Things were getting fun in 2005. We last checked in on one of the literal biggest wins in franchise history just two days ago. After that, the Braves flew west from Atlanta to Denver, where they dropped a series opener to the Rockies, 7-6 — Tim Hudson got knocked around and the Braves lost despite two-run frames in each of the second, third, and fourth. But, not to worry. This juggernaut just kept rolling on.
The gist: The Braves started their latest Coors Field assault with a six-run first inning, and only looked back a tiny bit, but not enough to really worry.
How it happened: The story of this game was all in the first. On the hill for the Rockies was Jason Jennings, an average-y innings eater that had been worse in 2004. He’d fared even worse than that to start 2005 (113 ERA-, 131 FIP-, 114 xFIP-). Jennings had been knocked around by the Padres in his first start of the year and his most recent start, but had fared okay otherwise, including mixing in a complete-game win over the Dodgers into April. He came into this game with as many walks as strikeouts. The Braves, well, they smelled blood in the water, or the rarefied Denver air or something.
Jennings retired the first batter, Rafael Furcal, on a groundout to first. Marcus GIles started the assault with a single. Chipper Jones followed with a walk. Jennings, a righty, then got Adam LaRoche to ground to first as well, giving the Braves a two-on, two-out situation. Then, the floodgates burst, in very Coors Field-esque fashion. Andruw Jones drew a walk after an 0-2 count, loading the bases. Johnny Estrada shot one down the line, past Todd Helton at first, scoring two and ending up at second base. Ryan Langerhans then lined one into the right-center gap, scoring both runners and giving the Braves four runs on back-to-back two-out hits. Raul Mondesi, who was still playing for the Braves at this point despite a 50 wRC+, followed with a fly that dropped near the left-field foul line on a botched route by the left field, scoring Langerhans and putting Mondesi on second. That brought up Atlanta starter John Thomson, batting before he needed to throw a single pitch. Thomson absolutely unloaded on a Jennings offering, slamming it into the left-center gap to score Mondesi. Jennings had thrown 12 pitches across four batters, and in that span, six runs had now scored. Furcal, up for the second time in the inning, decided to prolong the pain. He started his PA with two strikes, then fouled off three straight pitches, took three balls, fouled off another, and then took ball four on the tenth pitch. Finally, Giles, who had scored the game’s first run, grounded out to second to end the inning.
Thomson took the hill after all of his batting and baserunning excitement in the top half of the inning. He was coming off a very successful first season with the Braves (3.2 fWAR) in 2004, and had been legitimately stellar so far in 2005: 68 ERA-, 67 FIP-, 86 xFIP-. His most recent outing was a complete game defeat of the Astros where he allowed three runs but struck out five with zero walks. He had quite a lot of runs to work with before he threw a pitch, even if Coors Field does kind of take the challenge out of a six-run lead a bit. He worked around a one-out walk to Aaron Miles to throw a scoreless first.
With six runs in the bank, there wasn’t too much scoring to go around in the next few frames. The Rockies threatened in the second a bit, as Giles booted a ball with one out, and Cory Sullivan singled. But a flyout from backup catcher J.D. Closser and a groundout from Jennings ended that threat. The Rockies would break through in the third, as Helton drew a two-out walk, moved up on a wild pitch, and scored on Preston Wilson’s grounder up the middle. But, the Braves got that run back in pretty similar fashion: Giles led off the fourth with a single, moved to second on a LaRoche grounder to first, and then scored on a two-out roller up the middle from Andruw. That inning was the end of the line for Jennings, who allowed seven runs in four innings of work, with three walks and strikeouts each. It was another poor start for him, and the second in a stretch of five games where he’d allow four or more runs in each, including an eight-run outing two games after this one.
More singleton runs followed. The Rockies narrowed the score to 7-2 when Clint Barmes’ two-out single down the right-field line scored Desi Relaford, whom Thomson plunked to lead off the bottom of the fourth. But, the Braves increased their lead to six runs once again versus new pitcher Marcos Carvajal. Mondesi drew a leadoff walk, and after a wild pitch, Thomson bunted him to third. Furcal lined out to third base, momentarily preventing the run from scoring, but Giles shot one over Brad Hawpe in right for the team’s fourth double in five innings and their eight run overall. Another wild pitch moved Giles to third, but Chipper lined out into the left-field gap to end the inning.
And then, with the Braves up by the six runs they scored in the first, and the two teams trading one-run innings for four consecutive frames, it was time for a real Colorado rally against Thomson. Helton started the inning with a walk, his second of the game. Wilson hit a deep fly into the left-center gap that no one managed to flag down; it bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double. Hawpe followed by rolling one to LaRoche for the first out, scoring Helton. That brought up Relaford, who hit one into left field, out of the reach of Langerhans, scoring Wilson, and trimming the lead to four runs for the first time in the game. After a groundout, Closser and pinch-hitter Garrett Atkins hit consecutive balls up the middle, scoring another run. That brought up Clint Barmes as the tying run, and the Braves did something that we’ve rarely seen them do in these flashbacks: with the fourth time in the order coming up, and despite Thomson’s pitch count sitting at only 99, they pulled him. Jorge Sosa, still a reliever at this point (ahead of his very fortunate run as a starter later in the year), came on and was the beneficiary of a Barmes lineout to end the inning.
