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Braves Flashback/Recap: May 8

I love it when a baseball plan comes together

NLDS: Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros Game 4 Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Baseball is the search for the uncommon and unexpected. But sometimes, things just... mostly go how you’d expect. It’s not good baseball, and it’s probably not even all-that-common baseball (ironically). But it’s baseball nonetheless.

Coming into May 8, 2005, the Braves had won four straight and six of seven. They’d gone from trailing in the NL East by a game to leading it by half a game. They had taken three straight from the Astros, and were looking to deliver a coup de grace in a Sunday afternoon finale. They’d be starting Mike Hampton, who was more “okay” than “good” since beginning his Braves tenure (FIP- and xFIP- right around 100 in both 2003 and 2004), and was pretty much right there again so far in 2005 (101 FIP-, 105 xFIP-), albeit with some snazzy run prevention benefiting him (59 ERA-). He was coming off a pretty terrible start (six runs in six innings, 2/1 K/BB ratio, a homer allowed) against the Marlins, but he was still perfectly adequate.

At the same time, the Astros were, well, pooching it. They’d gone 9-13 in April, won two straight to start May, and then lost five straight coming into this game. It was only May 8, but they were seven games under .500, and fifth in (their six-team) division, already seven games out. They had won literally one game on the road all season, and it was their fourth road game of the year, meaning that they had lost 11 straight away games. While in April, they at least had a positive run differential and could just blame some poor fortune for their poor start, that was no longer the case in May. Their starter for this game was to be Ezequiel Astacio, a guy making his second career start, whose first one had been a real mixed bag (6/1 K/BB ratio, but two homers yielded, and four runs in six innings as a result).

The gist: There’s no way to really talk around this — the Braves creamed the Astros, 16-0. Mike Hampton threw a complete-game shutout and nearly faced the minimum over nine innings. Ryan Langerhans hit two homers and drove in six. This was about as one-sided a game as possible.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

How it happened: It was pretty gruesome, to be honest. Hampton set the tone for his start by striking out Willy Taveras on three pitches. A groundout and a popout sent the Braves to bat. With one out, Marcus Giles smashed the first pitch he saw for a double into left. Chipper Jones lined one into right to push him to third, and a routine fly to right from Adam LaRoche scored the game’s first run.

Hampton allowed his first hit in the second, letting Mike Lamb reach on a grounder through the right side. But, Jose Vizcaino pulled a 1-0 pitch to Chipper for a 5-4-3 double play, and Jason Lane flew out on the first pitch to right center. Hampton had faced the minimum with an eight-pitch inning. The Braves, meanwhile, followed up their one-run first with a two-run second: Brian Jordan crushed a 2-0 pitch over Taveras’ head for a leadoff double, and then trotted home to score as Ryan Langerhans drilled an Astacio pitch over the boards in right center.

At that point, Hampton just became some kind of offense-stifling entity. Another 12-pitch inning sent a wearied Astacio back to the mound. The Braves said “screw it” to any kind of pattern where they would score runs to match the inning number. After Astacio started the inning with consecutive outs, they went single-single-single-double-homer to plate five more runs. LaRoche, Andruw Jones, and Jordan hit the singles, Langerhans connected again for a two-run double that split the opposite-field gap, and Eddie Perez capped it with a homer into left-center. Hampton followed with another 12-pitch inning, the start of seven consecutive frames (from the top of the fourth through the top of the seventh) where no batter reached base. Astacio actually threw two 1-2-3 innings after getting touched for eight runs in the first three; Brandon Duckworth came on for the bottom of the sixth and followed suit. Meanwhile, Hampton was just at 75 pitches through seven innings, having faced the minimum. The best the Astros had managed off of him were three deep fly balls — he had also collected three strikeouts, three pop-outs, and seven easy groundouts.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Braves decided to tack on some more tallies against Duckworth. Furcal flicked a leadoff single into left, and LaRoche followed suit with two outs. That set up Andruw to bash a homer where Perez had gone deep earlier, making it an 11-0 affair. Jordan then reached second on a grounder that was thrown away by Adam Everett at short, which put a baserunner on for Langerhans’ second homer of the day, once again into the right-center stands.

The Braves put in some subs for the eighth, swapping Chipper and Furcal out. Hampton threw a seven-pitch inning, with two groundouts and a flyout. The Astros threw in Chad Harville to finish out the game, but the Braves weren’t done yet. Hampton greeted Harville with an opposite-field solo homer, the 15th of his career, first (and only) of the season, and fifth as a Brave. Harville also allowed the next two men to reach, and then Pete Orr, who had come on to give Chipper some rest, shot a ball down the right-field line for a two-run double. That was it for the scoring, and while Hampton couldn’t throw a no-hitter or a perfect game, he could at least attempt to face the minimum...

...But that was put in jeopardy right away. Hampton’s first four pitches of the ninth all missed the zone, and Everett reached base with a leadoff walk. But, amazingly, Hampton recovered by getting Raul Chavez to ground a ball to Orr, leading to a 5-4-3 twin killing. He just had to get the next batter, Orlando Palmeiro, who hadn’t even started the game but had come in for Lamb, who had gotten the only hit off Hampton, in the top of the ninth. For his career, Palmeiro was a fairly weak hitter (wRC+ in the 80s) who really couldn’t hit same-handed pitching (wRC+ in the 60s against southpaws). He didn’t make great contact against Hampton, but he hit it to where Giles couldn’t record a groundout. And just like that, Hampton’s bid for facing the minimum was over. Four pitches later, Taveras grounded out to short, ending the game. Hampton finished with a complete game shutout two-hitter, with one walk and three strikeouts.

