Fun game tonight, and I’m not being sarcastic. The Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox both got great pitching. One side managed just enough hitting. Three guesses which.
Having wondered only last week what had happened to Julio Teheran, I’m obliged to report that this was another in the occasional series of Old Julio sightings. He was tremendous. He was hitting 91 mph with his four-seamer, amping up to 93 to strike out Xander Bogaerts in the fourth. All his pitches were crisp. He struck out six over the first four innings, eight over seven. He was good enough to win.
Trouble is, he works for the Braves, who never win anymore. The season in recap: Nine consecutive losses, four consecutive wins, now six consecutive losses. They’re 4-15. They’re the worst team in baseball, record-wise. But you knew that already.
Many intriguing things happened this night. Freddie Freeman, dropped to sixth in the batting order, got two hits, the second being a bunt against the shift. The rest of the Braves managed two hits. (Rick Porcello was every bit as splendid as Teheran, admittedly against an unimposing lineup.)
The Braves’ biggest at-bat fell to Erick Aybar, owner of the worst OPS among qualifying major-league hitters. He faced faced Robbie Ross Jr. as a pinch-hitter in the seventh with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run at first. To the surprise of no one, Aybar struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch. His reign of terrible continues apace.
The Sox had nosed ahead in the top of the inning. Teheran’s 90th pitch was a changeup that Jackie Bradley Jr. smashed over the right-field fence. Teheran would need 25 more pitches to escape the seventh with no further damage. The final 10 came against Bogaerts, up with the bases loaded and the chance to seal the deal. Their faceoff was as epic as it gets in an April game featuring baseball’s worst team.
Bogaerts kept fouling off fastballs. Then he fouled off sliders. Teheran was clearly working on fumes, but he did what he needed to do. Bogaerts hit a screamer at center fielder Mallex Smith. Thirty feet to the left or right and it’s a three-run triple. Instead it was the noisiest of third outs. Teheran pumped his fist. He’d earned the celebratory moment, albeit in a losing game.
The ninth was fascinating in that it was worked by the new Craig Kimbrel and the real Craig Kimbrel. Arodys Vizcaino was summoned to preserve the one-run deficit, and he’s untouchable right now. (He hasn’t yielded a run this season.) The third out came when David Ortiz, the beloved Big Papi, rolled out of the Red Sox dugout to pinch-hit and was greeted by a thunderous ovation. (As ever, Red Sox Nation showed in force.)
Ortiz, who’s retiring at season’s end, swung late on two 99-mph fastballs. Then he swung through an 88-mph slider. Remember that sequence.
Bottom of the ninth, two out: Freeman dug in against the real Kimbrel, who once pitched here and was the best in the business but whose blown save in Houston on Sunday night set off the usual New England angst. Freeman thought a Kimbrel slider in the dirt had clipped his foot and trotted to first base as the Braves challenged the no-HBP ruling. The crowd roared in protest when the pitch was shown on the big board, but it was Sox fans voting with their vocal cords, not the home team’s supporters.
The challenge proved unavailing. Returning to the batter’s box, Freeman saw the usual complement of 98-mph Kimbrel heaters and then — stop me if you’ve heard this already — fanned on a slider. Game over.
Having spent twice as much for their players as the Braves have, the Red Sox should be better than the Braves. But this game was another reminder that the Braves, as lousy as their record is, have been in most every losing game, of which there have been 15. That’s no consolation, but it is an indication. With any hitting at all, this wouldn’t be the worst team in baseball. It’d be … oh, third-worst.
One thing more: Fredi Gonzalez said afterward that he should have challenged the seventh-inning ruling of Freeman being out at second on what should have been a double-play grounder by Drew Stubbs. But Dustin Pedroia, who’s really good but who has had fielding issues here before, didn’t field it cleanly — the Sox botched three DPs on the night; a riveting game, but not a well-played one — and his flip to Bogaerts arrived just in time.
Or did it? Freeman made no great protest. (He saved that for the ninth.) The Braves did the wait-until-we-look-at-the-replay routine. Then they didn’t challenge. Much later, the Braves came to believe Freeman had been safe. By then it mattered not.
The one replay I saw on the big board made him look unsafe. But — to borrow a Fredi G. line — you know what? Had the bases been loaded with one out, I’m fairly confident Aybar would have hit into a double play, as opposed to taking a third strike. When you can’t score, you can’t score.