We’re nearly done with April, and until now, we hadn’t touched on the 2011 Braves. We’ve done a few games in 2014, and those two seasons are always linked in my mind. In 2014, the Braves started great, and that gave them enough of a cushion to absorb around three and a half months of mediocre play until they totally and utterly collapsed. In 2011, the Braves started poorly, made up for it and then some, and then fell apart in the latter half of September for one of the most painful conclusions to a season ever. While the reality is that neither the 2011 nor 2014 teams were that good, those collapses were still sad to watch.
But, in April 2011, there was no reason to suspect that doom loomed on the horizon. Instead, doom seemed a little more imminent. The Braves were 11-12 as they headed into their last destination on a three-city West Coast Road Trip. They had been 8-12 before sweeping the Giants in San Francisco in the two teams’ first meeting since the Giants beat them in the NLDS a few months before, so things were looking up, at least a bit.
At this point, Petco Park had not yet been a horrorshow for the Braves. Since the park’s opening in 2004, the Braves had only been swept there once, and had won every other series. That would start the following year, as the Braves lost the series in 2012, and then didn’t win a single game in San Diego in 2013, 2014, or 2015. So, consider this game a harbinger of things to come. They actually won the next two after this one, the last time they’d win a series in Petco until 2019, but in this game, they weren’t so lucky.
The setup: There’s a lot of Derek Lowe in these recaps, and that’s because there was a lot of Derek Lowe (101 starts) for the Braves in recent history. In what would be his last season for the Braves, Lowe was on the hill in this game, taking the ball after his first bad results start (five runs in three innings at Dodger Stadium) of the season. (Note that he actually pitched pretty well for those three innings, and had the best FIP and xFIP of any 2011 start, but a .750 BABIP makes everything come off as really grim.) Lowe had been just average in 2009, his first year for the Braves, and got a little worse in 2010. There wasn’t too much room for him to decline further and still be useful.
The San Diego starter in this one was Dustin Moseley, a former first-round (compensation, 34th overall) pick of the Reds who hadn’t really made good on his pedigree, bouncing around multiple teams, roles, and injured lists. Before he signed with the Padres prior to the 2011 season, he had only managed 233 innings (32 starts, 48 relief appearances) across five seasons, in which he compiled 1.0 fWAR and below-average marks in ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-. The 2010 Padres were a nice surprise for everyone, finishing with 90 wins, but featured a weak rotation that offered little behind Mat Latos and Clayton Richard. Ahead of the 2011 season, San Diego attempted to shore that part of its roster up by acquiring Moseley and Aaron Harang (I swear, we’re just gonna talk about Harang every day now), which didn’t really work out, but hey, that’s how Moseley got here. Coming into this game, Moseley was getting great results (40 ERA-) but pitching around as expected (100 FIP-, 109 xFIP-). What he wasn’t doing, however, was getting any run support: the Padres had scored one run in his four starts, that run didn’t even come while he was in the game, and they lost all four games by scores of 2-0, 4-0, 1-0, and 2-1.
How it happened: It didn’t take long for the Braves to get on the board. The game’s second batter, Jason Heyward, went oppo on the first pitch he got from Moseley, smashing a looping liner that just kept carrying out into the left-field corner until it cleared the fence. That was Heyward’s sixth homer in the Braves’ 24th game of the season. (He’d hit seven in the month, the most he’s done in any calendar month.) Chipper Jones and Brian McCann both followed with very long at-bats (16 pitches between the two of them) but ended them on weak grounders.
Speaking of weak grounders — Derek Lowe’s night got off to a not-too-great start, as Chipper muffed Cameron Maybin’s weak roller. Jason Bartlett then singled up the middle, and the Padres had started a rally. Chase Headley’s weak grounder to Freeman at first advanced both runners, and a tie game loomed. But, Lowe got Nick Hundley to chase something too high, and then got Ryan Ludwick to chase something too low, preserving the lead.
