Do you remember this game? You have no reason to. You have no reason to remember most of 2017, honestly. It was a nondescript year — not so awful as to be painful, but nothing anywhere close to “good” or “competitive.” Yet, this game in particular was one of those strange, pulpy, cursed gems, something that makes you adore and appreciate baseball, yes, even baseball between two also-ran teams, and miss it that much more when it was gone.
After this game happened, I was the one whose turn it was to recap it for TC. While I basically never pre-write recaps, I at least kinda-sorta sketch them out in my head before typing anything. In this case, I sketched out like five different narratives, as the game kept evolving in the late innings. Eventually, I just gave up, as you can see if you read that recap. This game was one of the heights of baseball wharrgarbl, as infuriating and elating as only a basically-meaningless game in April can be. The Braves lost, but that’s not the point. The point is how they did so.
How it happened: The 2017 Braves started the season in weird fashion. They split their first two games of the season, then lost five straight, then won five straight, and then had lost another four straight coming into this Saturday night middle game in Philadelphia. They would be facing Jerad Eickhoff, who had broken out in 2016 with a 3 fWAR season and seemed like he was going to keep those good times rolling into 2017. They would be countering with Jaime Garcia, who was acquired for some reason that no one really quite understood in the offseason, and endured a rough start with his new team (107 ERA-, 151 FIP-, 132 xFIP- in his first three starts).
Both teams had small two-out rallies with back-to-back baserunners in the first, but neither was able to do anything afterward to put a run on the board. Eickhoff and Garcia then settled down a bit, as each retired the next six batters they faced.
The Braves would take the lead in the fourth. Freddie Freeman drew a leadoff walk, and with two outs, stole second. That set up Brandon Phillips to shoot one down to right field between the first baseman and the foul line, scoring the game’s first run.
Phillips would make it to third on a pickoff-that-was-actually-a-balk, but couldn’t score because Tyler Flowers lined out to right. After that, the game went back to the starters retiring batters. Garcia worked around a two-out walk in the bottom of the inning; Eickhoff worked around second baseman Cesar Hernandez booting a routine grounder to start the fifth by striking out the side afterward. Garcia then countered with a 13-pitch strike-out-the-side inning of his own.
Through five, the Braves led 1-0, with Eickhoff having allowed four total baserunners with a 7/2 K/BB ratio, and Garcia having a 5/1 K/BB ratio with just two hits yielded. Eickhoff had hit 98 pitches after five, and was pulled in favor of Joely Rodriguez, who allowed a leadoff single to Freeman, erased him on a Matt Kemp 1-6-3 double play, and then got a comebacker from Nick Markakis to finish off the first half of the sixth.
Garcia’s fortunes waned the third time through the order. Hernandez started the inning with a routine grounder single through the left-side hole. Aaron Altherr then jumped all over a 2-2 Garcia offering and sent it bounding into the left-field corner, where it hopped against the wall and ended up putting runners on second and third with none out. Two pitches later, Odubel Herrera singled up the middle, tying the game. Two pitches after that, the Phillies had the lead, though at least a heads-up play by Dansby Swanson grabbed an out that prevented the inning from getting worse.
Garcia then ended the inning by striking out Tommy Joseph on three pitches. On the strikeout, Maikel Franco wandered too far off first base, got caught in a run down, and was eventually tagged out. That was it for Garcia, who ended his day with two runs allowed in six frames with a 6/2 K/BB ratio. Not spectacular, but way better than what he had done thus far in an Atlanta uniform.
Luis Garcia pitched a scoreless seventh for Philadelphia, working around a one-out walk. Swanson actually creamed a Garcia pitch into right-center, but Herrera flagged it down with a running catch. Eric O’Flaherty, very much playing out the string at this point, faced two batters, and was pulled after allowing a one-out, 0-2 double to Freddy Galvis. He was replaced by Jose Ramirez, who benefited from more bad Phillies baserunning when Galvis got gunned down trying to steal third (for some reason). That too would come up big, as Ramirez would walk the first batter he faced and then give up a double to pinch-hitter Daniel Nava, but he then struck out Hernandez on three pitches to keep the deficit to the same one run it was when the inning began. Pat Neshek sat the Braves down in order in the eighth (an Altherr diving catch in left field to rob Freeman helped), and Ramirez made the bottom of the inning “interesting” once again. First, he walked Altherr on five pitches. Then, Altherr stole second. A groundout to second by Herrera pushed Altherr to third, with Franco coming up. Here, Ramirez once again benefited from some odd Philadelphia baserunning. But hey, check out Matt Kemp with the gun!
