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Braves Recap/Flashback: June 14

What in the world even was this game?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: June 14 is also the one-year anniversary of this epic comeback and walkoff:

As amazing as that game was, I think it’s still pretty well ensconced in our collective memories. After all, that was perhaps the game of 2019, and recapping it seems a little unnecessary in a series meant to highlight the weird, the wonderful, and sometimes, the perfectly mundane of baseball yesteryears. In any case, if all you need is the above, knock yourself out. Consider your duty finished. After all, no one’s taking attendance. (That would be weird.)

Throughout their history, the Angels have only made two trips to Atlanta. (The two teams have only played five total series.) Another of these was set to be played in 2020, but 1) welp and 2) who knows how future schedules will proceed given 1). The Braves and Angels tangoed in 2011, but Mike Trout wasn’t yet called up. In 2017, Trout missed a month of play with injury, which happened to be when the Braves visited Anaheim. That leaves 2014 as his only exposure against the Braves to date. The first game of the series went to the Braves, who made a four-run first stand up despite Trout’s best efforts to get his team close. This was the second game, and it was just bananas.

The gist: The Angels peppered Gavin Floyd and the Braves with runs, including back-to-back homers by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols at one point, to lead 5-0 in the eighth. However, the Braves somehow scored five runs afterwards, including five straight hits to lead off the ninth and tie the game, without a homer. The Angels immediately came right back to take the lead against Craig Kimbrel in the tenth, but the Braves tied the game right back up. Somehow, the two teams then avoided scoring for a couple of innings, until the Angels put up another five-spot that finally laid the Braves to rest after 13 frames.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The setup: 2014 has been the only year that the Mike Trout-led Angels were actually good. Their position player group was the cream of the crop, tough to handle all around, with Trout a shining beacon of dominance, but everyone else more than just pitching in. Even Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton were notable at this point, the former collapsing but not yet collapsed, and the latter still productive when on the field. In addition, the combination of Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Hank Conger, and even Collin Cowgill were smashing other teams — 2014 was a career year for Aybar and Cowgill, and close to it for Conger and Kendrick. The Angels came into this game 36-30, 3.5 games behind the Athletics for first place, but still holding the fifth-best record in baseball.

The Braves were only slightly worse at 35-31, and tied with the Nationals atop the NL East. The two teams’ strengths were flipped — the Angels had amazing position players but pretty awful pitching; the Braves had one of the best sets of arms in baseball, but a mediocre position player group. Moreover, the real problem for the Angels was their bullpen, because their rotation was actually fine. Meanwhile, the Braves’ bullpen was pretty dominant, all of which creates a funny subtext for this game.

The overall pitching strength of each team aside, though, the Braves didn’t have an on-paper advantage given the matchup. They had Gavin Floyd going for them, and while his average-y performance was a beautiful surprise given that he had missed most of the 2013 season (71 ERA-, 103 FIP-, 95 xFIP- in seven starts, none of which were disasters), it was nothing compared to the season Anaheim starter Garrett Richards was having so far: 85 ERA-, 74 FIP-, 90 xFIP-, and just two homers allowed all season, essentially a top-10 pitcher season to this point in 2014.

How it happened: Nothing much happened in the first few innings. Floyd had a perfect first, with both Trout and Pujols grounding to short, as well as a perfect second. He threw just 20 pitches in those two innings. The Braves got a B.J. Upton single (why was he still batting second?!) in the first and an Evan Gattis “single” (Aybar threw the ball away on a slow bouncer) to lead off the second, but nothing else. The third was another quick (ten pitches), 1-2-3 inning for Floyd, as he hit Chris Iannetta but then got Richards to bunt into a 5-6-4 double play. The Braves got two baserunners in the bottom of the inning, thanks to an error where Floyd failed to catch a glove flipped ball at first and a two-out walk, but Justin Upton grounded out to second to end the inning.

The fourth was where the Angels got on the board and made some trouble for Floyd. Kole Calhoun led off the frame with a single and moved to second as Gattis couldn’t handle a very, very wild Floyd pitch that went about 50 feet and bisected the batter’s box. Trout followed by scalding one into left, putting runners on the corners. Pujols then nearly homered to right on the first pitch, but Jason Heyward brought it down on the track and it went for a sacrifice fly instead of something worse. Trout later stole second standing up, but a strikeout and a deep fly to center ended the inning. Richards went strikeout, strikeout, walk, groundout in his fourth inning of work, with the groundout coming on an excellent diving stop by Aybar to rob counterpart (and eventual trade exchange partner) Andrelton Simmons.

