What was supposed to be a sunny afternoon end to a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday was anything but.
After more than an hour of watching the rain come down on Turner Field and a full hour and 42 minutes after the game was scheduled to start, the Atlanta Braves took the field against the Dodgers to the delight of a little more than two-thirds of the 48,000-plus who had paid to see the game that day. They responded by almost instantly starting the wave.
In the sixth inning there was another rain delay – this one for 33 minutes – and with the Braves down 2-1, another half of the stadium found its way to the exits. Unable to hit the long ball and watching helplessly as starter Mike Minor gave up what was looking like just enough to lose – three hits for two runs – it was beginning to look like another shoulda-had-it for the NL East leaders. But when the rain broke and the Braves took the field again they were a different team – literally and figuratively.
Minor gave way to Anthony Vavano, who pitched a perfect seventh and set up an eighth inning in which Chris Johnson, Ramiro Pena and Jonathan Schafer could knock the ball around and change the game. Atlanta scored four runs on three hits, a walk, an error and a sac fly to clinch the game.
It turns out, the Bravos can play small ball.
“With a rain delay and getting tired a little bit later, you have to keep concentrating on the game,” Pena said. “Everybody did a great job from the beginning (of the eighth), and I think everybody put something in that inning.”
They can also rely on their pitching, even when their pitcher doesn’t have his top pitch. On Monday, with the slumping Minnesota Twins (18-25) in town for the start of a three-game series, Julio Teheran delivered a decisive eight-inning ‘W’ without the use of his best pitch – the change-up – in the two teams’ first meeting in Atlanta since the 1991 World Series.
”I decided to just compete with my other pitches,” Teheran said. ”I know my fastball is good, my two-seamer, so I just tried to command my curve and my slider.”
Teheran pitched 8 1-3 and Dan Uggla lifted a three-run shot to propel the Braves to their fourth straight win. It was the first time in a long time the Braves took charge of a game early and led throughout.
So far this season, whether it’s big bats or small ball, ace pitching from the starters or a saving grace effort from a bullpen running on fumes, Atlanta has been able to pull whatever rabbit out of whatever hat necessary. In a world of extreme analytics and advanced saber metrics, the Braves are making themselves tough to pigeonhole.
They’re also tough to beat, especially at Turner Field where Freddi Gonzalez’s team is an impressive 13-5. That’s big considering the Braves have played three fewer home games than any team in the majors so far this season.
Attendance at The Ted has been middle of the road this season – Turner Field ranks 13th in attendance in the majors, averaging a little more than 30,000 fans per game – but the Braves play so far has been exemplary.