When we first checked in on the 2002 Braves, their ultimately-very-effective weirdness was on display. On April 7, they defeated the Mets in a five-hour, 14-inning game in walkoff fashion, in a game that showcased some pretty underwhelming hitting but an incredibly dominant bullpen. On April 13, less than a week later, they’d play another marathon, this time against the Marlins on the road. In this game, the hitting was a bit better and the bullpen a bit worse — and the Braves set some dubious records.
How it happened: The pitching matchup for this game featured Kevin Millwood against Ryan Dempster. Millwood was coming off an injury-shortened 2001 that would be the worst season of his career until 2011, though some luck helped his ERA- finish at 100. Dempster was the Marlins’ Opening Day starter in 2002, though Brad Penny had outpitched him pretty handily in 2001. Dempster was coming into this game after a couple of very strong starts, having allowed just three runs in 15 1⁄3 innings with a 13/4 K/BB ratio. Millwood had similarly made just two starts against the Phillies to date, where he was beginning to alter his narrative after his 2001 season, allowing four runs in 14 1⁄3 innings with a 14/3 K/BB ratio. However, both starters would run into a bit more trouble than they had to date in this one.
Dempster’s trouble started very early. With one out in the top of the first, he issued back-to-back four-pitch walks to the Jones boys. Gary Sheffield then ripped Dempster’s very next pitch into left field for an RBI single. Dempster finally threw some strikes to B.J. Surhoff, but ended up walking him on six pitches anyway (Surhoff didn’t swing the entire PA). On the very next pitch, it was Vinny Castilla’s turn to rip another single to left, scoring two more. Flyouts from Javy Lopez and Marcus Giles ended the inning, but the Braves immediately had a sizable lead.
Millwood and Dempster faced the minimum over the next two frames, with each one striking out two and getting a groundout. In the bottom of the second, the Marlins got a run back, as Cliff Floyd hit a leadoff double, stole third, and scored one Derrek Lee’s one-out groundout to short after Millwood struck out Mike Lowell. Millwood would allow a further single and walk in the inning, but those brought up Dempster in the pitcher’s spot, who lined out to Andruw Jones in center. The Braves got that run right back, as Castilla singled on a liner to center with two on and one out in the top of the third.
After a couple more quiet frames, it was time for the Marlins to basically repay the Braves’ rally in the top of the first. Millwood started the bottom of the fourth with back-to-back walks to Floyd and Lowell. Neither were four-pitch free passes, but still, not great. He was able to strike out Floyd, but very light-hitting shortstop Alex Gonzalez (yes, the one that would play on the Braves a decade later) split the left-field gap for a double that scored Floyd. A groundout from Mike Redmond scored Lowell, bringing up Dempster with the tying run on third. Millwood was able to get Dempster on strikes looking to preserve the now-slim lead.
Dempster was able to recover from giving up four runs in his first three frames, in a dramatic turnaround. Through three frames, he walked four, struck out two, and faced 18 batters. Over his next four frames, he walked one, struck out two, and faced 16 batters. Millwood, however, wouldn’t have the same mid-game success. To lead off the bottom of the sixth, Floyd and Lowell hit grounders that rolled past either side of Marcus Giles. He then plunked Lee on an 0-1 pitch, and that was it. With a set of righties due up, the Braves went to Darren Holmes, making his sixth appearance since sitting out the 2001 season. Holmes had been money for the Braves so far (0.36 WPA, 7/0 K/BB and no runs allowed), and he did everything he could do preserve the lead.
First up was Alex Gonzalez, and Holmes dispatched him with a swinging strikeout on six pitches. Up next was Mike Redmond, and Holmes got him to bounce a ball to first base. On that day, that was where Surhoff was playing for the Braves, and unfortunately, the combination of Surhoff throwing low and Lopez (not) catching resulted in a non-catch of the potential forceout at home. Floyd crossed the plate as the tying run, but Holmes and the Braves still had problems, as the bases were again loaded with one out. The Marlins chose to let Dempster continue pitching and hit for himself. He too hit a ball to Surhoff, and this time the same play worked for the Braves with no problems. Last up was Luis Castillo, and he too hit a ball to Surhoff, which was flipped to Holmes for a 3-1 putout.
