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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 4

How did our 2012 hearts survive this?

Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

So, the Braves had that huge, epic win over the Phillies on May 2, 2012. They walked off a crazy, 15-13, back-and-forth game with Chipper Jones’ two-run homer. It was maybe the craziest game for the Braves of the 2010s, if not the 2000s. You’d think that after that, everyone would take a breather, play some normal 4-1 and 2-0 baseball games, right? Errnt. Wrong. After that game, the Braves did drop their next game, 4-0, and then departed westward to start a weekend series at that place where definitely nothing crazy ever happens, nope, no sirree: Coors Field.

What transpired was basically “Insane 2012 Games 2: Coors Field Boogaloo.” Yet, in 11 innings, the Braves prevailed once again.

The gist: The Braves fell behind 5-0 in the first inning, but eventually took a 6-5 lead. They then blew that one, got another, blew that one, and finally got a third in extra-inning, which they almost blew again (but didn’t).

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

How it happened: Tim Hudson had a delayed start to his 2012 season, only making his season debut on April 29 after needing the extra time to fully recover from offseason disk surgery. He wasn’t a stranger to Coors (four prior starts) and had actually pitched really well there, including a complete game shutout in 2006. He hadn’t yielded a Coors longball in any of those four outings. That wouldn’t stand past this game, unfortunately.

The Rockies would be starting a pitcher who similarly had only made one prior start in 2012: Guillermo Moscoso, a Venezuelan right-hander who broke out in a half-season in Oakland, but then was traded for Seth Smith before his ERA and FIP could regress to his xFIP. That regression had perhaps begun to kick in during his first start (six runs in five innings, including a homer, despite a 5/1 K/BB ratio). On paper, this seemed like a bit of a mismatch in the Braves’ favor.

And then... the first inning happened. Moscoso walked Michael Bourn and let him steal second, but then got three straight outs, including strikeouts of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann to strand Bourn despite the pseudo-leadoff double. With one out, Hudson allowed a double to Jonathan Herrera. He then missed with consecutive full count pitches to Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, loading the bases. Todd Helton then rolled one just past the glove of a diving Freddie Freeman, opening the scoring with a two-run single. Michael Cuddyer followed with a liner into center, making it a 3-0 game. A groundout pushed Cuddyer to second, which then set up the fourth and fifth runs as Dexter Fowler blooped one into right. Hudson struck out Moscoso on three pitches to end the frame, but that wasn’t the start anyone on the Braves side was hoping for, and pretty much nothing anyone expected.

Well, a five-run deficit in the first is better than a five-run deficit in the ninth, so the Braves tried to go to work. They got a couple of baserunners (Dan Uggla leadoff walk, Eric Hinske one-out single), but got nothing to show for it in the end. Hudson bounced back with a 1-2-3 inning in the second, and the Braves went back to work. With one out, Chipper singled up the middle. That brought up Freeman, who did this: (Argh no 2012 embeds.) For those of you unable to watch the video, it was an absolute moonshot of a homer to right-center, just completely obliterated into the Denver afternoon. The Braves were on the board, but got nothing else in the inning. Hudson threw another 1-2-3 frame, and we were into the fourth.

The Braves wasted a nice chance to get on the board again. (Homers or death, I guess.) Jason Heyward drew a four-pitch walk, and then stole second on a pitch that struck out Hinske. But, a few pitches later, Moscoso deked him into taking off early and picked him off. Hudson, though, kept holding strong. He once again retired the side in order, giving him ten straight Rockies retired. Those efforts would be much needed, because the Braves would have the third time through coming up against Moscoso in the fifth.

After Hudson struck out to start the inning, Bourn lined one into center for a single. Two pitches later, he ended up on third, having stolen second and moved up when the throw skipped into center. Actually, this whole sequence was weirder than those words indicate. Bourn had actually tried to bunt his way on earlier, and his attempt was ruled fair by the home plate umpire. However, an argument ensued and an appeal to third-base umpire overturned the call from fair to foul, giving Bourn a chance to reach base. After all that, the Braves rallied in earnest.

Chipper then rolled one up the middle, scoring Bourn. The Braves now had the tying run coming to the plate in the form of the human who had connected for a moonshot off Moscoso a couple of innings prior. Freeman did indeed connect again, but this time just for a solid single up the middle. After a wild pitch, the tying run moved up into scoring position, and McCann saw fit to score it with, you guessed it, another ball up the middle. With four straight singles to center, the Braves had tied the game.

That was it for Moscoso, doomed by the vagaries of BABIP the third time through the order. It wasn’t a great outing (5/3 K/BB ratio and a homer allowed in 4 13 innings is not awesome), but it wasn’t as bad as the .462 BABIP and sub-50 percent strand rate-based results. Furthermore, his last pitch was actually off the plate and got an awkward swing from McCann — Moscoso just got burned by the result. Matt Reynolds came on in relief and nearly got a double play off Uggla’s bat, but the latter beat it out. That ended up mattering: despite the lefty-lefty matchup, Heyward fought one off past a diving Marco Scutaro at second. Hinske then served a liner over third base, scoring Uggla as the go-ahead run and going for a double. This too was on a pitch off the plate, and Hinske somehow kept it within the third-base line. After an intentional walk, Hudson grounded out to short to end the very productive inning.

