Now that we’re in to April, the field of games available to be chosen for a closer look on any given day has definitely expanded. The reality is that since I’ve been watching the Braves, they’ve only been average-y or worse in a few seasons... but we’re going right back to 2008 to focus on one particular thing. The game was an early loss in a lost season, but the Braves, with Bobby Cox still at the helm, pulled off something you definitely don’t see every day.
How it happened: The 2008 Braves didn’t really have much of a rotation the entire season, and this was very much on display on April 3. Jeff Bennett had pitched in relief in two of the young season’s first three games already, and here he was, making the start in a de facto bullpen game on April 3. All things considered, Bennett pitched okay, holding the Pirates to two runs in four innings, with a 3/2 K/BB ratio. One run scored in the third, as Nate McLouth hit a leadoff double and came around to score on two groundouts. Back-to-back doubles by Jose Bautista (yes, still that one) and Ronny Paulino plated a second Pittsburgh run in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Braves (who, remember, had a pretty great offense in 2008) were struggling to hit Zach Duke. At the time, Duke was a rare draft-and-develop success for the Pirates, a 20th-round pick who would go on to put up 12.2 fWAR in six years with Pittsburgh before being traded with a final year of control remaining. Through five innings, the Braves peppered Duke with five singles and a double, but never in enough of a bunch to plate a run. That all changed in the sixth, albeit with a bit of luck. Chipper Jones led off the frame with a weak roller past third that went for a single. With one out, Jeff Francoeur lined a Duke pitch back up the box. Up came lefty-killing Matt Diaz, and he blooped a single into left-center to score Jones as Atlanta’s first run. After a groundout, it was Corky Miller’s turn to hit another weak fly into left-center that also found grass, tying the game. The Braves inserted pinch-hitter Brayan Pena into the pitcher’s spot, and Pena hit a weak roller to short. However, Jack Wilson booted the ball, and the Braves had a third run. Duke would go on to issue his very first walk of the game and get pulled thereafter, but new reliever Franquelis Osoria struck out Yunel Escobar to stop the Braves’ rally at three runs. Duke finished this game with a 1/1 K/BB ratio, something that seems unthinkable for a guy pitching into the sixth these days.
The Braves then proceeded to immediately give back their ill-gotten lead, in pretty similar fashion. After Blaine Boyer had relieved Bennett with two perfect innings, Will Ohman, the Braves’ lone strong reliever for the 2008 campaign, came on to preserve the lead. The first batter hit a routine grounder that was botched by Martin Prado at second base. Two batters later, an Ohman pitch got past Corky Miller, and the runner moved to second. Jack Wilson, whose error allowed the Braves to take the lead, then hit the very next pitch into the left-field corner for a game-tying single.
After that, the bullpens held down the fort, allowing just one walk through the end of regulation play. (The Pirates kicked the ball around some more, committing two errors that resulted in baserunners in the bottom of the seventh, but the Braves couldn’t take advantage.)
That set the stage nicely for the only reason to remember this game. In the tenth, the Braves turned to Chris Resop, who did not experience profound success. Resop walked pinch-hitter Nyjer Morgan on a full count, and the Pirates bunted Morgan to second. Resop then walked Jason Bay, but ball four also eluded Miller behind the plate, putting the go-ahead run on third with the lefty-hitting Adam LaRoche coming up. With the Braves already having used six relievers (and Jeff Bennett, nominally, being the seventh real reliever), they were out of particularly good options. Backing LaRoche were righty-hitting Xavier Nady and Jose Bautista, and Nady had already taken the Braves’ lunch once this series. So, Bobby Cox went and got southpaw Royce Ring from the bullpen... but put Resop in left field. The Waxahachie swap was on.
Ring, for whatever it was worth, did his job. He struck out LaRoche on three pitches. Ring hit the showers, and Resop trotted in from left to retire Nady and get out of the inning. He did not. On a 1-1 pitch, Nady rolled a ball up the middle, scoring the go-ahead run.
Matt Capps had melted down in epic fashion against the Braves two games ago, but seemed to have his one-run lead under control. He quickly retired the first two batters, but then Mark Kotsay tripled over McLouth’s head on the first pitch he saw. Could the Braves embarrass Capps again, twice in the same series? No, they could not. Brian McCann, who would go on to have a phenomenal offensive season, took the bat away from Corky Miller. But, on a 1-2 count, he hit a harmless grounder to LaRoche, and that was that.
Game MVP: Freaking Xavier Nady. Nady was 0-for-3 with a couple of strikeouts, but didn’t miss a chance to sucker punch the Braves in extra innings once again.
Game LVP: Chris Resop, for obvious reasons. He both set up and ruined the successful completion of the Waxahachie swap.
Biggest play: The fact that the Waxahachie swap happened. Waxahachie! (Fun fact: the moniker comes from former White Sox manager Paul Richards, who would pull the maneuver a few times a game and hailed from Waxahachie, Texas.
The game, in context of the season: The Braves fell to 1-3; the Pirates improved to 2-1. (Remember, the Braves played a weird one-game series to open the season and the Nationals’ new ballpark to begin 2008.) After this, they went on to play other teams, and neither team went anywhere. Jeff Bennett would continue to work as a kinda-sorta swingman, but this was really his first of only four starts in 2008. He’d have a ton of relief appearances, though. Zach Duke had another strong season.
I want a recap: Unfortunately, there’s no good video. It’d be cool if the Waxahachie swap was on YouTube or something, though.
Anything else of note? Royce Ring recorded 0.183 WPA for his three-pitch strikeout of LaRoche as part of the swap. It was the second-most WPA he’d ever gotten in a game. Weirdly enough, the most WPA he ever achieved in a game also came in 2008, when he came on with the bases loaded in a tie game in the sixth, threw two pitches, and got Jay Bruce to hit into an inning-ending double play. In both outings, he faced just one batter. Even though Ring was a true LOOGY-type, he still faced righties 47 percent of the time in his career.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 3: This date in 1975 was when Bobby Fischer was supposed to defend his World Champion chess title against Anatoly Karpov. However, due to a ton of drama that I won’t recount here, he didn’t, and effectively forfeited the title. In short, Fischer only wanted to play the match under a series of rules that weren’t particularly fair, and his proposal was rejected. Fischer would go on to not play chess in public for nearly two decades.