Ed. note: For those of you with heart conditions, or who are with young and impressionable children, we ask that you turn around in your seats.
June 11th, versus the Padres.
As a group, we don’t give Fredi Gonzalez nearly enough credit for creativity. When he screws up, everyone notices—maybe even a little too much. When he’s quiet and effective, only a few of us (I should say: a few of you, since I’m a charter member of the He-Man Fredi-haters) stick up for him. And all of us agree that, at the very least, he doesn’t stand in the way of good players all the time. But Fredi the Innovator? That’s a stretch. Bear with me.
It’s mid-June. As the days have grown longer, the shine on the new season has begun to fade. The players are showing signs of listlessness, and they’ve lost a few more lately than they did in April, and at first pitch the Braves are at an uninspiring 29-30. But Fredi’s a veteran manager. He knows the season is always going to have it’s ups and downs. He’s got to keep his eye on the big picture. He knows that 29-30 can be a launchpad to 40-32 if his team regains their mojo and if he pushes the right buttons.
Plan A, though, is to leave the buttons alone. (There is some evidence to support this decision, as the buttons did not have a very good season.) It took Julio a minute to settle in, but he’s been a machine since the 2nd, facing a mere one batter more than the minimum over six innings. With a 4-1 lead heading into the top of the 8th, and Jim Johnson getting the day off after having pitched the last three running, Fredi does his best Cosmo Kramer impression and tries to see just how far below the E he can ride his starter.
It’s not the worst idea he’s ever had, but it backfires. That’s baseball. Julio gives up two singles, and he’s clearly on his way to walking strikeout-prone Wil Myers. The gears start turning. Maybe it’s the gnawing feeling that if he can just find the magic switch, he can turn this rag-tag team into something. Maybe it’s the temptation that, with one bold move, he could open up a blue ocean to the rest of managers and be glorified into eternity. Maybe for a few minutes in the 8th General Tosca neglects his primary task of poking the skipper whenever he appeared to be thinking too much. Whatever the cause, Fredi has a breakthrough.
[Cue interior monologue.]
The line-up. The line-up is the defining feature of baseball. Nearly every time there’s an event on the baseball field, a new batter comes to the plate. I mean, how is that fair? A pitcher doesn’t even have time to get comfortable throwing to one guy before a whole new guy takes his place. What if a team bats Mark McGwire and Vlad Guerrero back-to-back? Is Tony Womack lurking? What about Jeromy Burnitz? They’re all so different. No one could possibly prepare for a thing like that. No, this is stupid. I’m going to tell Blue that this game is under protest until we can get a fairer shake for my staff. I’m going to call up Joe Torre and—wait a minute! Eureka! I’ve got a whole bullpen full of pitchers! That’s basically the same advantage!
Here’s how the rest of the inning plays out, now that Fredi has his Big Idea.
- Teheran finishes walking Wil Myers. Bases loaded, 0 outs. Still Braves 4, Padres 1.
- Pitching change. D. Eveland replaces J. Teheran.
- Passed ball. Braves 4, Padres 2. Walk. Bases loaded, 0 outs.
- Pitching change. N. Masset replaces D. Eveland.
- Strikeout. Bases loaded, 1 out.
- Pitching change. L. Avilan replaces N. Masset.
- Walk. Braves 4, Padres 3. Bases loaded, 1 out.
- Pitching change. D. Aardsma replaces L. Avilan.
- Strikeout. Bases loaded, 2 outs.
- Catcher’s interference. Braves 4, Padres 4. Bases loaded, 2 outs.
In what I believe was a major league first, we saw 5 consecutive pitchers for 5 consecutive batters. Now that’s innovation. He brought in Grilli for the ninth, too, in accordance with the time-honored baseball manager tradition of Why the Hell Not?
Taking a quick tally from the (absolutely excellent) comment thread time stamps, it was 32 minutes of pitching change hell, with Ugly Betty’s ugliest betties sprinkled in for good measure. We lost the game in extra innings once the Padres discovered that “Last Man Standing” Brandon Cunniff wasn’t a real major league pitcher.
[Cue interior monologue.]
Shoot. That’s what I get for thinking too much. I guess I can forget about that 2016 extension.