Here come the Braves.
A year ago, a thrilling win turned around a dismal season and propelled the Braves into postseason action.
This year, a loss might be having the same effect.
On May 10, 2010, the Braves arrived in Milwaukee sporting a paltry 13-18 record. They had just lost two of three in Philadelphia, and two of three in Washington before that.
They had fashioned a nine-game losing streak at the end of April. The Bobby Cox Farewell Tour more resembled a death march.
But then Martin Prado hit that grand slam in Milwaukee, and the Braves won, 8-2. Then they won the next day. And the next.
By June 3rd, they had won 19 of 23, swept a home series against the Phillies, and taken over first place in the NL East. They’d post a winning record every month, and remain in first place, until September, when key injuries and the Phillies caught up with them.
As well as they played all summer, as good things kept happening, to a man the Braves harkened back to that day in Milwaukee when Martin hit the granny as the game that flipped the switch.
Sunday, the 2011 Braves fashioned their own thrilling, keynote win, one that will stand out against all others that might ensue this summer. But the impetus for Sunday’s win came from Thursday’s loss.
It took the Braves almost nine innings and 122 pitches, but they finally got to Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. Trailing 2-1 in the ninth, with two out, the Braves loaded the bases. With the count 0-2, David Ross punched a single to left, and the Braves led, 3-2.
Sadly, it didn’t end there. Young closer Craig Kimbrell began the Dodger ninth by walking Jamey Carroll, and Casey Blake ended it with his own two out, 0-2 single for the tying run. Christhian Martinez then served up a walk-off homer to Matt Kemp in the 12th.
Within an hour, the Braves had gone from a season-turning win to another disheartening loss keeping them down.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the Braves apparently walked off the field and collectively decided, “Enough.”
Chipper Jones said as much on Sunday in San Francisco. “You kind of got a feeling that was a kick-start,” the birthday boy told Mark Bowman of mlb.com. “We ended up losing that game, but we came up here and took three games from the world champs. So, confidence is a lot different than it was a week ago.”
As that great baseball philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra famously said, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”
Just ask Tim Hudson. After allowing five runs against the Marlins on April 13, Hudson told all who cared to listen that he pitched “like a sissy.” His Glavinitis continued in his next start, when the Dodgers scored three runs in the first, but he stuck around and gave up only one more run in five more innings.
Saturday, he came within an out of a complete game as the Braves beat Tim Lincecum and the Giants, 5-2.
Or ask Brandon Beachy. He allowed five runs in five innings against the Marlins on April 14, including three in the first. He also allowed single runs in the second and third, which were disappointing because the Braves inexplicably erupted for a four-run first.
But you could see a difference in Beachy during that game. He suddenly quit trying to make perfect pitches, and began cutting the ball loose. Once he lost his fear of major league hitters, the results have been outstanding: no runs in six innings Tuesday against the Dodgers, and 2 runs on 3 hits in six against the Giants on Sunday.
You could even ask Nate McLouth, of all people. McLouth appeared at the plate in the tenth inning Sunday, with the bases loaded, two out, and Giants closer Brian Wilson and his beard on the mound.
The Braves had already blown the lead twice, and come back once. With the epic game on the line, McLouth watched three balls go past, and then two strikes. He drove Wilson’s next pitch right back into center field for the winning runs.
Now, if Nate McLouth is going to start winning ballgames, good times are in the offing. Giants manager Bruce Bochy agrees.
“They’re a better team than they’ve played, and they showed it in this series,” Bochy told Bowman. “They have good pitching and a good lineup. They are going to be there at the end.”
And they’ll remember where it all began.