Opening Day Journal
Ah, spring. When hemlines rise and necklines plunge. When young men's minds turn to thoughts of love. (Really baby I love you, really) And when the darkness of a baseball empty winter is shattered by the all-encompassing light that is Opening Day. With all the above verbosity in mind, I thought it a nifty idea to give a blow by blow account of our Braves season and home opener, an opener which resulted in a loss for the guys with the tomahawks.
Top of the first: Endy friggin Chavez? ENDY CHAVEZ?! Endy Chavez just hit a lead-off triple off one of the best pitchers of all time? And Sheffield's lying in a heap? And Maddux is having more problems with location than a K-Mart standing right across the street from a Wal-Mart? And ORLANDO CABRERA just hit a two run homerun? Why is Don Wengert our Opening Day starter?
Bottom of the first: Hey, thanks ESPN, I wanted to miss the Braves first at-bats of the season. And seeing Glavine in a Mets uniform, that was REALLY cool. I bet Fick had a really nice swing on the single. Armas looks good, especially his breaking pitches. Sheffield and Chipper were way out in front.
Top of the second: Sorry guys, I blinked and missed this half.
Bottom of the second: What is that thing on Giles' chin? Uh-oh, Marcus strikes out. Cox is calling up to Schuerholz and asking that JS trade Giles for Lockhart. And can someone please tell Armas he's pitching to Henry Blanco, NOT Henry Aaron?
Top of the third: Maddux totally dominated Jose Vidro. The All-Star second baseman was even late on a couple of Maddux's patented 85 MPH fastballs. Where was this guy two innings ago?
Bottom of the third: ESPN evidently does not want proof of the existence of Robert Fick and Rafael Furcal to leak to the general public. Get Mulder and Scully, now!
Top of the fourth: Does anyone else think Brad Wilkerson looks astonishingly like Larry Walker? The guy's a GREAT young player, and underrated. I think he'll really blow up this year. Furcal catches Wilkerson's pop-out: Raffy does exist! Andruw just made a very awkward dive. It appears to be Maddux's goal to cripple the entire outfield. But the professor survives the jam.
Bottom of the fourth: With the ESPN2 announcers mentioning it, it seems an opportune time to ask: Does it strike anyone else as obscenely unfair to the Expos and their fans that they have to play a few dozen "home games" several hundred miles south of Montreal? The strain of the extra travel can't be good, and San Juan has no reason to cheer the Expos, and not just good baseball. As much as the people of San Juan deserve baseball, so do the people of Montreal. Hey, Giles just popped out to Chavez. Is there a mediocre back-up catcher somewhere JS can trade Marcus for?
Top of the fifth: Vidro just smoked a double into right-center. Maddux just doesn't seem to have his good location today. When Maddux is missing, the Expos aren't. Holy Cow, Chipper with an amazing throw to gun down Vidro at the plate and end the inning. And this after Giles made a nice play in foul ground. Braves flash the leather this inning.
Bottom of the fifth: Joy. Castilla-Blanco-Maddux. How frightening is it that I feel much better about the prospect of Maddux hitting than I do the other two jokers?
Top of the sixth: 1-2-3 inning for Maddux, the inning ending on a wicked breaking ball to Michael Barrett that left the catcher stupefied. Greg isn't at his best, but he's still pretty damn good at battling his way through a lineup.
Bottom of the sixth: WOW! ESPN is letting us see Furcal hit. What next, a Fick at-bat? Furcal with a mammoth triple, and a Braves player finally gets to see what third base looks like. Furcal scores on a Fick sacrifice liner, and I lose the c-note I bet on the number of runs the Braves would score this year. ESPN cuts away to show Sosa drawing a walk. I'm shocked! How nice of ESPN to tell us about the Braves rally. I can understand this rally is much less important than Sosa walking. Son of a…Giles hits the hell out of the ball, but Cabrera robs him of an RBI. JS desperately tries to trade Marcus for Orlando. I break my right pinky finger from pounding my fist on the desk.
Top of the seventh: Maddux out to pitch again. If the announcers keep calling Maddux a 6 inning pitcher, does that make it true? Bobby, care to tell us how Vinny's glove saved a run today? Throwing a ball away on a simple sacrifice and letting a run score isn't a good way to shed the Sucking Vortex of Doom label. One run for the Montreal/San Juan Traveling Circus Performers, making it 5-1.
Bottom of the seventh: This Invention Submission Corporation is only slightly less interesting than a Castilla…whoa now, Castilla gives it a ride. An unsuccessful ride that ended in Endy Chavez' glove, but it's better than a pop-up. Dan Smith walks the Bonds-ian Matt Franco, moving Javy Lopez to second base. Hey Virginia, it's a rally! Grab the foam tomahawks and start a-chanting. Damn…Javy just got thrown out at home on a rare Furcal hit. He was safe, and the Braves will struggle offensively without the umpires getting involved.
Top of the eighth: Ray King comes on to face Larry Wal…er, Brad Wilkerson. He looks like Bobby interrupted his turn at the buffet line. And Ray seems scared of Wilkerson and Cabrera, both of whom he walks. Wilkerson, OK, but Cabrera? And the Ray King Era does not begin auspiciously. Say what you will about Roberto Hernandez, like he seems to have eaten King, but he can still bring it. Despite Tatis' single, Robo's splitter really seems to be diving. Bloop single for Liefer. Hernandez must think he's still on the Royals: Bad luck and bad fielding. I still say Robo looks overpowering. Hey, thanks ESPN, we don't need to see the bases loaded, 2 out at bat by Calloway. Trey Wingo is SOO much more interesting.
Bottom of the eighth: We're back to the Ted, but the announcing crew seems reluctant to tell us how the top of the 8th ended, but the Expos did apparently score another run. So down 8-1, the Braves seem to remember what those pieces of lumber in their hands are for. Giles with an RBI single, and the bases are loaded…and Javy goes the Castilla route, ending the inning with a perfect 4-6-3 Double Play.
Top of the ninth: The vital top of the ninth is being pitched by Bong. And he makes Wilkerson look foolish. Bong is flashing a big, bending curveball, and seems to have a good fastball. And as soon as the pen finishes transcribing the previous sentence, the Expos start teeing off on Bong. (There will be no gratuitous marijuana jokes here! This is a family column. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.) Well THAT play was emblematic of the entire game. Chipper just brutally, brutally misplayed a routine Jeff Liefer into a triple. Liefer, BTW, has all the speed of a glacier on valium. The inning is mercifully over, and at least the Braves can't allow any more runs.
Bottom of the ninth: He lacks power, but Julio has one of the best approaches at the plate amongst the Braves hitters. And of course, on a 3-2 count he weakly grounds out to Vidro. Still, Furcal would do well to emulate the old man. And, whadyaknow, emulate he does. If nothing else good comes out of this game (and it doesn't look good in that department), Furcal's great at-bat right now gives some cause for hope. The game ending double play Fick just hit into, however, does not.
Opening Day Journal
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ScoutSunday at 6:55 AM