So, the Braves headed into the bottom of the ninth, still down by a run. The Phillies turned the ball over to Edubray Ramos, whose career has been about as reliever-y as you can get. (For whatever reason, anointed 2017 closer Hector Neris was not used in this game, perhaps because he had pitched two straight days before this one.) First up was Kemp, and Neris got him to swing through a high fastball in a full count. Next up was Markakis, and in a 1-2 count, Ramos bent a slider around the plate for a called strike three. That brought up Brandon Phillips as the Braves’ final hope, and well, sometimes that idiom is more than just words.
Hang ‘em and bang ‘em, supreme edition, right there. Just like that, the game was tied. But, the Braves still had work to do. Tyler Flowers worked a nine-pitch at-bat against Ramos, but went down swinging in the end.
Arodys Vizcaino came on for the bottom of the ninth and worked a 1-2-3 inning, striking out two on pitches in the dirt. The Phillies sent Jeanmar Gomez, who had been terrible through his first few outings of 2017, in to give them another chance at a walkoff. The Braves took advantage. Swanson started the inning by rolling a 3-1 pitch between third and short for a leadoff single. What transpired after was super-weird.
First, manager Brian Snitker inserted Emilio Bonifacio (ugh) as a pinch-hitter for the sole purpose of bunting Swanson over. That part was weird, but it worked out — Bonifacio got the bunt down and actually nearly beat it out. But, the weirder part came right after: first baseman Tommy Joseph received the throw, and after catching the ball and recording the out, spun and fired wildly in the direction of third base, despite A) Swanson not really making a break for it and B) there not being anyone in the vicinity of third base to catch the throw. It was definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen in a baseball game. (For some reason, there’s no video of this separately, but go to 10:21 in the condensed game below to see it.) It looked like the Braves now had a golden opportunity to take advantage of a mistake and grab the lead, but Gomez struck out Ender Inciarte to make that an iffier proposition. However, that just set the Phillies up to double down on their gift-wrapping of the game for the Braves. Three pitches later, Adonis Garcia hit a soft roller to third. Swanson raced home, but his run would be moot if Garcia was thrown out. Franco scooped the ball up at third, bobbled it, and then threw nowhere near first base, with the throw sailing into the dugout, as you can see below.
The result was a Braves lead and a runner on second. After an intentional walk to Freeman, Kemp would ground out to end the inning, but the Braves now needed just three outs to make an utter Philadelphia meltdown complete.
But, you know the Braves lost this game, and said meltdown was not, in the end, hung on the Phillies. Instead, the Braves took a game they had been straight-up gifted, and decided, “Nah, actually, we don’t need this 23rd letter of the alphabet. Who knows where the Phillies re-gifted it from? Let’s give it right back to them.” The manner in which they did so, oh boy. It was like the Phillies’ defensive top of the 10th, but wilder.
On the mound for this bout of ineptitude would be Jim Johnson, who had signed with the Braves before 2015, got traded, and then signed with the again on a two-year pact (this was the second year of it) prior to the 2016 season. The inning started out fine, with Johnson whiffing Cameron Rupp for the first out. Brock Stassi, double-switched into the game in the top of the inning, then lined a single to right. Let’s get silly, starting now. Hernandez came up, and lined the first pitch back up the box, right at Johnson’s glove. However, Johnson didn’t close it on the ball in time, and it skidded off... but right to where Brandon Phillips was playing, near the second-base bag. For whatever reason, the Braves’ hero of the ninth chose to barehand the ball, and utterly failed at doing so. Both runners were safe. (No video, but again, see timestamp 11:26 of the condensed game.) So, Johnson went back to work, this time against Altherr, and got Altherr, too, to hit a ball into the infield defense, this time to Swanson at short. The ball was hit hard enough and not right at Swanson that he had to lunge to grab it, but in the end, he did field it cleanly. What he couldn’t do, and didn’t do, however, was be able to flip it to second effectively — he dropped the ball getting it out of his glove, and then his toss went nowhere near Phillips. The result was again, everybody safe, with the tying run on third and the winning run at second with one out. (See timestamp 11:35 or so.)
