Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t worried about his team peaking too early during Atlanta’s 14-game winning streak that was snapped Saturday by the Marlins and instead told reporters that he is soaking in the excitement of the team’s longest winning streak in 13 years. (Reuters News Service)
ATLANTA — When winning streaks stretch to levels of improbability, they become almost spiritual. They lift a team, a fan base, a community. People start searching for answers in areas that previously would’ve been considered implausible, like, say, “Waffles! It’s totally the waffles!”
Fredi Gonzalez? He’s just trying to enjoy the moment. During an off day Thursday, the Braves manager found himself fielding questions from fans about whether his blazing hot could keep this going in October. “Are we peaking too early?” some would ask. As if the Braves should, you know, consider losing a few in a row so as to not tempt fate with the baseball gods.
“I decided, I’m just going to enjoy this,” Gonzalez said Saturday. “Everybody’s looking for something else. I’m like, ‘Let’s not even worry about it. Let’s just keep playing.’ “
The Braves did that Saturday, but they encountered the inevitable market correction. After 14 consecutive wins, one short of the modern-day franchise record, they were limited to three hits, saw Miami push across a run in the ninth on a triple and a wild pitch, and lost to the Marlins 1-0 at Turner Field.
The streak is over.
Atlanta, you may now resume eating pancakes.
Rest easy. The Braves still hold a mammoth lead in the National League East. One loss will not leave them doubled-over.
“It stinks. But it was bound to end some time,” said pitcher Alex Wood, who pitched a gem with six shutout innings, allowing only two hits. But the waffle mojo ended and the Braves were limited to three hits by Miami pitcher, and weren’t helped by the fact that their best hitter, Chris Johnson, was tossed following a strikeout in the first inning for throwing his helmet and questioning Jim Joyce’s strike zone (umpires don’t like that kind of thing).
“I’m definitely kicking myself a little bit,” Johnson said. Making it worse: Paul Janish, his replacement, went 0-for-3 and struck out looking to end the game.
But the Braves will survive this hiccup.
It’s impossible to project what a 14-game winning streak in July and August will mean in October. We can’t even know what it will mean for the rest of the regular season, in part because the rest of the regular season no longer matters in the East and, therefore, nobody cares. (Who knew .500 would look like the promised land to Washington and Philadelphia?)
But we have learned something about the Braves, something we could not have known during the three roller-coaster months that preceded this streak. We’ve seen the potential and the resilience, which had been absent.
Gonzalez cited a game that might have been lost in all of the recent celebrations: a Monday win over Colorado two weeks ago.
The Braves had just come home and swept a weekend series from the St. Louis Cardinals in as. The next night at Turner Field, the pedestrian Rockies jumped out to a 5-0 lead after 2 1/2 innings against Brandon Beachy, who was starting his first game following elbow surgery. But the Braves answered with a six-run third inning and won 9-8 in 10 innings.
“Our team could have very easily said, ‘You know what? We’re tired. Our team played the ESPN Sunday night game. We’ve just got to mail it in,’” Gonzalez said. “But we came back and won that game. For me that was a defining moment for our club.”
I know. It’s not nearly as fun a storyline as the waffle thing. (On a related note, Gonzalez was asked the last time he had eaten in a Waffle House. His response: “It was late. I remember it being late.”)
There were several reasons for the streak. But in short, everybody started hitting. Quoting Tim Hudson, who’s watched from the sideline since suffering a fractured ankle: “I’m amazed how good we look. I mean, not surprised. But it’s pretty amazing how we’ve been able to just turn things on. It’s like everything started working at once.”
What shouldn’t be lost is the role Gonzalez has played. It pains some fans to actually give Gonzalez credit for something, but the man has endured slumping hitters and a mismatched roster. It’s not easy to take the leap of putting potentially two of the team’s best run-producers, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, into the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the batting order.
But Heyward and Upton took off after the moves. Going into Saturday, Heyward was hitting .345 (16 for 45) in the last 12 as a leadoff hitter. His average this season as the No. 2 hitter was only .226; as the No. 3 hitter, .238.
Similarly, Upton strung together a 13-game hitting streak, with a .426 average and six homers. His average when hitting third:.255. His average when hitting fourth: .125. Freddie Freeman, who had been hitting cleanup, was moved up to third.
Gonzalez, on cue:
“A lot of stuff went into it. We were sitting around one day at the Waffle House …”
Wait for the laugh …
“… Yeah, I made that up. We talked about having [Freddie] Freeman hit in the first inning, getting [Upton] some place where we can get him going again, but we didn’t want to put him at the bottom of the order. And we wanted to put [former leadoff hitter Andrelton] Simmons some place where he could develop as a young hitter.”
The moves have worked, this loss notwithstanding. And this is when a team and manager are just going to live in the moment, not think ahead.
LAIRD ACTIVATED: The Braves activated backup catcher Gerald Laird from the disabled list Sunday, and optioned Todd Cunningham back to Triple-A Gwinnett. Laird is grateful just to be feeling good again. He was out for two weeks recovering from a kidney stone.
“I don’t wish that pain on anybody,” Laird said. “…I’m getting it analyzed to see what caused it so hopefully I can prevent those again. Whatever they say it is I’m willing to give that up to never get one of those again.”
After failing to pass the kidney stone naturally for three or four days, he had a 40-minute surgical procedure July 31 to have it removed. Otherwise Laird said, he might have had to wait 7 to 10 days, still not passed it and missed three or four weeks total.
As it was, he was ready to play after a 15-day stint on the disabled list. Laird was eligible to come off Saturday but decided to take one more day to get some at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett. He was 0-for-6 in two games of a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
“I just wanted to make sure everything was good after the procedure and taking the stint out,” Laird said. “There’s no lingering soreness. I felt good swinging … I went down there to see some pitches. I wanted to work the count and see some offspeed pitches. I was able to do that. I feel like when the time comes I’m ready to go.”
It just so happens Laird was ailing throughout the Braves’ 14-game win streak, which ended with Saturday night’s 1-0 loss to the Marlins.
“It’s one of those things where baseball players are superstitious, I was like ‘I don’t even know if I want to come back until they lose,’” Laird said. “I told (Jordan) Schafer that, then he came back and he ruined the streak. I’m a good teammate I took an extra day and got some more at-bats.”
HAVIN’ SOME FUN: TV cameras caught Kris Medlen feeding a cup of water to Justin Upton in the dugout Friday night after Upton’s first inning solo home run against the Marlins. But Medlen said he’s done his hydrating “celebration” ritual a handful of times with teammates B.J. Upton and Brian McCann.
“It might have started with BMac because BMac hit a home run and I was just like ‘Man, he looks tired, running around the bases,’” Medlen said.
Medlen said he gave B.J. Upton some water in Philadelphia on his home run Aug. 4 before the umpires ruled it a double after reviewing it on instant replay.
“I told him to like get it back up because it didn’t count,” Medlen said, demonstrating with a gagging sound.
Just add it to the list of hugging, collar-tugging and hand-shaking celebrations the Braves have become known for.
“Who knows how we come up with any of those — it just happens,” Medlen said. “It’s one of those random things you do when you’re going crazy, doing the same things every day.”