Results tagged ‘ Nate McLouth ’

McLouth gains early confidence

There was some good hitting, bad pitching and shoddy defense during Monday’s 13-3 win over the Astros at Disney.  But for the Braves, the most important development came courtesy of the fact that Nate McLouth reached safely in each of his four plate appearances. 

No, that didn’t match the amount of times he reached base during the entirety of last year’s exhibition season.  It just seemed like it.  But if you’re counting, his two hits accounted for one-third of the total he collected in 51 exhibition season at-bats last year.

“My first hit was a bloop hit, but at least it didn’t take me nine games to get it,” McLouth said in reference to his first-inning bloop single to center. 

The fact that McLouth can at least attempt to poke fun at last season’s struggles seems to indicate that he’s much more relaxed than he was at any point last year.  Instead of trying to avoid his struggles, he’s accepted the challenge of overcoming them. 

Chipper Jones said he is looking forward to seeing if McLouth continues to take a more aggressive approach in the batter’s box.  As his confidence continued to take a beating last year, McLouth seemed far too indecisive at the plate. 

During Monday’s fourth inning, he looked at a hittable 2-0 pitch and then laced an opposite-field RBI double to left field.

“He’s made some adjustments at the plate,” Jones said. “He’s starting with some rhythm and getting something going, as opposed to starting from a dead standstill.  We’ve got to get him a little more aggressive than he was last year.  I don’t want to see him taking 2-0 and 3-1 pitches right down the middle, hoping for a walk.  I want him to do damage.” 

Now that the tarp has been removed here at Osceola County Stadium, McLouth and Jones will be among the Braves who will be taking their hacks at Astros right-hander Brett Myers. 

This is Jones’ third straight start as the designated hitter.  It will be interesting to see how his knee reacts once he starts playing the field and is forced to instinctively react to his right or left.  But for now, it appears his knee is passing all of the necessary tests and producing nothing more than expected discomfort. 

Kenshin Kawakami will arrive in the Orlando area tonight and be in camp for tomorrow’s workout at Disney.  It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about his future, or at least the club’s decision to remove him from the 40-man roster and put him on Double-A Mississippi’s roster. 

TODAY’S LINEUP:
Schafer 7
McLouth 8
Chipper DH
Uggla 4
Heyward 9
Mather 5
Freeman 3
Boscan 2
Hernandez 6

Tommy Hanson will start.  Jonny Venters, Stephen Marek, Michael Broadway, Jairo Asencio and Eric O’Flaherty are scheduled to pitch.    

Braves fans have already started to panic

With the Braves losing six of their past eight games and the Rockies once again providing reason to wonder if they’re essentially invincible in September, there are a number of Atlanta fans who have already hit the panic button.   

This is the expected response from fans when their club begins trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time.  But while the Braves have significantly minimized the comfort level that existed just a week ago, they still haven’t lost anything yet.   

Yes, they’ve lost the National League East lead that they held from May 31-Sept. 6  —  their longest tenure at the top of the division standings since 2003.  But as long as they can right their ship soon, they can directly impact their attempt to regain this division lead while playing the Phillies six times over the course of the season’s final 12 games.  

And what was a four-game advantage over the Giants last week has been reduced to the one game lead the Braves currently hold in the Wild Card standings.  Still despite the fact that the Giants sit in second place in this race, there is seemingly much more reason to be concerned about the Rockies, who have moved to within 3 games of securing the NL’s final postseason spot.   

Before beginning their three-game sweep of the Braves on Aug. 23, the Rockies had lost three of four and 10 of their previous 18.  Since the start of that three-game series against Atlanta, they have won 13 of 17, with two of the losses coming on the road.  

While the Giants certainly stand as a threat to Atlanta’s postseason hopes, the Rockies seem to pose an even greater threat, especially if the Padres continue to fade and allow the Giants to overtake them in the NL West standings.  

With that being said, the Rockies could easily emerge victorious in that division race.  They have gone 47-22 at Coors Field this year and will play 13 of their final 22 games at home. Among all Major League clubs, their home record has only been topped by the 49-20 mark the Braves have posted at Turner Field this year.

Last night marked just the third time this year that the Braves lost a second consecutive home game.   They had won 18 of 25 at Turner Field since last doing so July 16-17 vs. the Brewers.     Their only other consecutive home losses occurred April 21 and 22 against the Phillies.  

