Dan Uggla entered this series at Turner Field not knowing if he’d be in the major leagues next week. He’s considered the Washington National most apt to be cut — DFA’ed, which in MLB-speak means “designated for assignment” — when Anthony Rendon returns from a rehab stint in Class AA. Uggla entered the series looking exactly like the Dan Uggla we’d come to know too well: He was hitting .114 with one RBI and two extra-base hits.
On Monday, Uggla was thrust into the game only because Yunel Escobar, once a Brave himself, was spiked by Andrelton Simmons. Uggla’s appearance drew boos from the small Turner Field gathering — Chipper Jones would take to Twitter, as Chipper Jones often does, to chastise those fans for their response — and his first at-bat was vintage Uggla, at least as we around here remember Uggla. He struck out looking.
In his next at-bat, Uggla tripled to right field to score Bryce Harper and then, when third baseman Alberto Callaspo couldn’t glove the throw, scored himself. Such an opponent-aided circuit is known as a Little League home run, and the thought occurred that it might have been the last big-league home run of any sort Uggla would ever have. But no.
One night later, Uggla — starting because Escobar couldn’t — hit another triple to draw the Nats, who’d trailed 9-1 and 10-2, within 11-10. In 1,701 at-bats as a Brave, Uggla had managed four triples. Now he’d had two in 24 hours. This was getting weird.
Then it got off-the-chart crazy. Down 0-2 in the count against Braves closer Jason Grilli, with one out in the ninth and the Nats trailing 12-10, Uggla hoisted a three-run homer with one out in the ninth that made his latest team an astonishing winner. (Since moving to D.C. from Montreal in 2005, the Nationals had never overridden such a deficit.) In two nights as a Turner Field visitor, Uggla had collected three extra-base hits and six RBIs. In the 141 at-bats before the Braves DFA’ed him last summer, he’d managed five extra-base hits and 10 RBIs.
(Uggla also had a single Tuesday night. It was his first three-hit game since — pause for effect — Sept. 8, 2012. The home run was his first since April 12 of last year.)
The threat of the home run was the reason — well, that and the $13 million they were obliged to pay him — the Braves stuck with Uggla as long as they did. He once hit a lot of homers. (He hit 36 here in 2011, and 22 more in 2013, when he was omitted from the postseason roster.) The Braves kept hoping, admittedly against hope, that he would, as the saying goes, “run into one.” Last night he ran into a 93-mph Grilli fastball that was way too fat.
A night earlier, Uggla had said the Nats, losers of six in a row and holders of a 7-13 record, needed “to (man) up.” Deliverance could have come from no more unlikely man. He’d been DFA’ed twice last season — the second time by the champs-to-be Giants, for whom he’d gone 0-for-11 with six strikeouts and two errors — and seemed in the final throes of a very strange career.
But now we wonder if the end is indeed nigh for Daniel Cooley Uggla. On the night he beat the team that’s still paying him $13 million — that’s more than any man on the current Braves roster is making — for this season, it was announced that Rendon had been scratched from the Harrisburg lineup for the second successive night. The Braves play the Nats in D.C. next weekend; there’s a chance they’ll be seeing their old pal them, too.
Update: ESPN’s home page describes Uggla’s three-run shot as a “payback homer.” Pretty sure the Braves wouldn’t mind if he paid back that $13 million as well.