In the fifth, both teams wasted scoring chances. Aybar led off the frame with a single and then stole second, moving to third on a groundout (that was only an out due to an excellent barehanded play by Chris Johnson at third base). However, a pop out and fly out stranded Aybar. Floyd actually led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, and moved to second when Richards somehow walked B.J. Upton. That didn’t matter, though, as Richards struck out Heyward before the walk, and then Freddie Freeman and the younger Upton afterwards. He had nine strikeouts through five innings.

Floyd’s third time through the order did not go well. With one out, Trout did a very Trout-like thing:

Albert Pujols followed suit, going back-to-back with Trout:

Both homers came on 0-1 counts, and therefore, the deficit tripled across just four pitches being thrown.

Richards once again cruised through the Braves, giving up a two-out single but then striking out Simmons for his tenth and final strikeout. He was at 107 pitches through six, and didn’t continue as he was pinch-hit for in the seventh. Then ten strikeouts were by far a career high (his previous high was eight), though he’d strike out 11 a few starts later. It was a dominant start (6 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 10 K), but it was a dominant season for Richards, and this wasn’t even his best start of the year to date by any metric.

The reason Richards ended up leaving the game was that the Angels started the seventh with back-to-back singles off Floyd. Iannetta struck out, and bench coach Dino Ebel, managing in Mike Scioscia’s stead for this one game, pushed his chips forward by pinch-hitting with Raul Ibañez. The Braves countered with lefty Luis Avilan, mired in a terrible season, which led to a pop out by Ibañez (good) but a walk to Calhoun (very bad). Anthony Varvaro then got the highly unenviable task of facing Mike Trout with the bases loaded, and engaged him in a wild, 11-pitch battle. At one point, Trout fouled off six straight pitches in the up-and-in portion of the zone. Varvaro didn’t get a chase on a high fastball (pitch no. 10) to run the count full, and then threw some kind of weird floaty palmball thing that never had the zone and ended up way too up and in, leading to a walk and Anaheim’s fourth run. Pujols followed with a merciful two-pitch at-bat in which he drilled a pitch to center, but right at B.J. Upton, ending the inning.

Floyd’s book ended with 7 13 IP and a tidy 4/0 K/BB ratio, but also two homers and four total runs allowed, making it pretty much his worst start of the year. Still, it wasn’t too bad as far as starts go, and against this lineup, it could have been far uglier.

Kevin Jepsen replaced Richards for the bottom of the seventh, but the Braves didn’t have any better luck, squandering a pinch-hit bunt single by Jordan Schafer to lead off the frame. Freeman struck out to end the inning, his third strikeout of the game to go with his one walk so far.

Former Angel Jordan Walden gave up a run to his old mates in the eighth, giving them a 5-0 advantage. Kendrick connected for a one-out single and made it to third when the ball got past B.J. Upton’s glove. Aybar singled him home when the same Upton failed to make a shoestring catch. The Braves got at least that run back in the bottom of the inning, as Gattis tagged sidewinder Joe Smith for a no-doubter over the wall and into the stands in center. It was only the second homer Smith had allowed all year. David Carpenter threw a scoreless inning in the top of the ninth, giving up an infield single on a weak bouncer, but striking out both Calhoun and Trout to end the inning after a bunt moved the runner to second. And then, it was time for a crazy comeback.

With a sizable lead, the Angels gave the ninth inning to Ernesto Frieri, who generally paired with Smith for a pseudo-closing committee. Frieri had been having a miserable season based entirely on HR/FB shenanigans (115 ERA-, 127 FIP-, 76 xFIP- coming into the game), but this game was something else. In short, you can just watch the video below to get the full comeback experience, but I’ll also describe it below.

Simmons started the inning by bouncing an 0-2 pitch past third for a single. Pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit followed with another single, this time into right. Heyward then lined one into center, scoring Simmons and bringing the tying run to the plate. That tying run was B.J. Upton, who was 1-for-3 with a walk to this point, and he lined one to right towards Calhoun. Calhoun dove but didn’t catch the ball nor keep it in front of him. Doumit and Heyward scored, and B.J. Upton ended up on third with a “triple” on what probably should’ve been a single. Not that it mattered too much — Freeman came up and blasted a ground-rule double onto the warning track that was not very far from being a walkoff homer.