Before embarking on the nine-game road trip that will pit them against the Mets, Phillies and Nationals, the Braves certainly improve their position and psyche if they could at least find a way to win five of the remaining six games of this homestand.  

The cards (no pun intended) seemed to be stacked against them tonight, when they will send
Mike Minor to the mound to oppose Chris Carpenter.    But even with Roy Halladay drawing his own rookie counterpart in Jenrry Mejia tonight, the Phillies can’t enter tonight’s series opener at Citi Field with overwhelming confidence.  

The Phillies have totaled seven runs while winning just two of their previous six games at Citi Field this year.  Of course, it should be noted that each of those seven runs were scored during their two most recent games in Queens.  

Meanwhile the Rockies will host the D-backs this weekend and the Giants will conclude their four-game series against the Padres in San Diego.  

It’s time to give McLouth a shot:  It’s no surprise to see Nate McLouth in the lineup to face Carpenter tonight.   McLouth looked good during last weekend’s series in Florida and continued to impress while recording the only hits (2 singles) that Adam Wainwright surrendered after enduring a three-run first inning.  

Rick Ankiel has batted .209 since joining the Braves at the trade deadline and just .167 in his past 15 games.   Melky Cabrera has hit .196 in his past 18 games and proven to be a defensive liability more than once over the course of the past couple of weeks.  

While there is certainly a chance that McLouth will continue to struggle like he has throughout most of this season, he is certainly capable of doing more than Ankiel or Cabrera have done over the course of the past few weeks.  

My suggestion would be to platoon McLouth in left field with Matt Diaz.  When Diaz is in the lineup against left-handed starters, McLouth could play center field.  

Ankiel is undoubtedly the better defender in center field.  But if the Braves continue to squander scoring opportunities and fail to gain a playoff berth, there won’t be anybody talking about how great it was to have Ankiel’s arm and legs in center field.  

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Infante 4
Heyward 9
Prado 5
McCann 2
Lee 3
McLouth 8
Gonzalez 6
Cabrera 7
Minor 1   

Freeman headlines list of September call-ups

When Nate McLouth arrived at Spring Training as the projected leadoff hitter, there was little reason to believe the Braves would head into September with reason to believe that Freddie Freeman could actually play a greater role in the midst of a pennant race.  

McLouth has completed his return journey to the Minor Leagues and will be in uniform for Tuesday night’s game against the Mets.  Freeman will make his much anticipated arrival to the Majors when the rosters expand Wednesday.  

Freeman, left-handed reliever Mike Dunn, right-handed reliever Scott Proctor, catcher J.C. Boscan and Kenshin Kawakami will all be added to expanded roster Wednesday. 

The Braves optioned Kawakami to Rookie Level Danville Tuesday, less than 24 hours after bringing him back to the Majors.  This move allowed them to activate McLouth, who hit just .205 in the 83 at-bats he compiled with Triple-A Gwinnett in August.

While McLouth’s bat is no longer viewed as a weapon, his speed could allow him to earn one of the final spots on the postseason roster.

Kawakami’s projected role is to serve as reliever in Atlanta for the remainder of this season.  But things could change if Derek Lowe feels some arm discomfort during today’s side session.

Freeman will spend the remainder of this season doing more than simply getting a taste of the lifestyle that awaits when he becomes Atlanta’s first baseman next year.  The highly-regarded prospect will enhance the bench’s depth and likely spell Derrek Lee for a few games.  He has hit .351 with 13 homers since June 1. 
 
Dunn and Proctor will enhance the bullpen’s depth.   Boscan will serve as the third catcher that Bobby Cox always likes to have on his roster during September.   It will be interesting to see if he’s willing to carry a third catcher if he’s given a chance to compose a postseason roster. 

Proctor has struggled in his attempt to return from Tommy John surgery.  But the veteran reliever has allowed just one earned run and five hits in his past nine innings for Gwinnett. 

Craig Kimbrel and Cristhian Martinez are expected to be added to the expanded roster once Gwinnett’s season concludes. 
 

 

NL showdown will feature plenty of good pitching

Exactly one week after securing World Series home-field advantage for the National League, Brian McCann  will have an opportunity to  help his Braves teammates maximize the number of games played at Turner Field in October. 

