As one commenter has said, Albie Lopez sucks. The Braves lost to the Astros, 8-5, and while Lopez wasn’t the losing pitcher or the sole reason for the loss, he played a major role. Jason Marquis started and probably was still feeling ill; he went three-plus innings and gave up four runs, leaving with a runner on, nobody out, in the fourth with the Braves trailing 4-2. And Albie Lopez came on to not only allow the runner to score but to contribute three runs of his own to the Astros’ cause. By the end of the inning it was 8-2. Since the Braves scored three runs in the sixth, those four runs Albie allowed to score (one charged to Marquis) were the difference in the game. Four million dollars for this?
Except for Albie, the game followed a lot of last night’s script; the Braves got the game’s first run but blew other scoring chances, the starting pitcher didn’t have it, and the non-Albie relievers (Holmes and Ligtenberg in this instance) pitched well. The big play of the game might actually have come in the first, when with nobody out, runners on the corners, and one run already in. Andruw hit a smash that was almost a double, but instead was caught on the fly by the third baseman. If that’s a little higher or a little to either side, two runs might have scored and the Braves might have gotten a big lead early. It’s a game of inches. Andruw did get a homer and a single, as well as being hit by a pitch. He does seem to be hitting better lately.
Vinny Castilla started, and was 0-4. I’m going to set a macro for that to save having to type it every day. He’s down to .229, but at least he doesn’t make errors, right? Keith Lockhart started as well, and he had a two-run double; Mark DeRosa later hit for him, so I guess he’s okay. Darren Bragg played left field for Chipper, who was able to pinch-hit later. I’m guessing he’ll be able to play tomorrow, but with a day off Monday Bobby might want to hold him off to get a long rest.
The Braves have what on paper looks like a big pitching edge tomorrow, Kevin Millwood versus Dave Mlicki, whose ERA is about a run higher. Despite the score, five Astros relievers pitched today, including both top relievers working an inning for the second day in a row. So tomorrow looks pretty good for the Braves. They still have to play the game, though.
All I can say is, “How did he do that?” With the Braves leading 6-5 in the thirteenth on a Gary Sheffield solo homer, John Smoltz got two quick outs. But Craig Biggio reached on a single and was headed home to tie the game on a subsequent double. Wes Helms, playing left field, hit the cutoff man, Rafael Furcal… but Furcal was about to fall down. On his way down, he made this throw… A perfect strike to nail Biggio at the plate. It wasn’t even close. I still don’t know how he did it, and I’ve seen it a number of times and thought about it overnight.
It was a weird game all along. It started off like too many other Braves games. The Braves got a run in the second and one in the third to take a two-run lead, but blew numerous chances to stretch the lead. Sure enough, the Astros came back, scoring two runs to tie, then three to take a 5-2 lead. And the Braves kept stranding baserunners. Until the ninth, when they managed to score three runs off Billy Wagner to tie it. Then they left two more baserunners with a chance to take the lead. Incidentally, they were also out of position players. Tim Spooneybarger (who incidentally got his first major league win) had to hit for himself; at one stage Greg Maddux was going to pinch-hit but the inning ended before he could.
Injuries… Jason Marquis was supposed to start but had “flu-like symptoms” and Damian Moss took his place. Jason might start today. Chipper Jones left the game with a hamstring pull; Vinny Castilla wound up taking his place in the lineup. Helms had started at third before shifting to left. Albie Lopez pitched one inning, his first appearance in I don’t know how long. Mark DeRosa (who started against a righthander) was nailed in the wrist with a pitch in extra innings, after the Braves had run out of position players. I don’t know what the Braves would have done if he’d been unable to continue. Helms to third, Castilla to second, and Smoltz in the outfield, perhaps.