After a 1-2-3 second by Moseley, Lowe would indeed yield the run he avoided in the first. Orlando Hudson spurted a grounder through the left side, and then Brad Hawpe hit a drive very similar to Heyward’s homer. The difference was that it was only a few feet shorter than Heyward’s and hit the wall instead. Martin Prado made a great play in left to snag the ball right after it came down and fired the ball back to the infield to keep Hudson moored at third. But, that didn’t really end up mattering, as Will Venable’s slow grounder to Freeman allowed Hudson to score. Lowe struck out Moseley on three pitches and then nibbled around Maybin to get to Bartlett (weird call, but ok), who flew out to center to end the inning.
Moseley again threw a 1-2-3 inning, this game with three consecutive groundouts. Lowe responded by not letting the first two batters of the inning on for a change, striking out Headley and Hundley. But, after Ludwick worked a full count, Lowe hung a breaking pitch and Ludwick didn’t miss it, thwacking it into left-center for a go-ahead solo homer. That was actually turning out to be a bit of a problem for the Braves, because Moseley just wouldn’t quit. The fourth was another 1-2-3 inning, and Moseley had now retired 11 straight Braves after Heyward’s homer. Lowe collected another two strikeouts in the bottom of the inning, stranding Hawpe after a leadoff single. The Braves would finally get to work in the fifth.
Moseley’s batters retired streak ended at 12 with Dan Uggla’s leadoff flyout, and his lead shortly thereafter. Freeman doubled into the right-field corner with one out, and Alex Gonzalez lined a single up through a shifted infield into center, scoring Freeman. Nate McLouth’s swinging bunt in front of home moved Gonzalez to second, and with two outs, something miraculous happened: Lowe swung at a 1-2 Moseley pitch and hit it back up the middle. It skidded off the right side of the mound and continued into center, nowhere near Hudson at second base. Gonzalez raced home, and Maybin dropped the ball on the transfer. The Braves again had a lead.
Moseley struck out Prado to end the inning, and it was now Lowe’s turn to shut down the opposition and he obliged with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Moseley then matched him with an eight-pitch inning, ostensibly not reeling from the two-run rally in the fifth. Lowe issued two walks in the sixth, but they came to nothing as pinch-hitter Eric Patterson, batting for Moseley with the latter having only thrown 79 pitches, hit a weak liner to Gonzalez at short to end the inning. One notable thing happened in this inning: 2011 was still a few years before the current replay review system was implemented in baseball, and McCann clearly threw out Hudson attempting to steal a base with two outs. However, Hudson was ruled safe, and there was no recourse. Not that it mattered.
With Moseley out of the game and trailing by a run, San Diego turned to Chad Qualls, who followed up years of solid-to-great relief work with a replacement-level 2010 and hadn’t fared any better in 2011’s early going on. You’d never know from this outing, though, as Qualls retired the side in order on 10 pitches. Lowe, at 107 pitches, did not come back for the seventh. Instead, out came Eric O’Flaherty, who had allowed one run in 2011 to date. O’Ventbrel was definitely the order of the day with a lead late, but it didn’t work as intended here. O’Flaherty walked Maybin on five pitches to start the inning. The Padres then bunted (ugh) him to second, which backfired momentarily as O’Flaherty struck out Headley. With the righty-hitting Hundley due up, Fredi Gonzalez deviated from the O’Ventbrel course by inserting Scott Linebrink, an offseason acquisition who was a few years out from being a useful reliever. (The “irony” that the Braves let O’Flaherty start an inning where he’d face right-right-switch and then pull him on facing his fourth righty-hitting opponent isn’t lost on me.) The move backfired almost immediately. Linebrink fell behind Hundley 2-0, and then grooved a fastball that Hundley crushed into the San Diego night... but basically into the deepest part of Petco, where it bounced up against the wall. Maybin scored easily, and though Linebrink recovered to get a flyout from Ludwick, the game was again tied.