The Padres enter tonight’s series opener at The Ted with the NL’s best record, one-half game better than the Braves. There was little reason to think these two teams would be in this position when they matched up in early April.

There was certainly reason to believe the Braves would be a postseason contender.  But it would have been hard to predict that the Padres pitching staff would enter July 20 with the best ERA (3.25) in the Majors.  They ranked 17th during the 2009 season, while having the benefit of having Mat Latos only make 10 starts. 

Fortunately for the Braves, they won’t have to see Latos this week.  The talented young right-hander is currently on the disabled list because of an aborted sneeze that caused him to strain a muscle in his left side.

Greg Maddux likely isn’t among those who might be surprised to see what kind of pitching staff Bud Black has assembled.  When I asked Maddux to name the game’s best pitching coach about eight years ago, he quickly nominated Black. 

With this I regress and once again express my belief that Roger McDowell has what it takes to be a successful Major League manager.  But it appears that he’ll be happy to remain in his current role under Bobby Cox’s successor (a.k.a. Fredi Gonzalez). 

When Jair Jurrjens takes the mound to oppose Wade LeBlanc in tonight’s series opener, he’ll be much different than he was on April 12, when he allowed the Padres eight earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings.  His velocity was significantly down that day and only since returning from the disabled list has he admitted that he still was attempting to regain strength in the right shoulder that ailed him at the beginning of camp. 

As Jurrjens walked toward the dugout that day and Jo-Jo Reyes took the mound, I turned to Jim Misudek, the new Braves media relations assistant, and said, “It’s about to get a whole lot worse.” 

After losing that series opener in San Diego by a count of 17-2, the Braves came back and won the final two games of the series.  Of course the next couple of weeks weren’t exactly memorable for Cox’s troops. 

But since May 10, the Braves have produced a Major League-best 41-20 record.  The 5 1/2-game advantage they hold over the second-place Mets in the National League East race is the largest division lead they’ve held this late in the season since Sept. 27, 2005.

As you know, Nate McLouth is expected to return from the disabled list tonight and resume his role as the club’s primary centerfielder.  McLouth didn’t exactly abuse International League competition during his Minor League rehab stint. 

But he’s healthy and the Braves need to evaluate him over the course of the next week to see if they are confident in his ability to be a productive piece down the stretch.

It will be interesting to see what Jonny Venters (four games) and Cox (one game) have to say about the suspensions MLB handed them in response to Prince Fielder getting hit with a pitch on Saturday night. 

Whether or not you believe Venters was intentionally throwing at Fielder, you can’t dispute the fact that he gave everybody plenty of reason to believe he was throwing at the big first baseman.  In the end, MLB had to levy some kind of punishment.    
 

McLouth expected to be activated Tuesday

Nate McLouth is expected to be activated from the disabled list and likely placed back in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Padres. 

After going hitless in four at-bats Sunday afternoon, McLouth didn’t travel with the Triple-A Gwinnett club to Scranton, Pa.  Instead, he stayed in Buffalo to catch a flight back to Atlanta. 

When McLouth is activated, the Braves are expected to option Gregor Blanco back to the Gwinnett roster.  Given that Blanco has hit .310 and compiled a .394 on-base percentage in the 35 games he’s played for Atlanta, this won’t be a popular decision among fans. 

But with the July 31 trade deadline approaching, the Braves need to get McLouth back in their lineup.  The probability of GM Frank Wren making a move this month will be greatly affected by what McLouth shows over the course of the next week. 

McLouth hit .258 (8-for-31) with one homer in the seven rehab games he played for Gwinnett. Wren said Sunday morning that the 28-year-old centerfielder is healthy and showing signs that he has made some necessary adjustments at the plate.  He has been sidelined since June 9 while recovering from a concussion.

About a week ago, when I tweeted that a scout said McLouth “was swinging better than I’ve seen all year,”  a fan replied, “compared to what?”

Given that McLouth had hit .176 in the 57 games he played before suffering his concussion, my only suitable reply was, “good point.”  
  

Braves not actively looking to trade Escobar

Received a call from an American League scout today, who said his club had gained the sense that the Braves might be willing to deal Yunel Escobar.  But before worrying those of you who understand the great value Escobar brings from a defensive standpoint, I’ll let you know it appears he’ll be in Atlanta past this year’s July 31 trade deadline.  

