The Final Season: Base Stealing

Pirates 2 – Braves 1; CJ: 0-3, BB

Braves lost, but it’s great to see Michael Bourn out there again. He hurt his thumb sliding head first into second a little over a week ago, and he missed a good number of games after that. But he came back yesterday, had a couple hits and a walk, then one today. Both days he scored a run. Big thumbs up on that (unless it hurts too much).

But it’s also good thing because I think, as the Braves have said from the start of the season, that to be successful, they need Bourn to play well. If they’re going to be a contender this post season, they need Bourn to get on base and get things going. In short, they need his speed.

That got me thinking about speed in baseball and why it’s so important and how tough it is to steal bases. Speed, in the traditional sense, it probably actually not that rare in baseball. These are athletes, so they most all of them (minus Brian McCann and other catchers and most first baseman) get down the first baseman faster than say the average Joe. So, really, it takes exceptional speed to steal a base.

And why is speed so important? It really does make things happen. From the start, it disrupts the pitcher’s motion and distracts from his attention. I mean, most pitchers even have to change their delivery when a guy is on first, going from a full motion to essentially a half one. I would imagine that makes getting the same results with your pitches slightly challenging.

Then, as far as the playoffs, you have the best versus the best, so you’re not going to see a lot of 6-0 games. Instead, you’re going to see a lot of 3-2, 4-3 kind of games. Thus, “manufacturing” runs, or getting a guy on, over, and in, becomes incredibly important. If you have a guy that can get a single and then steal a base to put himself into scoring position, he could potentially score and be the difference maker in your game.

There is certainly an art to stealing. You have to know when to go and when to hang back. You have to know when to go feet first or head first. Or, if you’re Bourn, you never go head first, unless you forget your own rule and injure yourself when you do.

But base stealing is all about picking your spots. Feeling out the pitcher and the defense, and knowing when is the right time. Some managers let guys decide that for themselves, or let certain players decide, at least. I imagine Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t give McCann free reign to run when he wants as he does Bourn. And if you’re a guy like, Bourn, you have to pick wisely. Does the pitcher have a good pickoff move that could catch you leaning? Does he have a quick or slow delivery to the plate? Either way, can I get a good jump on him? Does he throw pitches that are easy for a catcher to glove and release? And does the all-important catcher have a good arm?

And you know what, I bet the best base stealers would tell you it’s all instinct, and not a checklist like I’ve listed above. They just know, and they go. Done and done.

But it’s a thrilling part of the game for sure, holding your breath to see if the guy will make it or not. Then there’s the half million replays for you to play coach-potato umpire. Do you both make the right call?

Base stealing is an exciting, essential part of baseball. Seems like a team has got to have it be successful. Hopefully that means the Braves will be successful this postseason.


The Final Season: Amazing Comebacks

Atlanta 4 – Washington 0; CJ: 1-1, 2 RBI (39), R

The Braves win yesterday, in case you missed it, was awesome. Simply awesome, and in the true sense of the word. Down 9-0, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound no less, and they come back and win in extra innings. Awesome.

Awesome the way the team never stopped trying to win. At 9-0, I think it’d be so easy to say, you know what, today’s not our day. We’ll get them tomorrow. But apparently their response was to say, just keep getting back in it, little by little. And they did! Four runs in the 6th, then four more in the 8th. The ninth was the best, though. Down 9-8, Michael Bourn just missed hitting a three-run homerun, driving in two with a triple that gave the Braves the lead. We’ll gloss over the bottom of the ninth, when Craig Kimbrel blew the save by giving up a solo homerun – but hey, at least it was just a solo shot! They came through again in the top of the 11th, when Paul Janish – that’s right, I wrote Paul Janish, the newly acquired shortstop brought in to be a temp defensive fix – drove in the winning run. Awesome!

Awesome how Chipper, who had an okay day, set the record for most RBI’s hit by a third baseman in MLB history. His one base hit drove in a couple in that four run 8th, and, as it was obvious every little bit helped, I can’t be mad at him for not doing more.

Awesome that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Braves do anything like that. I have seen them do something close to it, though. That game last night reminded me of a game they played a couple years ago against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field. The Braves were losing 9-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, and they’d pretty much had it handed to them all day, being down 9-1 at one point.

But in the bottom of the ninth, they exploded. No other way to describe it. (Nothing like waiting for the last minute, I suppose.) With the score at 9-6, one out, and the bases loaded, enter that games Janish. Brooks Conrad hit a walk-off grand slam. Unbelievable. That hadn’t happened in the Bigs since 2002, and I don’t think it had ever happened in Atlanta Braves history.

And for it to be Brooks Conrad, too, who was pinch-hitting in Chipper Jones spot no less, was just great. Journeyman. Gamer. Minor league lifer. ‘Mud dog’ they called him for how he always seemed to get his uniform dirty. The kind of guy who, what he lacks in talent he makes up in hard work. If you’re a baseball fan, you know exactly what kind of guy he is. Oh, and he played for the Round Rock Express for years.

That whole moment of him hitting the grand slam was awesome. I remember he hit it, and it was not an obvious homerun, but it had a chance. The Red’s leftfielder, Lanyce Nix, went up for it and actually got leather on the ball, so for a second it looked like he caught it, but it really just deflected off his glove and over the wall for the grand slam. The best part, and the part I’ll never forget, was Conrad’s reaction. He though Nix caught it, so he actually put his hands on his head in exasperation and turned to start walking back to the dugout.

Only problem was, he couldn’t get back to the dugout if he wanted to because all his teammates are pouring out of it, cheering. That sight, along with the roar of the crowd, finally clued him in that that ball did go out, he did hit the game-winning grand slam, and the game was over, pending his completion of the homerun trot, which he preceded to do much too quickly for someone in his position. A veteran would have taken his time, enjoyed every step. Conrad could have given Usain Bolt a race around those bases. And of course, once he touched home plate, the now required jumping and screaming in a circle to celebrate commenced with his teammates. It was great to see. Seven runs in the bottom of the ninth to win – are you kidding me?

I wondered then, like I wrote above, how many players, if you asked them, honestly thought they were done, that the game was over. I mean, they carry themselves like anything could happen. Their manager doesn’t want to see anyone down, so they keep clapping, cheering everyone on. But you have to think that, in the back of their minds, their like, ‘Down 9-1 and we’re going to come back? Yeah, right.’ But then, I suppose, in the back, back of their minds they might be thinking, ‘Well, you know, crazier things have happened.’ And crazy things like a nine run comeback seem to happen weekly in sports. That’s why we love them. ‘So maybe, just maybe…’ And every once in a while that cheer and hand-clap is for real.

But both wins were awesome. Hopefully this year’s version will be as good for the team as the 2010 version. If I remember correctly, they started playing pretty well after that win. After all, those can be turning-point moments for a team. It’s all about how they use them, feed off of them. Yesterday can be a kick in the butt for the Braves to get it together and turn the leaf and get moving and all those clichés that mean they start playing like they are supposed to and win baseball games. It can also be the end of the Nationals sitting atop the NL East. Us baseball fans might just look back at this game and say neither team was the same again. It happens all the time in sports with games like that. Heart-breaking losses, heart-making wins. Here’s hoping.