In the eighth, the Padres gave Mike Adams the ball. Adams was in the last year of an incredibly-dominant stretch — from 2008 to 2011 — where he was fourth among relievers in fWAR and top 10 by basically any measure, and didn’t disappoint. He struck out McLouth, struck out pinch-hitter Eric Hinske, and then got Prado to fly out. The Braves countered with the second part of O’Ventbrel, hoping Jonny Venters would fare better than O’Flaherty in the seventh. That was mostly true: Venters started his inning with a kinda-bad (not that bad, the error was arguably not warranted) throw on a swinging bunt that led to a baserunner, but then immediately got Hawpe to hit into an easy 4-6-3 double play. A strikeout of pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia, hitting for Venable, ended the inning.
(In retrospect, it’s kind of funny: Venters and Freeman were both very visibly upset about not being able to retire Hudson on the comebacker, but two pitches later, it didn’t even matter.)
San Diego closer Heath Bell came on for the ninth. Bell was one of the few relievers more dominant than Adams over the same stretch, and was coming off two 2+ fWAR seasons. He too made short work of the Braves, striking out Heyward and getting very weak grounders from Chipper and McCann. Including the last out of the fifth and Moseley’s last inning, the Braves had made 13 straight outs without a baserunner. But, the pitching hadn’t yielded yet, so the game was still tied.
The Padres were in walkoff territory, but you know how managers are: even when you have a weapon like Craig Kimbrel, you can’t use him unless you have a lead, or some garbage like that. The point is, in lieu of finishing the O’Ventbrel sequence, the Braves went to young sidearmer Cory Gearrin, making his MLB debut after being called up to the majors three days earlier. Still, Kimbrel couldn’t have done better than Gearrin on this night. Gearrin ended up with two perfect frames, going groundout-strikeout-groundout in both. In between those, the Padres deployed Luke Gregerson, yet another reliever on a very multi-year run, who allowed a two-out single to Gonzalez but nothing else.
In the 11th, it was time for Ernesto Frieri and Cristhian (not a typo) Martinez to trade three up, three down efforts. Frieri was another quality reliever in this deep San Diego bullpen; Martinez was essentially your generic low-leverage long relief man. The Braves appeared set to do-or-die with Martinez, and Martinez did his job for the first three batters he faced.
Heading into the 12th, the Padres swapped Frieri for Cory Luebke. You might remember Luebke as a potential hot-shot starter candidate whose career was utterly destroyed by multiple Tommy John surgeries — at the time of this game, he was still in the San Diego bullpen. By the time Luebke came on, the Braves had had one hit in six innings, and things were getting quite late. Chipper was first up, and greeted the young left-hander with a double into the left-field corner. It was Chipper’s 500th career double, and his reward was to be able to spend the rest of the night on the bench, as Brandon Hicks came in to pinch-run. Unfortunately, this golden opportunity for the Braves to take a lead went the way of the curse of the leadoff double. McCann grounded back to Luebke, who threw to third instead of first in time for Headley to tag out Hicks. Uggla then singled, but Luebke struck out Freeman on three pitches and Gonzalez on four to end the threat. Martinez again did his job in 1-2-3 fashion, and this Monday night game was headed into a very late 13th.
The Braves again got the leadoff man on against Luebke, this time courtesy of McLouth dropping a single into shallow left-center. That brought up Martinez (remember, do-or-die), who laid down a bunt that got McLouth forced at second, and Martinez nearly doubled up at first. The doubling up would come soon thereafter, as Prado hit a fly down the right-field line that was caught by a diving Denorfia. For some reason, Martinez wandered away from the bag even though the ball was headed near foul territory, and failed to get back to first in time. To be clear: Denorfia dove, rolled, got up, and then threw the ball to first. The whole process took something like five seconds, during which Martinez made little effort to get back to the base. The game headed into the bottom of the 13th, where it would end.