Yes Escobar still infuriates opponents, umpires, teammates and his own coaches with his flamboyant approach to his game.  And to tell you the truth, there are some members of the Braves organization who would like to trade him. 

But at the end of the day, the guys who crunch the numbers will be quick to tell you that Escobar’s $435,000 salary makes him one of their best bargains.  While his offensive production has declined dramatically, it’s hard to argue with those who still believe he is as good as any of the game’s other shortstops from a defensive perspective. 

It was interesting to see FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal suggest the cash-strapped Dodgers should trade Matt Kemp.  As Rosenthal mentioned, the Braves would certainly be interested in obtaining the talented outfielder, whose current $4 million salary will still be a bargain when it escalates to $6.95 million in 2011.

But it doesn’t appear the Dodgers have started calling teams to inform them that Kemp is available. 

McLouth update:   Nate McLouth dealt with what he described as a “constant” headache for essentially two straight weeks after his June 8 collision with Jason Heyward.  McLouth awoke Wednesday without any headaches and arrived at Turner Field Friday happy to report he had been pain free for 48 hours. 

It might still be a while before McLouth is cleared to begin playing.  But he was hoping to gain a better timetable after meeting with a Braves doctor on Friday night.  
 

  

Resop is ready to pitch for some Major League club

Chris Resop has plenty of reason to believe he’ll join a Major League roster within the next week.  The Braves now have to decide whether it will be theirs or one of the many Major League clubs that need to improve their pitching staff.

The one-hit shutout that Resop completed for Triple-A Gwinnett in Norfolk last night will likely spark enhance his position on the trade market.  But despite the fact that he has spent the past three months dominating the International League, other clubs have shown just mild interest in trading for this 28-year-old right-hander, who has been rejuvenated since becoming a starter. 

Sources have indicated that there wasn’t a single scout from a Major League organization in Norfolk last night to watch Resop complete this masterpiece.  In fact the one scout that was present was representing a club from the Korean Baseball League.   

With this in mind, there’s further reason to believe Resop could be in uniform at Turner Field on Tuesday when the Braves begin a three-game series against the Rays. 

If the Braves don’t add Resop to their Major League roster by Tuesday, then he is contractually obligated to demand a trade or request to be a free agent.   The latter option certainly won’t come into play. 

Without gaining some return, the Braves certainly aren’t going to simply waive goodbye to a guy who has posted a 1.84 ERA and compiled an IL-best 81 strikeouts in the 73 1/3 innings he has completed for Triple-A Gwinnett this year.

It’s understanding that clubs are skeptical about a 28-year-old pitcher who has posted a 5.61 ERA in 57 career Major League appearances (all as a reliever).  But at the same time, they have to recognize that his move into the rotation this year has led him to become more of a pitcher than a thrower. 

No longer trying to blow his four-seamer past opponents, Resop has baffled opponents with a heavy dose of two-seam sinkers and a curveball that is certainly much better than it was when he last appeared in the Majors with the Braves during the 2008 season.

If the Braves are unable to trade Resop, they will likely add him to their bullpen on Tuesday.  This would seemingly provide them a chance to send Jesse Chavez to Gwinnett to work on his secondary pitches, namely the curveball that he’s trying to develop.

Or the Braves could opt to send Craig Kimbrel back to Gwinnett to get the regular work he needs to aid his development. 

Whatever the case, Resop will likely be in a Major League uniform at some point next week.

McLouth update:  Still haven’t received any updates about Nate McLouth’s condition.  If the Braves are forced to place him on the disabled list, it would make sense for them to promote Brandon Hicks to serve as a backup infielder while Omar Infante would spend the next couple weeks seeing more time in the outfield. 

Brett Clevlen, who has been on the disabled list since May 24, still hasn’t resumed playing and Jordan Schafer isn’t even an option.  Even if Schafer had not had some setbacks that prevented him from beginning to play in May, he needed to spend at least half this season and maybe longer in the Minors to make up for the time he lost over the course of the past two seasons.

Look ahead:  The Braves will spend the next six games playing against the leaders in the AL Central (Twins) and AL East (Rays).   They enter this stretch with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Phillies, the same exact advantage they held when they began this 11-game road trip. 

