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Braves Flashback/Recap: April 15

A late and awful bullpen implosion ruined a very exciting game up to that point

Florida Marlins v Atlanta Braves

When we last checked in on the 2009 Braves, they were walking off the Nationals in a rain-drenched home opener, in a game started by Derek Lowe. Five days later, Lowe was back on the hill, hoping for a start that looked more like his season opener (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) than his rain-shortened home opener start. Things didn’t go that way, but the offense kept the Braves in it, creating a very tense game for mid-April. But, in the end, the bullpen imploded mucho and the Braves ended up losing big.

How it happened: Early runs were in the cards for both teams. Lowe’s first inning was fairly grotesque, even though only one run scored. The game started with a leadoff single by Emilio Bonifacio (this is how you know it would only result in tragedy). Lowe’s very next pitch was something that Brian McCann couldn’t handle, and Bonifacio moved to second. After a couple of weak groundouts, Lowe lost control of a pitch and threw it wide of McCann, allowing Bonifacio to move to third. After a two-out walk to Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla (in his halcyon pre-Braves days) blooped a single into left-center to score Bonifacio. Lowe would end up walking Jeremy Hermida to load the bases, but get a full-count groundout from Cody Ross to end the inning. The line in that frame was gross: 34 pitches, two walks, two hits, a run, a wild pitch, and a passed ball.

In this game, the Braves were facing Andrew Miller, in his pre-dominant (and also pre-awful) reliever days, back when the Marlins were still trying to make him work as a starter. This was actually Miller’s first start of 2009, and expectations could have been at least modestly high — despite a horrific combination of elevated BABIP and minimized strand rate leading to a 130 ERA- in 2008, Miller had put up a 91 FIP- and 103 xFIP- in half a season, good for 1.9 fWAR as a starter. Unlike Lowe and the Marlins, Miller and the Braves wasted little time in tying the game. Kelly Johnson led off his team’s offensive attack with a triple into the right-field gap, and scored on an Omar Infante sacrifice fly.

After that, for the next three innings, things were very calm. Eerily calm. Lowe allowed a leadoff walk in the second and a leadoff single in the fourth, but nothing else. Miller allowed nothing at all, facing the minimum in those three innings, and 12 straight batters overall. But, in the fifth, things once again got very loud.

With one out in the top of the fifth, Lowe allowed a single-double-single-double sequence. The second single, a low liner to left from Jorge Cantu, scored the Marlins’ second run. Uggla then shot a grounder double over the first-base bag to plate Florida’s third and fourth runs. Lowe would issue two more walks in the inning, one intentional, to bring up Miller and finally end the threat. It was his last inning of work in the game; he departed after 106 pitches in five frames, with a nasty 5/5 K/BB ratio, 12 total baserunners allowed, and a four-run tally against him. It was a below-average start in an average season for the right-hander.

But, the Braves stormed right back, ending Miller’s cruise. Matt Diaz drew a leadoff walk. Jeff Francoeur singled on a weak roller that got past Bonifacio at third base. Casey Kotchman came up and fought off a 2-1 Miller offering into left field, down the line. It dropped for a double, scoring Diaz. Jordan Schafer struck out, and the Braves used Martin Prado to hit for Lowe. (Prado was on the roster at this point, and worth starting, but the Braves didn’t commit to starting him until late June.) Prado hit a comebacker to the left side of the mound — Miller’s only play was to first, and the Braves were within a run, but now had two outs. Fortunately, Miller could not rein it in. He walked Kelly Johnson on five pitches, and then Infante blooped a single into center, tying the game. That was it for Miller, whose first start of the year ended with 4 23 innings, four runs, and a 2/2 K/BB ratio. The Marlins summoned righty Hayden Penn from the ‘pen, and while Yunel Escobar took his 1-0 pitch for a deep, deep ride into center, the ball was flagged down by Cameron Maybin. The game was tied at four.

And so it would remain, for a bit. Buddy Carlyle came on in relief of Lowe and threw a 1-2-3 inning. Penn then threw one of his own. With mostly righties due up, the Braves gave the ball to Peter Moylan for the seventh. The move didn’t really work out (the second time we’ve covered a 2009 game here, the second time Moylan has faltered, even though 2009 was his best season). Moylan gave up a leadoff grounder up the middle to Cantu, struck out Uggla, and then gave an intentional free pass to Hermida after Cantu stole second. He then hit Cody Ross to load the bases with one out, and struck out Cameron Maybin to bring up the pitcher’s spot.

The Marlins pinch-hit with lefty-hitting Ross Gload. In a completely baffling managerial move, the Braves left Moylan in there to face Gload, which resulted in a five-pitch, go-ahead walk. Gload actually just stood there for five pitches before heading to first with the go-ahead RBI. It was only after that, with the switch-hitting Bonifacio coming up, that the Braves pulled Moylan for Eric O’Flaherty, who struck out Bonifacio after an eight-pitch battle. See, there’s no baseball happening, and we can still be perturbed by awful bullpen decisions. (Even if the Marlins had burned Gload to set up a righty-versus-O’Flaherty matchup, would that really be worse than a lefty-versus-Moylan matchup? And you’d get them to burn a player in a close game.)

The Atlanta eighth was pitched by former Brave (and current Florida Fire Frogs pitching coach) Dan Meyer, who would go on to have his only decent season in 2009. The Braves got nothing going. Rafael Soriano stifled the Marlins in the bottom of the inning, and after Meyer retired Kelly Johnson, he gave way to Kiko Calero. Calero gave the Braves a nice two-out rally featuring a two-out Escobar single, a four-pitch walk to McCann, and a wild pitch on a swinging strike by Matt Diaz to move the tying run to third... but struck out Diaz with the next two pitches.

