The 2014 season was ultimately a disappointment for the Braves. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have its good moments. While some may disagree, I found it a very entertaining endeavor, until it suddenly wasn’t. April was still full of good moments, and perhaps this game had the best of them all. I’m being intentionally vague, a bit. I want to see if you remember this game, before I get to the part that you probably (definitely) should remember. Follow along, and see where the bell gets rung.
How it happened: The 2014 Braves were supposed to be good. A few games into the season, there was no reason to think anything different. They sat at 8-4 with a one-game lead in the division. The 2014 Phillies, meanwhile, were mired in some kind of franchise doldrums-rebuild-whatever-the-hell thing, having failed to finish over .500 since their 102-win 2011 season. (By the way, heading into 2020 or 2021 or whatever ends up happening, the Phillies still haven’t finished above .500 since 2011.) They were 6-6 coming into this game.
The Braves were starting Ervin Santana, an emergency signing who had thrown eight shutout innings with a 6/0 K/BB ratio in his first start of the year. The Phillies were starting Roberto Hernandez, the guy once known as Fausto Carmona, whom they gave $4.5 million after a replacement-level year with the Rays. It kind of looked like a mismatch. That’s not quite what happened.
The Braves threatened against Hernandez in the first couple of frames, but couldn’t score. In the first, Jason Heyward hit a leadoff bloop single. B.J. Upton took his place at first after a forceout, stole second, and advanced to third when Carlos Ruiz threw wildly in an attempt to nab him. However, Freddie Freeman swung through a letter-high changeup on a 2-2 pitch, and Justin Upton chased a 2-2 slider away, and that was that. In the second, Andrelton Simmons finished a 10-pitch PA with a two-out triple, but Hernandez pitched around Ramiro Peña (Ramiro Peña!) and Santana grounded out. Two pitches later, Braves nemesis Ryan Howard obliterated a dead-red Santana fastball into dead center to give his Phillies a 1-0 lead.
The third had some ridiculous, not-positive shenanigans. Heyward drew a leadoff walk, stole second, and moved to third on a groundout. On a full count, Freeman hit a comebacker back to Hernandez. Heyward was headed home on the play, and 1-5-2 retired him. Freeman tried to sneak into second, but Ruiz threw to second, and he was out there as well. The ol’ 1-5-2-4 TOOTBLAN double play. Luckily, the Braves weren’t the only ones to get burned by a not-too-common double play. In the fourth, Marlon Byrd hit a one-out double off Santana, but was caught too far off the base when Ruiz lined a ball to Dan Uggla at second.
The sixth is when this game got cooking. If none of the above jogged your memory, that’s okay. Maybe this will. Freddie Freeman led off the top of the inning, and drew a four-pitch walk. Justin Upton whiffed threw a full count changeup, bringing Evan Gattis to the plate. On a 2-2 count, Hernandez threw a sinker that was neither low enough nor away enough to prevent El Oso Blanco from muscling it out into the right-field stands, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. The Braves would get two more walks in the inning, but the Phillies were basically moving the lineup along to get to Santana, and he lined out on the first pitch to end the frame. He then responded by striking out the side in the bottom of the inning, working around a bloop Chase Utley double.
That was the end of the line for both starters. Hernandez’ line was grotesque: six innings, six walks, three strikeouts, and a two-run homer. Somehow, the Braves had the lead, but didn’t punish him beyond the Gattis homer for all those free passes. Santana, meanwhile, had a nifty 11/2 K/BB ratio with the solo homer marring his line. The 11 strikeouts tied a career high; Santana’s 0.88 xFIP in this game was his best in a start.
In the seventh, guys you probably haven’t thought of much/ever worked scoreless frames. Mario Hollands, he of the only-appeared-in-47-games-of-replacement-level-relief-for-the-2014-Phillies-and-then-never-again career, pitched the top of the seventh that featured Ruiz once again making a throwing error on a B.J. Upton stolen base. Ian Thomas and Anthony Varvaro worked around a Dan Uggla throwing error in the bottom half of the inning.