Now out for his third inning of work, Martinez got a lineout from Hundley, but then missed on a full-count pitch to Headley to yield his first baserunner. A few pitches later, he threw some kind of cement-mixer-y something up and over the plate, and Ludwick didn’t miss it. The ball carried out to left and seemed to lose momentum as it traveled. Prado made a leaping try, but the ball landed in the first row just beyond his glove for a two-run walkoff homer and Ludwick’s second longball of the game.
Game MVP: Ryan Ludwick, for obvious reasons. He was the only player to collect multiple extra-base hits in this game,
Game LVP: Brian McCann, who went 0-for-5. His comebacker in the 12th ruined the Braves’ best (and really only) extra-inning scoring chance. It’s tempting to call out Martinez here for, well, losing the game as well as the really bad baserunning move, but he had already thrown two perfect innings, and was basically sent in as the eventual sacrificial lamb anyway. This was one of only two games during the 2011 season where McCann failed to reach base in five or more PAs.
Biggest play: Ludwick’s walkoff homer, of course.
The game, in context of the season: This loss dropped the Braves to 11-13. They’d win the next two games in San Diego, but wouldn’t move above .500 for good until a doubleheader on May 4. Of course, they’d collapse in September and miss the playoffs by a game. The Padres could not follow up successfully on their 90-win 2010, finishing with just 71 wins. This game was their only win in eight games (four losses before, three after), and the team’s best month was May, where they went .500 in 28 games. The position players and bullpen, both huge strengths of the 2010 team, took a step back. While the rotation improved over the prior year, it wasn’t enough to make up for everything else.
Dustin Moseley finished 2011 with 120 innings and 1.0 fWAR, both career highs. Labrum damage ended his season in July, as well as basically his career. Lowe finished 2011 with 1.5 fWAR, his lowest total since his 1997 rookie season. He’s probably worst remembered for imploding in September along with the rest of the team, and was traded in the offseason.
Despite this game, Ryan Ludwick had a very nondescript 2011 (0.2 fWAR). Offensively, it was his worst year (92 wRC+) since 2004. He was traded midseason to the Pirates where he hit about the same as with the Padres, but fielded much worse. He’d have one more decent year in 2012 (2.4 fWAR) before two sub-replacement level years, leading to the end of his career. The two-homer game was his only such effort of 2011.
Anything else? So, get this. In this game, the Braves sent 43 men to the plate. None of them walked. This is not a particularly rare feat in general. For example, it happened more than a few times during the 2019 season. However, for the Braves, it was the first time it had happened since 1985, and the first time since 1917 that the Braves had 10+ strikeouts and zero walks in a game with that many or more PAs. The Braves would replicate this feat in a 14-inning game in 2018, where Nationals pitchers would compile a 16/0 K/BB ratio. For the Padres pitching staff, it was the first time they walked zero in a game where they faced 43 or more batters since 1987, and they would do so again in 2018 in a 12-inning loss to the Giants. One of the crazy things about this is that the Padres would actually finish 2011 with one of the higher walk rates in baseball for their pitchers, while the Braves were a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of drawing walks. (Up until this game, however, the Padres had been stingy with walks, towards the bottom of the league in yielding them.)
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 25: So, maybe not “cool,” but this date is my wife’s birthday. My wife has a history of what we call “saddest birthday ever.” A couple of years ago, she had a medical procedure emergency-rescheduled onto this date, which meant she spent that birthday unexpectedly taking off work, going to the hospital, and then recuperating. A few years before that, she got the worst food poisoning of her life on her birthday, and literally spent the entire day (including the night leading up to it) half-asleep on the bathroom floor when she wasn’t throwing up. And this year, well — no party, no nice meal out, no usual spa day with her sister, not even a possibility for something good via takeout as so many restaurants around here have straight-up closed. It’s nothing compared to the real trials and tribulations folks are facing these days, but it definitely enters the hypothetical “saddest birthday ever” scrapbook along with some others.