The ninth, well, it was grim. Blaine Boyer came on. Boyer’s first appearance of the year didn’t go well, as he came on, faced two batters, walked both, and then left. He rebounded with a scoreless frame against Florida in the game prior to this one, and was asked to keep the deficit at one. Instead...

...he gave up a leadoff walk to Uggla. Then he hit Hermida with a pitch. Then Cody Ross singled up the middle, and the Braves were down by two. Boyer finally struck out Maybin to get an out, but pinch-hitter slash former Brave Wes Helms singled, and the Braves were down by three. Boyer had at least gotten one out this time, but still, it wasn’t good. On came Jorge Campillo, whose weird career I touched on during the April 10 flashback/recap. In what would end up being his third-to-last major league appearance ever, Campillo compounded Boyer’s misfortune by allowing two more singles (both grounders, one a slow seeing-eye roller) before ending the inning. By the time the inning was over, five runs had scored and the Braves trailed 10-4. They didn’t draw out the loss — after Jeff Francoeur’s leadoff single, the next three batters were retired by Renyel Pinto. Pinch-hitter, fan un-favorite, and probably-the-worst-player-on-the-Braves-in-2009 Garrett Anderson made the final out of the game by popping up to shortstop.

Game MVP: Two days in a row, we’re going with Dan Uggla. Uggla drove in the Marlins’ first run, their third and fourth runs, and started the painful ninth with a leadoff walk.

Game LVP: It’s a bit of a tough one, but I’d go with Andrew Miller. He had a large lead and couldn’t hold it, and couldn’t help himself from giving it completely away by doing stuff like giving out two-out walks to Kelly Johnson. Blaine Boyer, Jorge Campillo, and Peter Moylan constituted the bullpen meltdown of this game, but they each had enough of a hand in it to not come out ahead individually for this dubious honor.

Biggest play: Kotchman’s double off Miller, which trimmed the deficit to two runs and set up the Braves tying the game later in the inning.

The game, in context of the season: As mentioned during the April 10 flashback, the 2009 Braves were largely undone by a slow start and a crappy finish, despite being a solid-to-good team. This was another loss in that vein, and the second game in a five-game losing streak where the Braves would be outscored 34-7. The Marlins, meanwhile improved to 7-1 with the victory, their best start since 1997. This was their win in a seven-game winning streak, which was particularly odd because it was followed by a seven-game losing streak. Overall, the 2009 Marlins started 11-1, and then went 4-13. Their May featured two losing streaks of three games, a losing streak of four games, and a losing streak of five games. At one point in May, they were six games under .500 despite starting 11-1, but they were strong the rest of the way and finished 87-75, one game ahead of the Braves.

Blaine Boyer was a third-round draft pick of the Braves in 2000, and was fairly effective as one of the 2005 Baby Braves. But, across injury and ineffectiveness, he didn’t really make an impact afterwards. After this game, the Braves had enough: five days later, he was traded to the Cardinals for Brian Barton. (Barton, for whatever it was worth, had a really odd Braves career — he appeared in all of one game for the Braves, getting zero PAs, entering as a pinch-runner, and getting caught stealing while playing two innings of right field. Given that the 2009 Braves devoted a ton of PAs to outfielders Garrett Anderson, Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer, Gregor Blanco, and Reid Gorecki, all of whom were below replacement level, and the 2009 Cardinals devoted a ton of PAs to outfielders Nick Stavinoha, Chris Duncan, and Shane Robinson, all of whom were also below replacement level, it’s kind of odd that neither of these teams found a use for Barton, who had provided average hitting and good fielding in around 200 PAs in 2008. Still, no one else found a use for Barton either, as that caught stealing was his last major league appearance ever.) Boyer would actually redeem his 2009 season after being waived by the Cardinals and claimed by Arizona in June. He would reunite with the Braves in the 2016-2017 offseason, but was cut in Spring Training. Boyer put up 0.4 fWAR that year, his second-best mark after his rookie season, and would’ve been the fourth-most valuable reliever on a Braves relief squad that had seven whole relievers finish below replacement level that year.

Peter Moylan, who gave up the go-ahead run in this game, had a horrific eight-of-17-batters-faced retired going on through this game, with a -0.38 WPA through just five appearances. He’d finish the season with a 69 ERA-, 70 FIP-, and 86 xFIP-, with a career-best 1.2 fWAR. Quite a turnaround.

This game was yet another example of Dan Uggla tormenting the Braves as a Marlin. Uggla had a 118 wRC+ in Miami, but a 130 wRC+ against the Braves. My “favorite” “fun” fact: in his career, Dan Uggla had 1.13 WPA against the Braves, and 1.19 WPA as a Brave. The former took 414 PAs; the latter took 1,984 PAs. Ouch.

Video: Hey look, I found a YouTube video of this game, if you want to watch it for some reason.

Anything else? Hayden Penn hadn’t pitched in the majors in two years before debuting with the Marlins on April 11. Despite his good outing in this game, he was sent packing from Florida’s big-league team in early June after walking 16.7 percent of the hitters he faced. This was Dan Uggla’s second straight game with three runs driven in.

After the game, Derek Lowe was quoted as saying, “I can’t remember the last time I walked five guys in a game.” That kind of makes sense: the last time to that point was September 20, 2007 — quite a while ago. In Lowe’s pre-Braves career as a starter, he had around 1,500 innings with seven five-walk games. As a Brave, Lowe had five such games and another game where he walked seven, in just 575 innings.

Wondering where Chipper Jones was in this game? He was unable to play due to a sore thumb. He’d miss five games in April with the ailment, all Braves losses.

Fredi Gonzalez was the Marlins’ manager in this game.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 15: I know baseball is dead to you, but in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier by appearing in a game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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