Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Strasburg's 5th MLB Start: We Were There

The Braves’ Tim Hudson outlasted Washington Nationals pheenom Stephen Strasburg in a nationally televised pitchers duel Monday night. In possibly the biggest game at Turner Field since the Braves last playoff appearance, the veteran and rookie matched goose eggs for the first six innings. Then after Hudson pitched a scoreless seventh, the Braves’ offense erupted for five runs, with four charged to Strasburg.

Chipper walked on four pitches, then McCann singled to center. Jones then shielded Nats shortstop Ian Desmond from Glaus’ ground ball, forcing an error. Hinke’s sac fly to centerfield was deep en that all three runners advanced. With the lead, the crowd’s tomahawk chop rocked the stadium. Escobar’s single to left drove in McCann, and Strasburg’s night was done. The crowd waved their goodbyes and continued chopping.

But the Braves weren’t finished. Gregor Blanco perfectly executed a safety squeeze bunt, pushing it past the pitcher on the first base side. Pinch-hitter Omar Infante stroked a sharp grounder in the hole, off the glove of the diving third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Shortstop Desmond had ranged far to his right to back up the play, and the deflected ball dribbled away from him. As the ball rolled almost to the outfield grass, Blanco rounded second and raced to third, as Escobar scored from second. Martin Prado drove in the fifth run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to right.

The stadium was filled with Braves fans, taking advantage of the cheap Buck Belue Buck night dollar ticket, eager to see the “once in a generation” rookie. The dollar tickets completely sold out, and attendance of 42,889 was announced. Will and Kevin rode MARTA down to Five Points, walked to the stadium, and snapped up eight Skyline tickets for the group. I left work at four, swapped cars with Ceil in Roswell, and parked the van just after five. Anna sported her big sunglasses, and Matthew wore his Chipper jersey, Braves cap, shorts, white adidas shell-toes, and black crew socks. The socks were obviously for the look, as he always wears white footies.

Before Anna, Matthew, and I arrived at BP, Kevin had already had a “run-in” with my friend Johnny Pierce, going after a home run ball. Will had recognized Johnny from the game two weeks earlier, so we chatted for a long while. He had talked to Stan Kasten a couple of years ago, when he went to a game at old RFK.

Soon Craig, Denise, and Alyssa arrived. I tossed Will’s glove to Alyssa, and she put it on and watched BP. But when a ball came near, she didn’t move. After BP we went upstairs to our outfield seats in the sun, sitting down over 40 minutes before game time. Ceil had packed a feast, so we passed out hot dogs and drinks. Matthew ate 2-1/2 dogs. After the game he said he was so full he would never eat a bite, though it didn’t stop him from ordering fries and an FO at the Varsity.

Marietta’s Eastside Baptist Church Choir sang the national anthem. Anna recognized several choir members. She takes ballet classes there. During the anthem, Denise and I noticed Matthew standing with his Braves cap held over his heart. When the starting lineups were announced, Matthew wanted to know where Jason Heyward was. Injured, J-Hey was put on the 15-day DL after the game.

The pre-game talk was Strasburg, nicknamed “Jesus” by some. The Braves usually run a short video on the opponent’s team history. In addition to this Expos video, that also ran a story on Strasburg. Before warming up in the bullpen (surrounded by on-looking fans), Strasburg stretched, ran, and threw in the leftfield corner. This attracted much more attention than Hudson, doing the same in right field.

For six innings, the rookie did not disappoint. At one point he struck out six of seven batters, including five straight. He left the game with seven, falling short of Herb Score’s record of 50 strikeouts in his first five MLB starts. Meanwhile, Hudson was even more effective for the Braves. While not a strikeout pitcher, Huddy struck out six, in his seven shutout innings. Pitching so well on the ESPN stage may have solidified his spot in the All-Star game.

Interesting play: The Braves put the infield shift on pull-hitting Adam Dunn. With a runner on first, the National’s first-baseman hit a grounder to the second baseman. Escobar fielded the ball and flipped to Chipper for the out…a rare 6-5 putout at second base.

Another rare sight: After the top of the seventh ended, it was announced that the seventh inning stretch would be led by NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip. He hopped on the top of the dugout with a cordless microphone in hand, dressed in black: T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. His rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was forgettable, but he got points for dancing with the Braves girls during “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” Perhaps he is a good luck charm: the Braves promptly scored five runs after his performance.

Kevin still had his ticket stub in his wallet from his recent trip to Washington, where he saw Strasburg's previous start.

After the game we grabbed free Coke Zeros. My wallet was right where I left it, sitting on the floorboard of the van. Big postgame crowd at the Varsity. In the early evening heat I had a Gatorade and hot dog, but the extra Frosted Orange was so refreshing. After downing Matthew’s French fries, I felt like throwing up on the way home.

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