The book on Thomson marked his worst start of the season to date: five runs in 4 2⁄3 innings with a gross 0/3 K/BB ratio. It was a bottom-three start of the season for him by essentially any metric, and the worst by xFIP. But, the Braves still had a lead, albeit a three-run one in the league’s scariest run environment.
The bullpens, though, basically locked it down from here. The Rockies asked David Cortes to keep the deficit manageable, and he did so handily, allowing just two baserunners in two innings. The outing was his Rockies debut, and his first major league appearance since August 2003. Cortes had actually made his debut with the Braves in 1999, making four relief appearances towards the end of the season. He resurfaced with Cleveland for a couple of games in 2003, and finally made it back to the majors with a third club in this outing. Sosa retired the first two batters of the sixth and then gave up a single to Wilson, which led the Braves to insert John Foster. Foster LOOGYed effectively, getting Hawpe on a routine flyout to end the frame.
Adam Bernero, who had spent part of 2003 and all of 2004 with the Rockies, shut down his former team in the seventh, needing just six pitches to do so. Jay Witasick came on for the eighth and had an adventurous inning that led to another Atlanta run. Chipper started it with a single, and was erased at second on a LaRoche fielder’s choice. Andruw connected for the Braves’ fifth double, nearly clearing the fence, and Witasick put Estrada on first to the load the bases. The gambit seemed like it could have worked out as Langerhans struck out and Mondesi hit a grounder to third, but Relaford booted the ball, allowing the game’s final run to score and make it 9-5 in the Braves’ favor. Julio Franco, pinch-hitting in Bernero’s spot, grounded out to end the inning.
The rest of the game was very uneventful. Chris Reitsma, Witasick, and Dan Kolb finished it out, each allowing a baserunner in their respective frames. Kolb actually did well (for once) by preventing his leadoff man, who reached second on a Furcal error at short, from scoring. He ended the game with an 11-pitch strikeout of pinch-hitter Luis Gonzalez. Both Reitsma and Kolb benefited from acrobatic catches by Langerhans in left, robbing a hit each time.
Game MVP: Johnny Estrada, who went 3-for-4 with a(n intentional) walk and drove in the Braves’ first two runs. This was mostly a team effort, with the Braves collecting 14 hits (five doubles, nine singles), including three from Estrada, three from Andruw, and four from Giles, who also had two of the doubles, but Estrada collected his ribbies and double first.
Game LVP: Jason Jennings, who was obliterated early and didn’t stick around late. He still managed to have a better K/BB ratio than his starting counterpart, but when you put your team in a 6-0 hole early, it’s hard not to be the LVP.
Biggest play: There was no real individual play that mattered too much in this not-very-close game, so let’s just go with Estrada’s double.
The game, in context of the season: With this game, the Braves pushed their record to 8-2 in May. They’d kind of skid the rest of the way in the month, losing the next game in this series on a walkoff, which itself was the start of a 4-8 road trip. After a stretch between mid-April and this game where the Braves didn’t lose a series, they wouldn’t win back-to-back series again until June 22. It took a red-hot July to vault then to a division lead they wouldn’t relinquish, even though they came into this game (and finished it) with a 1.5-game lead in the division.
The Rockies, meanwhile, would finish 2005 at 67-95, their second consecutive sub-70-win season, matching their worst year as a franchise to date. They had the worst record in the NL (second-worst in the majors) coming into this game and spent literally all season aside from its first two games in last place in their division. Even with this win, they were 11 games out, and it was only May 10. Despite this loss, they’d win the series with the Braves... and it was only their second series win all season. (The Rockies would actually go 4-2 against the Braves in 2005, despite the two teams’ very disparate fortunes.)
Jennings would go on to have a weird year. His numbers were all awful after this start, and he’d have two more crappy outings after this one. But, starting on May, he uncorked a much better run that lasted through July 20, when he broke his finger in a baserunning incident and had to miss the rest of the season. As a result, this was an average but injury-shortened season for the average-y innings eater. Jennings would go on to have a career year (4.2 fWAR) in 2006, but then was largely done as a useful contributor afterwards due to the usual bugbears of injuries and their impacts on his effectiveness.
Thomson actually suffered a fairly similar fate. He hurt his finger in his very next start, which brought his stellar beginning to 2005 to a screeching halt. He missed three months with the injury, and was only a little less effective but way less lucky (133 ERA-, 91 FIP-, 95 xFIP-) after his return. Thomson finished 2005 with his best FIP- in a single season ever (83) but just 98 2⁄3 innings to show for it. Injuries completely wrecked the rest of his career, with him only managing 91 innings the rest of the way due to all sorts of hand and shoulder problems.
Video? Alas, 2005 does not appear to be a kind year for found video footage.
Anything else? Thomson spent the first five-and-a-half years of his career with the Rockies. In that span, he hit just two extra-base hits, a double and a triple. He hit five in three years (two partial) with the Braves.
In this game, the Braves scored nine runs on 14 hits, without a homer. This is something Braves teams did around once a year, give or take, since the 80s (when it was more common). However, since the juiced ball, this has basically evaporated: it happened zero times between May 2015 and August 2019, though the Braves did randomly manage to do it twice in September 2019.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 10: The inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s president, in 1994, happened on this day. Also, for those of you into themed holidays, today is the 112th anniversary of the first celebration of Mother’s Day, which also happened to first occur on a May 10 (in 1908).
The Braves would have had an off-day on Monday, May 11, so we’ll see you back here on May 12.