In the eighth, the Phillies called on B.J. Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s sixth pitch of the game was a delicious, hanging slider to Evan Gattis. It was not missed. It was crushed. Gattis had homered twice, and the Braves led 3-1. That was the count when Rosenberg threw his next meaty pitch, a wheelhouse fastball to Dan Uggla. Uggla had a 29 wRC+ coming into this game. He completely obliterated the pitch into left-center, a no-doubter. There was a mound visit. It didn’t change anything. A full count to Andrelton Simmons, another smorgasbord of a slider, and another whacked baseball. Back-to-back-to-back Braves bashes. Yummy. That was it for Rosenberg. Luis Garcia had to come on and actually get the full complement of outs for the inning.
(Weirdly enough, Rosenberg is not the only player in history to allow three homers without getting an out. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, it’s happened 12 times, including Joe Biagini in 2019 and Dylan Bundy in 2018. It even happened to Mark Melancon in 2012. However, Rosenberg is the only MLB player in history to have an outing where he faced only three batters, allowed a homer to each of them, and then left the game. It’s not quite as bad as Bundy starting the game by allowing a single, three homers, two walks, and then another homer, but still, weirdly historic.)
So, the Braves were up 5-1, and needed just six outs to collect their fifth straight win. Easy, right? Ha, I guess you really don’t remember this game. On came Luis Avilan. First, he walked Tony Gwynn, Jr. Consecutive liners by Jimmy Rollins and Utley loaded the bases. To his credit, Avilan did strike out Howard looking, making a horrible situation a little less bad. But, he was left in to face the righty-hitting Byrd, and won the process battle but not the result battle. Up 0-2, Avilan buried a fastball low that Byrd was able to get the bat on. It was a grounder that could have been a surefire double play, except it was hit nowhere near Uggla nor Freeman, and rolled into right field for a two-run single. The Braves still had a two-run lead, and lefty-batting, perpetually underachieving Domonic Brown was up.
And then two pitches later, everything came crashing down. Avilan threw a 1-0 sinker that didn’t quite run in on Brown enough, and he crushed into right-center for a three-run, go-ahead homer. Hyper-bruh. Avilan got the next two outs, but whatever. He had allowed five runs in one inning. It was the only time in his career that he would allow five runs in a single outing, and by far the worst WPA of a career that hasn’t always been that good (-.082). It was a bottom-30 performance, by anyone, in all of 2014.
Do you remember yet? Do you? Well, do you?
Alright, let’s set the stage. Top of the ninth. Braves down by one. The Phillies’ closer at the time, Jonathan Papelbon, was unavailable due to working three straight games. In comes Jake Diekman, who even then was pretty good! It was not Diekman’s night. First four pitches, all sinkers, all too low and/or inside to B.J. Upton, result in a four-pitch walk. Next four pitches to Freddie Freeman are off in the exact same location, except for one that nearly hits him. On a 3-1 count, Freeman swings at the same junk that would have earned him a walk, and pulls it to Utley at second. Utley gets the ball, hesitates a bit, tries to go for the force of the lead runner at second. It doesn’t work. Everybody is safe. Justin Upton comes up. He stares at five pitches. Four are in that same location that Diekman keeps missing to. He walks. Bases loaded, none out.
There’s a mound visit. Diekman’s next three pitches don’t resemble anything like the issues he was having up until this point. Evan Gattis takes a called strike and then whiffs on two pitches in the zone. It’s very much a linchpin situation here, with one out and the tying run on third, and Dan Uggla coming to the plate.
Now do you remember?
Diekman throws a pitch to that same glove-side low location he was missing. Somehow, the combination of Ruiz and the umpire get the pitch called a strike. It’s a horrible call, the pitch was further away from the zone than many of the blatant balls Diekman had thrown in the same general location earlier. Diekman throws his next pitch. It’s over the plate. It’s too over the plate.