After Dempster left the game, Tim Spooneybarger and Michael Tejera exchanged scoreless relief frames with a two-out walk in each. Kerry Ligtenberg got into a bit of hot water in the bottom of the eighth after a leadoff walk (seriously, cut it out, Kerry) and then his own throwing error on a sacrifice bunt, but recovered to get a foulout on a popped up bunt and a grounder to first. The Braves then put in Mike Remlinger to turn around the switch-hitting Castillo, and the move worked out when Castillo hit a flyout to left on the first pitch.
The bullpen battle was in full swing. The Marlins had closer Vladimir Nunez throw two frames that included only a single. Remlinger stayed in and worked around a two-out error with two punchouts. Then came Chris Hammond, the focus of one particular bit of weirdness in this game.
Hammond, even outside of this game, was a weird case. In the 90s, he was an average-y starter that probably got less credit than he deserved due to some ERA-FIP gaps. His effectiveness declined toward the end of the decade, and he actually failed to make the majors in 1999, 2000, and 2001, and the Braves never gave him a chance in their major league bullpen in that final year. In 2002, though, he would go on to have a crazy-good relief season. But... not yet. Entering the bottom of the 10th, this would be his sixth appearance of the year, and he had a very mediocre 3.68 ERA / 5.55 FIP / 4.91 xFIP with a 6/6 K/BB ratio to that point.
This didn’t start out well for Hammond. He walked Lee on five pitches to start the inning. The Marlins bunted Lee to second, and the Braves had Hammond intentionally walk Mike Redmond to bring up Eric Owens. (Both batters hit righty, so this wasn’t specifically a platoon situation.) Hammond did get the groundball he wanted from Owens, but it wasn’t hit well enough and the runners advanced a base as Castilla threw Owens out at first. The Marlins pinch-hit for Nunez with Tim Raines (yes, that Tim Raines, in one of the last PAs of his long and storied career), and after falling behind him 2-1, the Braves elected to give him a free pass as well. That brought up lefty-hitting non-entity Marty Malloy (career 15 wRC+ in 35 total games), and Hammond got a first-pitch groundout from him.
In the 11th, Hammond was able to get two quick outs, but Lowell doubled to left and took third on a fielding error by Chipper Jones. With Lee due up, another free pass was issued, and Hammond got a first-pitch warning track flyout from Gonzalez that could very well have been a hit with anyone not named Andruw playing center to survive another scary inning. His 12th was mercifully calm, just a 1-2-3 inning with two popouts.
Meanwhile, the Braves got some chances in their offensive halves of free baseball, but failed to capitalize. Keith Lockhart, double-switched into the game in the tenth, led off the 11th with a leadoff double that split the opposite-field gap against Braden Looper. Rafael Furcal then bunted in front of the plate, but Redmond made a strong throw to first that Lowell was able to scoop and pivot to tag Lockhart out at third; Redmond later caught Furcal trying to steal second. A Chipper Jones single to lead off the 12th similarly went nowhere. New reliever Gary Knotts retired the Braves in order in the 13th.
In the bottom of the 13th, Hammond was relieved by Kevin Gryboski, making his major league debut in this game. With one out, Gryboski hit Preston Wilson with a pitch. Wilson then stole second, which freed up a base. Gryboski fell behind Lowell 3-0, and the Braves opted to make the fourth pitch an intentional ball ahead of Lee. Two pitches later, Lee had grounded out to short, and another official intentional walk resulted in no further damage. Knotts again faced the minimum amount of Braves in the top of the 14th, thanks to a Chipper Jones 4-6-3 double play after a one-out walk.
