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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Miracle on Hank Aaron Drive: Late Long Bombs Lead Atlanta


The Phillies have now had their Tommy Hanson-Rafael Soriano moment. After a dominating performance by starter Kyle Kendrick, Charlie Manuel turned the 3-0 game over to his closer and could only watch as the Braves went on to win the game 4-3.

Kendrick, who had an ERA of 17.27 in 5 2/3 innings over two starts, simply dominated the Braves with his sinker. The one inning he ran into trouble in was the fourth. Martin Prado singled with one out and Chipper Jones hit a double off the right-field wall to move Martin to third base. Brian McCann was intentionally walked to get to Troy Glaus. Glaus to grounded to Polanco at third to start an inning-ending double play.

The Braves didn't have another base runner until McCann singled in the seventh. A walk to Nate McLouth in the eighth inning provided the Braves with their only other baserunner against Kendrick. The Phillies starter went eight innings and allowed four hits and two walks, striking out two Braves hitters.

Tommy Hanson, on the other hand, had a strange game. He pitched well, but the Phillies lineup made him throw a lot of pitches and got a couple of runs thanks to some funky hits. With one out, Chase Utley checked his swing on a full-count pitch and ended up grounding the ball down the line past third base for a freak double. Ryan Howard then grounded into the overshift, but the ball kicked off of Glaus's glove for a single, allowing Utley to score. In the fifth, Placido Polanco had a similar double to Utley's hit.

Hanson was removed after 4 2/3 innings in favor of Eric O'Flaherty to face the lefty Phillie mashers. Utley foiled that plan by singling up the middle, scoring Polanco and putting the Phillies up 2-0. O'Flaherty got Howard to line out to Glaus to end the inning.

Peter Moylan pitched a scoreless inning and Kris Medlen went two innings. He allowed a run on two singles and a fielder's choice in the seventh, but didn't allow anymore damage. Jesse Chavez pitched a scoreless ninth for the Braves.

In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies brought in Ryan Madson, who was 3-3 in save opportunities this year. Prado, the leadoff batter, grounded out to short to start the inning. Jones then coaxed a walk out of Madson to bring up McCann. The Braves catcher lined out to Raul Ibanez in left for the second out. Glaus then swung and missed at a fastball then watched a pitch in the dirt. The next pitch, a fastball down the middle, was deposited in the left-field seats. Jason Heyward, who was 0-3 on the day, was next. He watched a fastball on the outside corner then got a change-up down the middle of the plate. The ball ended up in the right-field seats and the game was tied.

The Phillies didn't score off of their former closer Billy Wagner in the top of the tenth, so Manuel sent in The Ageless One (as Braves announcer Joe Simpson called him) Jose Contreras to pitch the frame. Braves outfielder Nate McLouth was the first to face him. The struggling center fielder tomahawked a 2-2 pitch to give the Braves an improbable victory. The whole team went into the clubhouse so as McLouth returned to the dugout, there wasn't anyone but a batboy there. The team celebrated in the hallway to the dugout instead.

My Take and Odds 'N Ends: I was prepared to accept defeat, but knowing that Kyle Kendrick was coming out of the game gave the Braves players and their fans (including me) some hope. It paid off immensely.

When I said the Phillies now have their Hanson-Soriano moment, I was referring to a game on September 9th last year where the Braves got eight innings of five-hit shutout ball from Hanson and he had only thrown 98 pitches. Despite that, Cox put in Soriano to close the game, when he had pitched in three of the last four days. Almost like clockwork, the Astros scored two runs with a single, double, intentional walk and another single to win the game. Thankfully, I think Cox is shying away from that type of managing this early on in the season.

All alone, Jason Heyward has driven in 25% of the Braves' runs (16 of 64). Far and away, he's the best player at adding Win Probability percentage points for his team (2.6 total), which is twice the total of Brian McCann's amount (1.3). For what it's worth, the Braves player right now who has the lowest total is Troy Glaus (-1.6).

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