With the comeback complete and the Angels suddenly very capable of losing the game, Frieri (five batters faced, four runs, zero outs) was swapped for rookie Mike Morin. The Braves could have won the game right then and there, but they didn’t. Morin struck out Justin Upton, put Gattis on base intentionally to face Johnson, got the latter into an 0-2 count, and delivered the big blow in the form of an induced double play, 4-6-3. The rotten Anaheim bullpen reared its head, and the Braves were back in it, even if they hadn’t yet won it. The advantage seemed to have tilted...

...until Craig Kimbrel came in for the tenth and promptly gave the Angels the lead once again. The Braves were tied for all of two batters. Pujols worked a 3-1 count and then lined a single into the left-center gap; Hamilton blooped him home:

Kimbrel got the next three outs, but the Braves needed another comeback. They had it in them, this time. The Angels turned to Cam Bedrosian, another rookie making just his fourth major league appearance. His inning was a mess. Tommy La Stella started the inning with a single up the middle on an 0-2 count. Bedrosian then dropped the ball while coming set, which balked La Stella to second. After a groundout, pinch-hitter Ramiro Peña hit a ball to short that took a weird hop, resulting in an infield single but no advance from La Stella. That brought up Heyward, who broke his bat but delivered a big hit all the same:

Once again, though, the Braves couldn’t push that last needed run across. B.J. Upton’s soft groundout moved the runners up, and an intentional walk to Freeman brought up his brother, but he was robbed of a game-winning hit by a diving Calhoun:

It stung, but given that a different Calhoun dive allowed the Braves to come back, I guess the ledger was somewhat evened.

So, the game was tied, and we were now in the 11th. The Braves gave the ball, and the game, to David Hale, basically a replacement-level generic swingman riding a pretty funny run prevention tidal wave to this point (52 ERA-, 107 FIP-, 123 xFIP- in three starts and a bunch of relief appearances). His first inning featured a one-out walk, but ended by getting Trout to bounce out to second, giving the Braves another chance to win it.

Which, they would again squander. Facing Fernando Salas, Gattis started the frame with a single roped into left. Johnson (yes, Chris Johnson) bunted him to second, which led to an intentional walk to La Stella to bring up Simmons. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did — Simmons crushed a ball, but right at the third baseman, who flipped the ball to second to double up Dan Uggla (pinch-running for Gattis).

Hale and Salas each traded perfect 12ths, and in the 13th, Hale and the Braves were doomed. The inning started with a leadoff bunt single by Aybar to his counterpart at short. Simmons got the ball and fired wildly yet somehow accurately, but not quite in time. Hale then completely melted down. The Angels had C.J. Wilson, a pitcher, pinch-hit for Salas to try and get a bunt down. Hale, though, couldn’t find the zone, One ball got away from new catcher Gerald Laird, moving Aybar to second. A few pitches later, Hale somehow walked the AL pitcher trying to bunt. On the next pitch, he hit Iannetta, who was also trying to bunt, loading the bases with none out. The Braves, though, left him in, and very briefly, crisis was averted via pop-out. But, Calhoun came up, and knocked a nail in the Braves’ coffin:

It was another catch that B.J. Upton couldn’t quite make, and it hurt dearly. The came basically became a rout at that point. Trout came up and ripped a double down the left-field line, scoring two. Hale was replaced with rookie Shae Simmons, the last Braves reliever, who gave up a two-run single to Pujols. The Braves were right back to being down by five runs. This time, they were out of backup plans.

Cory Rasmus (who was actually good in 2014, if never again), ended the game with a perfect inning. Nearly five hours after it started, the Braves had lost a wild game, after so many chances to walk away glorious winners.

Game MVP: It’s hard to pick just one. Jason Heyward went just 2-for-7, but had the timeliest hits without any big meaningful fails, and made some key catches that would have otherwise let the game get even more out of hand. Garrett Richards was dominant, even if he was forgotten by the end. Kole Calhoun both saved the game and drove in the eventual winning run, but he also allowed the Braves to come back and didn’t do much until extra innings.

