LaRoche giveth, and LaRoche taketh away. Last night's game was a series of peaks and valleys. For the first seven innings, it looked like the Braves were going to accomplish nothing at the plate against Jeff Weaver, not unlike their performance against him on June 18, 2002, when he threw a five-hit shutout at the Braves for the 24-43 Detroit Tigers. (I was there and it was painful, especially since it was paired with another disappointing start from Jason Marquis.) Weaver's pitches were consistently sinking in the strike zone and the Braves could not make solid contact to save their lives. They had a brief threat in the 7th with two singles, but Andruw and Brian Jordan couldn't get a run home.
Then, the glorious top of the eighth. Aided by Jim Tracy's curious decision not to pull Weaver, even as he was clearly tiring and his pitch count was going over 110, the Braves loaded the bases and then LaRoche had a beautiful at-bat, fighting back from 0-2 and then finally timing one of those sinkers perfectly for a grand slam. If the Braves would have won the game, then Tracy would have been the goat. What the hell do you have a closer for if not for use in a critical situation in the bottom of their eighth with a two-run lead and a tiring pitcher? Tracy made the classic mistake of viewing his closer solely as a ninth inning pitcher, rather than the guy who should come in at the most critical late-inning moment. As a result, Weaver ended up with a pedestrian 7 2/3rds innings, four earned run line that belied how much he dominated the Braves.
Similarly, Chris Reitsma ended up with a 2/3rds of an inning, four earned runs allowed line that wasn't entirely the fault of his pitching. He stupidly kicked a sure double-play grounder and then induced another double play ball on the next hitter, only LaRoche hesitated, didn't throw to second, and then didn't throw to Reitsma covering. After all of that, Reitsma got Jeff Kent on a good 3-2 pitch, but then couldn't find the strike zone against Milton Bradley and then gave in, when a walk would have been better, given that the unintimidating Olmedo Saenz was on deck and Reitsma could have escaped the eighth with a 4-3 lead. And we all know how safe that is in Dan Doodie's capable hands.
Lost in the late inning drama is the fact that Horatio Ramirez looks more and more like Tom Glavine with every start. He followed his seven shutout innings against the Astros with seven innings of two-run ball against the Dodgers' solid lineup. Ramirez doesn't throw hard, but he lives on the outside corner and comes inside just enough to keep hitters honest. He was also economical, throwing only 84 pitches in seven innings. If he keeps pitching well, then the Braves becomes one of the only teams in baseball with five quality starters. It's almost impossible for them to not be in the hunt all year with that quality.