So, the Braves now had a lead, and Hudson had been cruising. They took their first-inning lemons and squeezed their juices into the Rockies’ faces, or something. Hudson got a groundout to start the bottom of the fifth, making it 11 straight men retired for him and the Braves’ defense. But then, disaster struck: Yes, that was light-hitting Jonathan Herrera (career 65 wRC+ and .070 ISO, with the latter coming mostly at Coors) tying the game by yanking a down-and-in pitch into the right field stands. It would actually be the only homer Hudson would allow in May 2012. Hudson retired the next two batters, but the Braves now had more offensive work to do. It was the first time he had allowed six runs in a start in nearly a year (May 20, 2011).

Reynolds was still out there for Colorado, given that the Braves had L-S-L-L due up. He got the first L, Bourn, on a groundout. But then, the S made him pay on an 0-2 pitch: That was Chipper’s fifth homer of the year — not quite as dramatic as his walkoff a couple of days prior, but it still gave the Braves the lead. Freeman then doubled, but Reynolds struck out McCann, gave a free pass to Uggla, and then struck out Heyward to end the inning.

Amazingly, Hudson was left in. He had already allowed six runs and was facing the meaty part of the Colorado order for the third time. This was also just his second start of the year, and he had only lasted five innings in the first one. I’m guessing it was the fact that he had only thrown 78 pitches so far despite the six runs, but you never know. Anyway, this inning didn’t really go much better than the one before for Hudson.

Helton started the frame by lining a ball inside the first-base line for a double. Cuddyer then bounced a ball to Chipper, who bungled gloving it on a hop. The Rockies then bunted the runners over (why? ugh), and Hudson responded by walking Fowler to set up a double play situation against a pinch-hitter in the pitcher’s spot. He almost got his wish, as Tyler Colvin rolled one to second, but despite a strong relay throw from shortstop Jack Wilson and a massive stretch by Freeman, the ruling by the first base ump was “safe” and the Rockies tied the game once again. Hudson’s last batter was Scutaro, who flew out. The game would be decided by the bullpens. Hudson’s strand rate in this game was a hilarious 26.3 percent. He did okay in general (6/3 K/BB ratio), but the Herrera homer was a killer.

Matt Belisle, in the midst of a very dominant relief stretch, came on for the seventh. With one out and Hinske on first after a leadoff single, the Braves let Hudson bat for himself, but with the intention of bunting. It didn’t work out with Hudson going down on strikes, and the Braves then caught a horrible break as Michael Bourn’s deep drive into left, well past Carlos Gonzalez, bounced into the stands. Had the bunt been successful, that would have been the go-ahead run. Instead, Belisle got Chipper to ground out to short to end the inning. Kris Medlen started Atlanta’s first relief inning inauspiciously with a walk, but then got three straight outs to send the game to the eighth.

More Coors Field shenanigans hurt the Braves. The Rockies sent out Rex Brothers to match up with Atlanta’s plethora of lefties, but Freeman started the inning by knocking one off the wall in right-center. Unfortunately, the ball bounced perfectly back to Cuddyer, who gunned out Freeman at second by multiple steps. Uggla would later connect for a two-out double, but was stranded when Heyward bounced out to first. Medlen stayed on for the eighth and issued a one-out walk, but recovered to get a first-pitch flyout from Fowler. After the Rockies inserted pinch-hitter Jason Giambi, the Braves went to Eric O’Flaherty, who carved up Giambi to end the inning.

For the ninth, the Rockies went with then-closer Rafael Betancourt. In case you’re keeping track, this pretty terrible Colorado team had a pretty great bullpen, and Betancourt made good on that by going three up, three down. He was aided in this by a double play ball from Matt Diaz after a one-out single. (Diaz had entered the game with O’Flaherty as part of a double-switch that removed Heyward — a pretty baffling tactical decision in a close game at Coors Field, given that Eric Hinske was still wandering around left field.)

O’Flaherty then had a legitimately terrifying bottom of the ninth. First, he gave up a leadoff single. After the Rockies bunted the runner to second, Gonzalez took a massive swing at an O’Flaherty offering but fortunately managed to hit it into medium-depth right field. That moved the runner to third, and O’Flaherty then pitched around Troy Tulowitzki to try and retire Helton to get out of the inning. After a six-pitch battle, he finally beat Helton on an outer-third fastball to send the game to extras.