Oh. Now you remember. Or do you have no idea what you’re watching? Why am I talking about this game? The Braves were down by a run. They were up by three. That swing caused a turnaround. But it also caused something else, something that gives joy beyond the ephemeral nature of a single baseball game. You know what it is. Let us bask in its glory.
(Yeah son, I’m embedding a Vine. Deal with it.)
Thank you, Dan Uggla. Thank you, 2014 Braves. Thank you, Phans. Thank you, baseball. (This is a good thread.)
Anyway, the rest of the game was kind of inconsequential. David Carpenter came on because Craig Kimbrel was dealing with a sore shoulder, got two quick outs, walked Rollins on four pitches, and then got Utley to ground out to Freeman to end the game.
Game MVP: Dan Uggla. Easily his best WPA contribution as a Brave, though oddly his best WPA contribution ever came against the Braves, and included a triple off Avilan. (It was the game in 2015 when he hit a three-run go-ahead homer in extra innings against Jason Grilli, in case you want to relieve that particular bit of misery.)
Game LVP: Remember how I said that Luis Avilan’s outing was a bottom-30 appearance in the 2014 season? Well, Jake Diekman’s was percentage points worse.
Biggest play: Come on, son. Get it together. Though, notably, Brown’s homer actually had more WPA (.607) than Uggla’s (.521).
The game, in context of the season: This was the fourth win in a five-game winning streak, as part of the Braves’ 18-8 April. Unfortunately, the rest of the season was pretty mediocre until a September collapse that cost Frank Wren his General Manager job and ushered in the rebuild. Still, propelled by this game and other victories in April, the Braves were competitive for the division through mid-July and were a playoff contender until fairly late in the year.
Ervin Santana didn’t peak early. While this was a great start, he would later outdo even this one against the Padres. Santana wasn’t always this good, but he put together a 3.2 fWAR mark for the Braves, which was his best since 2008. Hernandez, meanwhile, was generically blah for much of the year, like in this game. He actually surpassed replacement level for the Phillies, only to get traded to the Dodgers and then get hammered enough to slink back to replacement level for the year. His career ended after two starts with the Braves in 2016; 2011 remains his last season with notably positive fWAR.
Luis Avilan suffered his worst season to date in 2014. Jake Diekman did not; despite him being a hot trade market commodity in more recent years, his best season by fWAR was the same season in which he had this epic meltdown.
Dan Uggla, though... burned up in the atmosphere of this game, I guess you could say. Uggla was something like a 3.5-win player with the Marlins, give or take a win in each year. His first year with the Braves could have been thought to be a bit of a disappointment, as he hit worse and fielded worse than expected. In 2012, he kind of bounced back, though mostly due to an anomalously-high defensive array. In 2013, though, his contact rate started to sag, and combined with a return to poor defense and some bad luck on balls in play, he was pretty much quite bad (0.5 fWAR). In 2014, the Braves were still sticking with him, at least at first. With his two-homer game, his wRC+ on the season went from 29 to 84. However, by the end of April, it was only 58. By May, he was losing play time, and it was down to 45. The Braves cut ties with him in July, when it was down to 36. At that point, Uggla was basically done, though not done enough to not ruin the Braves’ lunch in that one 2015 game. Still, we’ll always have April 14, 2014.
Video! I demand video! Okay!
Four hours of delicious goodness. Watch it. Watch ittttt. Also for some reason all of MLB’s individual highlights are down. Maybe they’ll come back up. A condensed game of this would be sweet.
Anything else? There was a lot. Ervin Santana carried his bat to first. Andrelton Simmons had the second of two consecutive games with a triple and a homer. At one point in this game, Justin Upton nearly hit a liner right at his brother on third. Do you remember Ian Thomas? I do(n’t?).
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 14: This date marks the completion date of the Human Genome Project in 2003, around 13 years after it formally began.
(Once more, for good measure.)