Game MVP: Kind of a toss-up between Langerhans and Hampton. I’m tempted to say Langerhans just because Hampton didn’t need to do what he did to help the Braves pull out the win; he could have Derek Lowe’d his way to success if need be.

Game LVP: Astacio. He just couldn’t figure out the homers.

Biggest play: Langerhans’ first homer, which turned a one-run lead into a three-run lead. Alternatively, Vizcaino’s ninth-inning single, which prevented Hampton from facing the minimum.

The game, in context of the season: This was the Braves’ fifth straight win. This roll would end eventually, and they would lose six straight series in late May and early June to fall into a pretty big hole in the division race. But, they’d come roaring back with an 18-8 July to vault themselves to their 14th straight division title.

For the Astros, meanwhile, this loss was an extension of their misery, and the turnaround wasn’t too close by. They would fall to a record as bad as 16-31 by May 27, a full 15 games back in the division. But, a 38-16 run in June and July gave them the NL’s third-best record (the Braves were second) on July 31, and while they had no hope of catching the Cardinals, they finished with 89 wins, edging the Phillies to grab a playoff spot by a measly game in the standings.

For Hampton, this was one of the best starts of his long career. It was certainly the fewest baserunners he allowed in a shutout, though he had much better K/BB ratios in other starts. And, it should be noted, he finished with a Maddux, totaling just 98 pitches, with 16 of those coming in his last inning of work. Sadly, though, this was close to the end for Hampton. To this point, he had been pretty durable — his lowest innings total since 1997 was 170, and his lowest start total was 29. Yet, in his very next start after this one, he departed early due to forearm tightness. Two weeks later, he returned, only to again leave a start with forearm tightness. That shelved him for six weeks. When he returned, he had one ineffective start, and then missed a month with a back injury. After two more bad starts, it turned out he needed Tommy John Surgery, and ended up missing the rest of 2005 and all of 2006. Then he went on to miss all of 2007, with a combination of an oblique problem an another injury to his surgically-repaired elbow. A hamstring injury and a pec strain meant his return was pushed into July 2008. Other injuries limited him to about half-time duty through 2009, and his effectiveness never rebounded. But at least he kinda-sorta went out on top, given that this was his last outing before the deluge of injuries obliterated the rest of his career.

Astacio, meanwhile, had his second start have a decent xFIP and horrible results, just like his first. He only managed 86 23 career innings, below replacement level, though it was all due to a crazy-high HR/FB rate. His career xFIP- was 105, compared to a career FIP- of 145. Yikes, and perhaps a shame.

Langerhans only had two two-homer games in his career. This was the first; the second came three days later. He set his career high in RBI (six) in this game, and never matched it. By wRC+, it was his second-best game that wasn’t a pinch-hit appearance — he went 3-for-5 with two homers and a double, topped only by a 2010 game in which he went 3-for-4 with a homer and a double, one fewer out and in a very different run environment.

This game also featured Hampton’s second-to-last homer of his career and the last homer in the career of Eddie Perez. The Braves hit five homers total and had 17 hits, neither a particularly rare feat. Much rarer, however, was their margin of victory: in 2005, aside from this game, their biggest win was by 10 runs; the last time the Braves outscored their opponents by 16 or more runs was 2001. They have never done the feat since, and it’s only happened 11 times in Braves history (seven times in Atlanta Braves history), including twice in 1999. The Astros, meanwhile, have only been outscored by 16 runs six times in their history — they lost 19-3 in 2011; prior to this game, the most recent such loss was 17-1 in 1999.

But all of that, well... the Braves went 5-1 against the Astros in the regular season. And, of course, you know what happened next: they met the Astros in the playoffs, again, and in a tortured 18 innings of Game 4, they lost their last playoff appearance of The Streak. It was the second consecutive year in which Houston had knocked Atlanta out of the playoffs in the NLDS. Even when you sweep a team in four games during the regular season, well, baseball doesn’t care.

Video? It’d be a fun one, but unfortunately, I think it’s too old.

Anything else? The Astros ran out basically a C-lineup in this matinee, after already losing the first three games. I say C-lineup because the B-lineup was of course the team’s A-lineup at this point (are you still with me?). Jeff Bagwell was out of action with a shoulder issue, while both Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio sent the day on the bench resting. Hampton definitely took advantage and feasted.

Also, you might remember that we visited 2005 a few times earlier in this series, but one particular focus was this epic 1-0 game on April 18. Quite a juxtaposition, no, with the narrowest of margins against the team in one game, and then the widest of run-chasms less than a month later. And, of course, Ryan Langerhans’ first career homer was the only run in that one. 2005 was fun, yeah?

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about May 8: All the way back in 1386, England and Portugal signed a diplomatic alliance known as the Treaty of Windsor. The general spirit of this agreement is still in force, making the longest-lasting diplomatic agreement that persists to the present day. Historically, these two nations have never warred against one another, nor participated on opposite sides of the same conflict (at least, not as independent states).