quad-A type player, and this is what happens with a player such as Lyons, especially a left-handed one, throws him a really terrible changeup over the heart of the plate. Lyons tries to contort his body and grimaces, summoning all of his powers, in order to convince the ball not to go over the fence, but holy hell, that ball wasn't coming back. By the way, Lyons ended up pitching six innings that night, striking out seven Braves and allowing only three hits and one run. Your 2014 Atlanta Braves, everybody.
Scott Feldman, June 24th, 440 feet
Scott Feldman, who played Sea Bass in Dumb and Dumber, isn't even upset at this majestic shot that ended up hitting a train or something at Minute Maid Park. He's mesmerized, and quite frankly, I don't blame him. Perhaps he's fantasizing about being able to hit a baseball that far himself. He could even be mildly pleased, as Jeff Luhnow may have relayed to him that it's good to give up home runs, as the Astros are currently in the middle of a #process. I'd also like to mention that this was only the sixth-furthest that Justin Upton hit a baseball in 2014. Good lord.
A.J. Burnett, September 27th, 398 feet
Pitchers do this sometimes. I'm not sure why you'd grab your crotch after surrendering a home run. Maybe it's a symbolic, Melky Cabrera-esque gesture as an affront to the baseball. It's uncomfortable to watch, however. Justin Upton's last home run in a Braves uniform deserved to be treated with more respect than this from Burnett. Shame on you, A.J.
Gio González, August 10th, 390 feet
It's Gio again! He's so much fun to watch while pitching, especially if he's doing poorly. When I played baseball as a youth, my pitching coaches always told me that it was important to "have ice in your veins" and not allow your disappointment or glee manifest themselves outwardly on the mound. I guess Gio either didn't have any of those pitching coaches, or he just didn't care. I'm not complaining, however. He looks so sad here. Poor Gio.
Collin McHugh, June 25th, 440 feet
This home run was hit a day after Upton's shot against Scott Feldman, and it produced yet another memorable reaction. McHugh was probably saying a word that I'm unable to type here into his glove, but I'm going to pretend like his mouth was agape and he just didn't want anyone to see how impressed he was at Justin Upton driving a pitch on the outer half of the plate 440 feet for an opposite field homer. He could have also been ashamed of himself and attempting to hide his face, concealing his identity. While neither of those two situations are particularly likely, f-bombs are funny too, so this reaction places highly on the list.
José Valverde, April 19th, 418 feet
While José Valverde's pantomime of taking a dump is hilarious, perhaps even funnier was that Sandy Alderson and the Mets allowed Papa Grande to make 21 appearances for them in 2014 after what he did with the Tigers in 2013. He even served as the team's closer for a while. My god, what a world we live in! The Mets may end up having guys like Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom leading them to be a competitive team in the near future and being better than the Braves, but we'll always have this. Papa Grande poops. Viva béisbol.
Matt Stites, July 5th, 398 feet
The masses may not agree with my lofty ranking of Matt Stites' reaction to this opposite-field shot, but there's just something about his small stature, that look of terror in his eyes, and his gaping mouth that appeals to me in this shot. Matt Stites just feels so small and helpless compared to Justin Upton and the home run that he just gave up. He holds his arms close to his body as he feels himself tense up, giving way to a rigid stance that conveys the shock that he feels about what he's just done. This can't happen again, he says in horror. He should've known better, because Diamondbacks pitchers seem to give up a lot of home runs to Justin Upton since that trade. Maybe he's upset about it still, or maybe the Diamondbacks just suck. Probably the latter.
Tyler Clippard, April 11th, 420 feet
You know, I was tempted to make this one number one. I think you probably know which reaction is going to take the top spot, but look at Clippard's primal rage there. Is he secretly listening to Zack de la Rocha on some earbuds which are hidden by his hair? My god. Clippard is much like his teammate Gio in that he reacts comically when things don't go well for him, and that things seem to usually go poorly for him against Atlanta. In fact, this was part of a span in which Clippard gave up at least a run in 11 of his past 12 appearances against the Braves. I guess that's you end up raging that hard.
Jenrry Mejía, April 10th, 477 feet
Ah, yes. The G.O.A.T. Here's Mejía's full reaction in GIF form, in case you'd forgotten.
Who am I kidding? I couldn't have picked anything but this reaction for the top spot. This was the second home run that Mejía had surrendered to Upton that night, the longest of Upton's season, and the second-longest of Upton's career. It was majestic, but Jenrry didn't seem to appreciate its grandiose beauty as much as I did. I can't blame him for reacting the way that he did, however. Life just isn't fair sometimes.
I hope you all enjoyed watching Justin Upton drive pitchers crazy during his two seasons in Atlanta as much as I did. Even though he may technically still be a Brave, I'm still mourning the loss of such fantastic entertainment. Godspeed, Justin, and may you torment pitchers for years to come with your massive dingers.