Big Papi pops the Braves’ holiday balloon

Ervin Santana contemplates the slider that didn't slide. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Ervin Santana contemplates the slider that didn’t slide. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Ervin Santana contemplates the slider that didn't slide. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Ervin Santana contemplates the slider that didn’t slide. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Fredi Gonzalez tried to get Ervin Santana through five innings with a lead, which would have qualified the pitcher for a win. Trouble is, Santana’s team lost. Sometimes a manager, in trying to do a nice thing, winds up getting it wrong. This was such a time.

The Braves led 6-1 with two outs in the top of the fifth on Memorial Day. They hadn’t lost this season when scoring as many as six runs, not that they’ve scored six runs often. Santana wasn’t dominant but he was sharp enough to have yielded only one run, that spawned by a triple that B.J. Upton might have caught had he turned the right way the first time. Then Santana walked pinch-hitter Daniel Nava on a 3-2 slider and an inning — and a game — came undone.

The Boston Red Sox, who’ve hit about as little as the Braves this season to much lesser effect, fashioned a five-run surge out of nothing. A Brock Holt double, a walk to Xander Bogaerts and a two-run single by Dustin Pedroia pulled the Sox within three runs with David Ortiz coming to bat. The scariest man in the Boston order had the chance to tie the game. Gonzalez, who manages the Braves, allowed Santana to pitch to, as opposed to pitching around, Ortiz.

To be fair, Ortiz doesn’t get a hit in every single key moment. He hadn’t had an RBI over the past 10 games, which was one reason the Sox won none of the 10. Santana is right-handed and had needed 90 pitches to record 14 outs. (That was infinitely better than Sox starter Clay Buchholz, who threw 88 pitches and managed nine outs against eight walks.) Ortiz is left-handed. The Braves had lefty Luis Avilan warming, but given the speed with which the inning unraveled he hadn’t been warming long.

“You try to give a guy an opportunity to win a game,” Gonzalez would say afterward, and probably nine of 10 managers would have done as much. Santana, who’d yielded two earned runs in his first three games as a Brave, had been touched for 11 runs in his past two outings. The Braves, who are paying $14.1 million for one year of Santana’s services, need him to be better than that.

Also, Gonzalez said, Santana is a veteran, one who’d faced Ortiz many times in the American League. Maybe a 31-year-old of 10 years’ big-league service could finesse a hitter like Ortiz in a way a rushed reliever might not.

My problem wasn’t leaving Santana in the game. My problem was him throwing any pitch over any part of the plate. If Ortiz wants to chase pitches, let him. (He usually doesn’t. As we know, the Sox are good at not chasing.) If he walks, the Sox have the bases loaded but the Braves still have a three-run lead with one out to get and the less fearsome A.J. Pierzynski to face.

Santana’s first pitch was Ball 1. The second, a backdoor slider that slid over the outside corner, landed in the seats in left-center field. The one thing the Braves couldn’t allow to happen had been allowed to happen. Big Papi had delivered the game’s biggest hit.

It should be said that this slider wasn’t as terrible a pitch as the lollipop Milwaukee’s Mark Reynolds hoisted for a grand slam off Santana on Wednesday, but it was more misguided. You can’t give Ortiz anything to hit when he represents the tying run and the bases aren’t loaded. The Braves got what they deserved.

After a rain delay cost them lefty reliever Alex Wood, who’d worked the sixth without incident, the Braves dispatched Ian Thomas to start the seventh. That was another curious choice. It was late enough that Avilan might have been summoned but not so late that righty David Hale was out of the equation. Asked why he didn’t use Hale, Gonzalez said, “He was the long man.” That’s one of those answers managers give when there’s really no good answer.

(Gonzalez also noted that the pitcher’s spot was due in the bottom of the seventh, which would have limited Hale to one inning unless the Braves wanted to double-switch, which they apparently didn’t.)

Thomas was late covering first base on Holt’s grounder to Freddie Freeman. Then Bogaerts walked again. Then Pedroia walked. Back up was Big Papi with the game tied, and now the Braves couldn’t think about walking him. The good news for the home side: Ortiz didn’t hit the ball over the fence. The bad news: He hit it far enough to score Holt with what would become the winning run.