The Braves seemed prime to once again take the lead in the tenth, but they didn’t. Having used most of their good relievers at this point, the Rockies resorted to replacement-level-type righty Josh Roenicke. Bourn the started the inning with a very Michael Bourn-esque outcome, bouncing a ball between first and second and stretching it into a double. Roenicke then walked Chipper on four pitches, and fell behind Freeman 2-0, when this happened: Freeman was straight-up robbed of what would have possibly been the game-winning hit, and the runners could not advance. A McCann groundout and Uggla strikeout ended the threat. The Braves “countered” which Chad Durbin, which was a pretty yikes move in a close game. It worked out, despite back-to-back two-out walks (see, yikes), as Durbin got pinch-hitter Wilin Rosario to pop out.

The 11th was great for the Braves two days ago. Would it prove so again? Yes! Tyler Pastornicky started the inning in Durbin’s spot against new reliever Edgmer Escalona, another replacement-level-type. On the very next pitch, Hinske made everyone very glad that he wasn’t removed from the game previously: (This was actually Hinske’s last non-pinch-hit homer of his career.) Escalona quickly worked through the next three batters, but the Braves now had a two-run lead, and it was Kimbrel time. Recall, however, that Kimbrel had blown his save chance two days ago, and had actually given up runs in back-to-back outings coming into this game,

Kimbrel proceeded to start the inning with a walk, which was a little concerning. The emotional ping-pong-ing bounced back into “we’re gonna be okay” territory as he made Gonzalez look awful on a strikeout, but then veered once again towards anxiety as Tulowitzki singled up the middle, putting the tying runs on base with one out. On a 1-2 count, the Rockies put Tulowitzki in motion. That momentarily saved their hides — Helton shot one towards Uggla, who made a nice skidding stab to prevent an RBI single up the middle. Had Tulowitzki not been off with the pitch, a double play would have resulted. Instead, the Rockies scored a run and had Tulowitzki on second with two outs. It was all up to Cuddyer. On a 1-2 count, Kimbrel got him to swing at something low and roll it to Wilson at short. The veteran shortstop whipped it to Freeman in plenty of time, and the Braves had won another crazy contest.

Game MVP: Big man Eric Hinske, who finished a triple shy of the cycle while hitting the game-winning homer. Hinske had four hits — weirdly enough, it was his second four-hit game in five days. Before that, his last four-hit game was in 2004. In other words, he went nearly eight years without a four-hit game, before busting out two towards the tail end of his career. It was also the highest single-game WPA mark for Hinske since 2003, and his fifth-highest ever. The 34-year-old Hinske had an overall-dreadful 2012 that hastened the end of his career (56 wRC+, -1.0 fWAR), but even terrible seasons can have shining moments. The funny thing about all of this: Hinske only drew the start because regular left fielder Martin Prado had to sit the game out with an illness.

Game LVP: Edgmer Escalona, who gave up Hinske’s bomb. Matt Reynolds could also qualify for letting two separate ties become deficits, but his failings didn’t come in the 11th. Escalona finished 2012 below replacement; this game featured his worst WPA of 2012, and the second-worst of his career.

Biggest play: Hiske’s homer, of course.

The game, in context of the season: Most of the season-type stuff was covered in the epic Braves-Phillies game from two days ago. The Braves used this game to improve to 16-11 and keep pace at 1.5 games behind the Nationals. They would go on to sweep the Rockies in this series. It was their first series win in Denver since 2007, and their first sweep since 2003. (They also lost all the series played at Coors between 2003 and 2007.) It was the start of a 7-2 road trip for the Braves, featuring two sweeps (Denver, St. Louis) but a series loss to the Cubs in Chicago.

The Rockies, meanwhile, were in a pretty terrible stretch — 2012 was the second of six consecutive sub-.500 seasons. 2012 would be the team’s worst year in its history, as they finished with just 64 wins and 30 games out of first place. (The Astros and Cubs were even worse in 2012, however.) This loss started a five-game losing streak for the Rockies, and a stretch where they lost nine of ten, beginning their whole-season collapse. Coming into this game, the Rockies were .500!

Tim Hudson had a fairly down year with the Braves (1.6 fWAR). Guillermo Moscoso lost his rotation spot after just two tries following this game. He last appeared in the majors in 2013. The same goes for Edgmer Escalona, who finished below replacement in both 2012 and 2013. Both Moscoso and Escalona most recently pitched in the Mexican League.



Condensed game:

YouTube results page with other highlights (including some from other games):

Anything else? According to news reports around the time of this game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez banned his players from tossing Frisbees around before games. This is the first I’m hearing of this, but... whaaaat?

19 hits was a season high for the 2012 Braves. They managed it only in the two games we’ve covered most recently, within two days of one another. The Braves hadn’t had a 19-hit game since 2008, and wouldn’t have one again until 2016.

The Braves’ pitching staff allowed more walks (nine) than hits (eight) in this game, which is kind of weird if you think about it, given where the game took place.

TC Recap:

TC Game Thread (1):

TC Game Thread (2):

General TC commentariat sentiment about this game: Thumbs down for Chad Durbin and Fredi Gonzalez, thumbs down for emotional roller-coasters, thumbs up for wins.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 4: The official starting date for construction on the Panama Canal, way back in 1904.

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