So, Johnson and the Braves were suddenly in a bit of a spot, and Herrera, with his platoon advantage, was at the dish. Herrera took a fastball for a strike, then a curveball for a ball. He laid off another fastball in the dirt, but then took one for a strike. On a 2-2 count, Johnson threw a curveball that basically tilted down into Herrera’s back foot, but for some reason Herrera swung (seriously, this was one of the worst swings against the Braves during the 2017 season) and came up way empty. The Braves now had a path out of the tie, and even out of the loss. But, it was not to be.
Look at where Flowers set up, versus where the pitch ended up. Look at Markakis not chasing that ball down with reckless abandon. Kind of a shame, but the Braves really did it to themselves.
Game MVP: Maikel Franco pulled off the coup de grace. While his misplay at third gave the Braves the go-ahead run, he came through without the direct aid of the Atlanta defense.
Game LVP: The whole Brandon Phillips, Dansby Swanson, Jim Johnson, maybe Nick Markakis thing that happened in the bottom of the 10th. Blech.
Biggest play: The walkoff hit, of course.
The game, in context of the season: This was the fifth of six straight losses for the Braves, after which they’d win four straight. The 2017 Braves went 10-13 in April, which was basically par for the course for their 72-win team. They had a good June, but that was about it. The Phillies were more erratic but worse, finishing with just 66 wins despite having two calendar months above .500. Going 6-22 in May really tanked their season and win total. This was the third of six straight wins for them; after this streak, they wouldn’t win consecutive games until June, which is kind of insane if you think about it.
By WPA, this remains the highest-scoring game of Franco’s career. He’s never even had a single play come as close to the .725 he achieved on his walkoff hit. Amusingly, though, Franco managed -0.5 fWAR in 2017, a “feat” he replicated in 2019.
Eickhoff continued to pitch well in 2017, but only managed 128 innings, and hasn’t been heathy or effective since. This game was arguably one of Garcia’s best starts as a Brave, though he didn’t last the season with them, getting traded to the Twins and then to the Yankees after just one Minnesota start. Both Garcia and Jim Johnson would be out of the majors by 2019. By WPA, this was Johnson’s worst outing as a Brave, and worst since 2014, but it wasn’t really his fault. Johnson was definitely worse in 2017 (and was below-replacement in 2018, and then basically done) than previously, but a lot of criticism of his performance was unfair, as he suffered a 127 ERA- with a 99 FIP- and 92 xFIP-. Speaking of unfair, Jeanmar Gomez was so bad for the Phillies in 2017 that he got sent packing after just 22 innings, but he managed a 167 ERA-, 148 FIP-, but just an 89 xFIP- before being shown the door.
Brandon Phillips was okay, but not great, for the Braves in 2017 (1.4 fWAR in 499 PAs). He too was out of the majors by 2019.
Video: You’ve got options.
Quick recap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1O6OjCdlqW4&feature=onebox (stop disallowing embeds, ugh)
Anything else? After the game, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, “‘Wacky’ is the word of the day.” Hard to disagree.
Freddie Freeman had a 237 wRC+ coming into this game, and it actually increased after he went 1-for-2 with three walks. Freeman finished April with a 220 wRC+, It was by far his best calendar month ever. When he was hit on the hand and missed over a month, his wRC+ sat at 201; he came back, played some third base, made comments about swinging a wet newspaper, and still finished with a 150 wRC+ overall, including a 126 mark post-return from injury.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 22: This date in 1977 marks the first use of fiber optic cables to carry telephone traffic. In baseball-related news, though, this date in 1876 featured the first National League baseball game. The Boston Red Stockings (also known as the Red Caps, often referred to as just the Bostons) defeated the Philadelphia Athletics, 6-5.