In sum, it was a rotten holiday for the Braves. They blew the kind of lead they’ve seldom had against an opponent that was struggling to the extent general manager Ben Cherington made a surprise appearance in Atlanta to buck up his team. They tried to give Santana reason to feel good, and they wound up making everyone feel bad. Everyone, that is, except the 20,000 Sox fans who shouted so loud and long that Turner Field felt like a neutral site.

From myajc.com: The Braves blow a lead; the Sox snap a skid.

Reader Comments 1

17 comments
Home Team Critic
Home Team Critic

@Dawg/Braves fans.

How did you like another team's fan base doing to you what you do every two years to Georgia Tech?

Since Tech cannot beat you at football (many Tech "fans" taking the money and running like Braves "fans" did for two days), I think I'll throw in a team that CAN give you some of your own medicine (unlike Ga Tech).

Red Sox Radar should be my new handle.

Here is some of your own medicine doggies. 

Now shallow.

cspecial
cspecial

the last time I checked, the boston red sox were in last place and not playing .500 ball.they are losers while the braves are in first place and are over .500. at the end, the braves will win their division while boston won"t even finish above .500. but the so-called Atlanta sports writers, fans and braves announcers are admiring this kind of team from boston.I guess they want a losing team in Atlanta.the braves won"t oblige you all.big poppy ain"t being popping too many people this season

ElricoSmith
ElricoSmith

I hope the ATLANTA BRAVES fans actually show up to Turner Field tonight, and not the Red Sox fans......


.....it will be another embarrassment if they are shown up two games in a row.

Mr. Negative
Mr. Negative

Lots of fun at the Ted yesterday. Grilling steaks outside in the parking lot as the Legacy roared to life

MichBravesFan
MichBravesFan

Freddi The Goat. No wonder Santana was without work in April. Glad it's only a 1-year deal. 

CouchPotato
CouchPotato

I see the Mets aren't afraid to make changes..... they fire their hitting coach and release Valverde....... the Braves?  <crickets>

WhiskeyBreath
WhiskeyBreath

Hate to say it, but this game was very indicative of the Altanta sport scene.

We find a way to blow them all.

Freddie can win a lot of games, but will choke in August. 

He is good, but not good enough.  

cloudodust
cloudodust

Yesterday the sign at the stadium read, 'Welcome to Fenway South'.

StingerSplash
StingerSplash

Don't pass over Pedroia's two-run single on an 0-2 pitch up in the strike zone.

tomtom7170
tomtom7170

fredi shouldn't let a pitcher give up 5 runs  in 1 inning no matter what inning it is .he don't have a clue about when to change pitchers also gattis needs to play more not laird.he is a better game caller and a bigger threat with his bat..we will never win a playoff series with him as manager.

Zagnut
Zagnut

Ian Thomas needs to be sent back down to learn how to cover first, but mainly just how to throw STRIKES!


I wasn't that impressed when the Braves signed Ervin.  His career is one of inconsistency.  Guess they had to do it due to what happened to Medlen and Beachy, but jeez he's been just awful the last three games.  And Laird calling for a 3-2 breaking pitch to a .137 hitter.  No wonder the Braves ERA is worse with him catching than it is with Gattis catching.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Fredi, Fredi, Fredi, Fredi, FRedi, FREdi, FREDi, FREDI!!!!!!!!  No need to say more.

Gwinforfun
Gwinforfun

The stench you smell are Wood and Hale rotting in the bullpen. Braves have the luxury of way too many starters but that luxury will become a curse if they do not make some moves offensively soon.

CouchPotato
CouchPotato

Oh and by the way.... Ian Thomas was a nice story coming out of spring training, but he is in over his head. 

50Concept
50Concept

no big deal---the braves may be in the weakest division in baseball--they will win this division easy and do some damage in the playoffs if they make a few trades

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Derivative

Blowing a 5-run lead while losing the game to a last-place team is "no big deal"?

Classic ATL sports-loser mentality.

CouchPotato
CouchPotato

This one stung a little.  Santana starting to show a little tarnish...... but gotta love Big Papi! 

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