Der Wife and I went to the Ted last night for the first time since the Memorial Day Massacre against the Dodgers that triggered the team's atrocious June. (Recall that the Braves were 27-23 and had won 15 of 20 coming into that game and Thomson's terrible start initiated a 2-8 homestand against manageable opposition.) I thoroughly enjoyed the game last night. Of course, the Braves winning, Smoltz pitching a gem, and the team's future (McCann and Francoeur) combining for the winning runs were a large part of the reason, but there were all sorts of other reasons. The game was my ideal baseball game: well-pitched, no errors, minimal walks, no in-inning pitching changes, and done in 150 minutes. (The last game I went to was a White Sox-Cardinals game when I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago and it finished 1-0 in two hours. I'm on a streak.) The weather was immaculate: low 80s, a slight breeze, and not a cloud in the sky. It felt like May instead of July and I was thrilled to be outside. The Ted was almost full and for good measure, my ability to pick the attendance returned. (I used to be able almost unerringly to guess the attendance within a thousand, then the muse left. Last night, I went with 46,000 and the actual attendance was 44,718, which technically isn't within a thousand of my guess, but I pat myself on the back anyway.) I also got the "I am the Ubermensch" vibe walking to and from the game and watching the Mongol hordes from Bartow and Bibb stuck in traffic getting into and out of the parking lots and then off of and onto the interstates. (We park downtown and walk; it takes less time to get in and out, it's free, and we get a nice walk coming and going. If everyone knew that this was the way to go, then it wouldn't be the way to go. I've now sprained my elbow patting myself on the back.)
Possibly the biggest reason I enjoyed the game so much was that I approached it like a Hawks game. I was there to root for my team and enjoy sport played on a high level (admittedly a stretch with these two teams' bullpens). I wasn't going to get annoyed if the Braves fell behind or lost. I wasn't going to be bothered when Chipper grounded into a double play with runners on second and first and no one out in the fourth. I wasn't going to be flummoxed by the fact that the Braves were scoreless after six innings. I wasn't going to be...need a synonym for annoyed here...Perturbed by Andruw's weak at-bats (of which he had four last night, and I thought that The Gold Club was closed). The team isn't going to win the division this year and it's very unlikely that they're going to win the wild card. They're only 6.5 games out of the wild card, but they have a ton of teams to pass. More saliently, even if they do pip a wild card spot, this team isn't going to win in the playoffs with these bullpen options. The divisional streak is the one thing I cared about for the past number of years and the Braves extended it several years beyond where it should have ended. It's going to be done this year and I'm trying to appreciate the streak rather than being upset that it's coming to an end. Anyway, this is a long-winded way for me to say that I had a great time last night because I've come to grips with the fact that the Braves aren't winning the division this year and I'm not too worried now about whether they win or lose. I'll save that angst for my alma mater this September.
Other thoughts on the game last night:
1. Smoltz's line: 8 IP, 1 ER, 6 hits, 10 Ks, 1 BB. He started the game by striking out Freel, Dunn, and Griffey and ended it by striking out Freel and Dunn and then getting Griffey to ground out to the mound. The crowd really gave Smoltz a great hand after the 8th and it was entirely deserved. We only have so many of these moments left with one of the franchise's all-time greats (and my personal favorite). He could injure his elbow. The Tigers could wow the Braves with an offer for Smoltz such that it makes sense to trade him (although, as Schuerholtz correctly points out, the team won't get better for 2007 by off-loading its best pitcher who will be a bargain next year at $8M). He might retire at the end of this year or next year. Life is short and Smoltz's performance last night (with two hits and an RBI thrown in to remind us that he's a terrific athlete) was one to savor.
My favorite Spartan.
2. I'm still annoyed that the Bravo Club is no more. Ditto for ESPN's stat pack.
3. Francoeur's on-base percentage still bothers me, but he does have a sense of the moment. I detest "clutch/choker" labels because they're often thrown around with little or no basis (see: Jeter, Derek). That said, Francoeur's go-ahead homer in the 7th last night didn't shock me as he has had a number of game-winning hits for the Braves last night.
4. I really enjoy sitting in the upper deck. When I was a kid, I bitched at my Dad constantly that we spent $5 per ticket on upper deck seats at Fulton County instead of $10 for lower level seats. Now, I like the upper deck seats because I like the view of downtown, I enjoy seeing the entire field spread out below me, and there's something satisfying about seeing the arc of flyballs from the upper deck. I guess the point is that we all end up turning into our parents at some point.
5. What exactly was Jerry Narron thinking last night leaving an exhausted Aaron Harang in in the 8th inning as the Braves nibbled out an insurance run? Was it necessary for Harang to throw 139 pitches? Great idea.