Game LVP: Easily Ernesto Frieri, whose meltdown was just ridiculous. The journeyman reliever has had a few zero-out outings in his career, but never one quite as dramatic as this one. Still, it wasn’t the worst WPA he’s ever posted, believe it or not.

Biggest play: Both involved Calhoun. The biggest WPA play was the +.404 from the B.J. Upton “triple” that set up the tie game in the ninth. But Calhoun’s successful robbery of Justin Upton literally saved the game.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves actually won the next game of the series, taking two of three from the Angels; neither team’s place in the standings budged as a result of this game. The Angels were great all season but made their move in the standings in August (even though they were better in July) — the Athletics absolutely collapsed down the stretch and the Angels finished ten games up in the division with 98 wins overall, despite being four games back as late as August 10. The Braves, well, you know the story. They kept treading water atop the division until July, where they slowly started sinking, until completely falling apart in September and finishing under .500 for the year.

Gavin Floyd only made one more start as a Brave. In that game, he fractured his olecranon while making a pitch, and that was that. He gave the Braves nine starts of 0.6 fWAR ball (73 ERA-, 106 FIP-, 94 xFIP-), and never made another major league start afterwards. Richards, meanwhile, also suffered a season-ending injury when tore his patellar tendon trying to complete a double play in August. That curtailed his career-best season at 4.3 fWAR in 169 innings. He was able to come back and throw a full season in 2015, but his pitching was worse (2.8 fWAR total). Since then, he’s had elbow surgery twice, one a newer alternative to Tommy John Surgery (that ultimately didn’t work and required the latter treatment anyway), meaning that he’s thrown fewer than 150 innings over the four seasons since 2015.

Too many players played big roles in this game to list them all. Heyward’s great defense was on display all season as he put up a 4.7 fWAR year with a 109 wRC+. 2014 was Calhoun’s breakout year, and the first of three straight seasons with over 3 fWAR; he finished with 3.4 in 537 PAs. Frieri was terrible all season (-0.8 fWAR), so much so that even the bullpen-challenged Angels could afford to trade him to the Pirates for Jason Grilli just two weeks after this game; the move worked out because Grilli, who was horrendous in Pittsburgh, gave the Angels an amazing 0.8 fWAR in 33 23 innings as a ROOGY-type in the season’s second half. The Angels also traded for Huston Street as a result of their awful bullpen. B.J. Upton spent the first half of the season batting second, despite his overall replacement-level play (which was still an improvement from 2013, where he put up -0.9 fWAR). The Braves were hellbent on using their weakest bats in the lineup’s most important spot, as after Upton was moved, the spot was largely taken over by Simmons and his 71 wRC+ on the season.


Condensed Game:


TC Recap:

TC Game Thread:

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Praise for Evan Gattis (career-high 125 wRC+ in 2014), confusion about Fredi Gonzalez’ managing (as always), and really, I think everyone was too tired at this point to have other thoughts. And, after all, the Braves won this series, so despite this game, you can’t get too mad, right?

Anything else? Angels skipper Mike Scioscia missed this game attending Bob Welch’s funeral.

Both Mike Trout and Albert Pujols had three hits, two runs, four RBI, and finished a triple short of the cycle in the game. Trout had a walk and strikeout, Pujols had none of either. Erick Aybar had four hits, tying what was then a career high. (He would get five hits in a game in 2015, and then never get four or more hits in a game again.) Garrett Richards allowed just four runs in five June starts, including two scoreless games and two one-run games. In a nine-start stretch from the start of June to July 19, he put up a 1.25 ERA, 2.44 FIP, and 2.80 xFIP with a 70/17 K/BB ratio. He was so good. Three starts after this stretch ended, he threw a complete game shutout, his first ever complete game.

This game extended an Evan Gattis eventual 20-game hitting streak to 14 games. He had a 264 wRC+ over the hit streak as a whole; June 2014 was his best calendar month ever, with a 189 wRC+, despite only six homers (he’s had as many as 10 in a month).

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 14: This is the official birthdate of the U.S. Army in 1775, after the Second Continental Congress established the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Two years later, on the same date, the current stars and stripes model of the United States flag became officially adopted by the same Congress, with 13 stars and stripes. Fun fact: in 1794, the flag was changed to have both 15 stripes and 15 stars, to accommodate the new states of Vermont and Kentucky. Subsequent revisions to the flag would increase the number of stars, but take the number of stripes back down to 13.