In the fateful bottom of the 14th, the curtain closed on the Braves. Redmond knocked a one-out single into center, and Owens hit a comebacker that moved him to second. The Marlins had not yet emptied their bench, and deployed lefty-batting, light-hitting Andy Fox, who was immediately put on first base ahead of the lefty-batting Malloy. This was the Braves’ fifth intentional walk of the game, all of them in extra innings. After a seven-pitch battle, Malloy walked as well, bringing up Preston Wilson with the bases packed. Wilson fouled off the first pitch from Gryboski, and then took a ball. On the third pitch of the PA, Wilson made contact but broke his bat, sending a slow roller to third. Castilla charged the ball and tried to barehand it, but didn’t get any kind of grip. The ball squibbed away with the Braves’ chances of winning this marathon, as Wilson was safe at first and Redmond crossed the plate as the winning fifth run.
Game MVP: Even though it was for naught, Chris Hammond’s three innings of shenanigans. To be clear: Hammond is now a partial holder of most intentional walks in a game by a Braves reliever, ever (along with 13 other pitchers, including Lance Cormier, who did it more recently in 2006). In this game, the Braves issued five intentional walks, an Atlanta Braves record. (The 1954 MIlwaukee-based team once issued six intentional walks in a game.) This was Hammond’s highest WPA in a game as a Brave (.388).
Game LVP: Furcal only got a bit of mention here, but he was terrible in this game. He was the only player to go 0-for-7 and one of just two to fail to reach base in six or more PAs. In addition, his ineffective bunt and then caught stealing ruined a potential extra-inning scoring chance (on Lockhart’s first hit of the season, no less). Incidentally but not surprisingly, the worst single-game WPA mark of Furcal’s career was this game (-.429).
Biggest play: The walkoff broken-bat slow roller, because of course.
The game, in context of the season: This was another loss in a slow-start April for the 2002 Braves. They’d go berserk the rest of the year, but April was a struggle. The Marlins, meanwhile, didn’t really capitalize on this win and bounced around .500 for most of the year, finishing with 79 wins.
Ryan Dempster finished strong in this one, but was pretty mediocre for the Marlins for much of the year. He was traded to the Reds midseason and was crazy-unlucky with both homer rate and overall ERA-FIP gap. The Reds also failed to make the postseason and finished with 78 wins (less than Dempster’s original team), despite a really good start and a division lead as late as July 1.
Rookie Gary Knotts collected his first major league victory in this game; Kevin Gryboski’s first major league appearance turned out to be a tragedy.
This was Mike Remlinger’s eight outing of the season. He hadn’t allowed a baserunner to this point, and an error led to his sole baserunner in this game. It would be his ninth outing when he finally allowed a hit (and a run), and his 11th when he finally walked someone. He’d finish the season with a 64 ERA-, 72 FIP-, and 79 xFIP-, arguably his best pure relief season. The 3.04 WPA was very nice too. He’d go on to sign a free-agent deal with the Cubs after this season, but it was largely downhill for him after 2002.
Chris Hammond would not have another four-walk outing for the rest of his career. This was also tied for the longest relief outing of his career. His 2002 season ended up being notable for making him the fourth pitcher in history to finish with an ERA under 1.00 while averaging over an inning per appearance. Across Smoltz, Hammond, and Remlinger, the Braves had one top-10 reliever, two top-11 relievers, and three top-30 relievers in baseball in 2002, forming the best relief corps in baseball that year.
Video? Unfortunately, not that I’m aware of.
Anything else? Bobby Cox was ejected from this game in the fourth inning for arguing from the dugout, because of course he was. The Marlins would play one longer game that year by both innings and time, though they weren’t the same game. The same is true for the Braves, but two instead. This game, combined with the Mets game on April 7, meant the Braves played two five-hour-ish games of 14 innings each in less than a week.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 7: This date is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and in 1976, featured the reissuance of the two-dollar bill bearing Jefferson’s likeness.