Tim Hudson will take the mound looking to continue his success against the Twins.  In 13 career starts against them, he has gone 6-2 with a 2.12 ERA.  Justin Morneau (1-for-6) and Joe Mauer (0-for-3)  have had limited opportunities to face the Braves right-hander. 

But this would certainly be a good night for the Twins to put Jim Thome in their lineup.  He is 9-for-16 with four homers in his career against Hudson. 

Bobby Cox has opted to use Brian McCann as his designated hitter tonight.   This gives Hudson a chance to throw to his good friend David Ross. 

When McCann has been behind the plate this year, Hudson has posted a 2.62 ERA and seen opponents hit .246 with a .344 OBP.  When Ross has served as his catcher, the veteran right-hander has posted a 2.20 ERA and limited opponents to a .189 BA and .237 OBP.   

 

   

Updates regarding McLouth and Lipka

Before getting this afternoon’s series finale against the D-backs started, here are a few updates from the clubhouse and the Draft.

Nate McLouth said he still had a pretty painful headache this morning.  The Braves will test him later today to determine whether he suffered a concussion when he hit his head after colliding with Jason Heyward during last night’s eighth inning. 

Heyward appeared to suffer a bruised right shin when he clipped McLouth and caused him to flip over and land hard on the outfield grass.   Before taking the field for batting practice this morning, the 20-year-old right fielder was wearing a bandage on his right shin.   

Matt Lipka has agreed to an $800,000 signing bonus and will report to the Braves Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Monday.    Lipka, an athletic shortstop out of suburban Dallas’ McKinney High School, was the first player (35th overall selection) taken by the Braves in this year’s Draft. 

The Braves have also signed their seventh-round selection Matt Suschak.  The right-handed pitcher out of the University of Toledo will report to the club’s Rookie Level club in Danville on Monday. 

TODAY’S LINEUP 

Prado 4

Heyward 9

Jones 5

Glaus 3

Escobar 6

Infante 7

Ross 2

Cabrera 8

Hanson 1

Santana bidding for rare win vs. Braves

Looking simply at the fact that they are sending Johan Santana to the mound to face Kris Medlen tonight at Turner Field, the Mets should feel pretty good about the odds of sweeping this two-game set against the Braves.  

Of course the Braves also felt pretty good about sending Tommy Hanson to the mound
Saturday night to oppose Rodrigo Lopez.  Eleven runs later the D-backs snapped a seven-game losing streak and once again proved why Pete Rose has learned it’s now easier to supplement his bank account through appearance fees.   

Making his second start of the season and the sixth of his career, Medlen has fewer career wins (1) as a  starter than Santana’s total of Cy Young Awards (2).  But by the end of the night, the versatile young right-hander could have as many career wins (1) against the Mets as Santana does against the Braves.

In his eight career starts against the Braves, Santana has never allowed more than three runs and he has been charged with two earned runs or fewer in six of those outings.  But he’ll enter tonight 1-5 with a 2.21 ERA against Bobby Cox’s teams.  

Santana has recorded at least two victories against each of the other 28 Major League clubs that he has made at least three career starts against.   The only other clubs that he has posted a losing record against are the Angels (2-4) and Blue Jays (2-4).   

The .290 batting average that Santana has surrendered against the Braves stands as the highest mark he has allowed against any organization.   Taking this one step further, Medlen can feel good about the fact that he will be backed by some of the same guys who are responsible for this mark.  

Careers vs. Santana
Yunel  Escobar .333 (6-for-18) 1 double  1 K
Chipper Jones  .294 (5-for-17)  2 BB, 2 Ks
Brian McCann .273 (6-for-22) 1 double, 2 HRs

This will mark the first time Troy Glaus has faced Santana while wearing a Braves uniform.  In his 24 career at-bats against the left-hander, Glaus has hit .333 with three doubles and a homer.  

It might seem ridiculous right now to play anybody in favor of Eric Hinske, who has hit .571 with five doubles and two homers while starting in left field during each of the past six games.    But he is 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in his career against Santana and he has had just four at-bats against left-handed pitchers this year.   

If Cox is willing to take a gamble tonight, he could be persuaded to put Brent Clevlen in left field for tonight’s game.  Santana is the only pitcher that Clevlen has compiled more than six career plate appearances against.  

In the process, Clevlen has hit .300 (3-for-10) with a double and a triple against Santana.  But with each of his seven outs coming via strikeouts, maybe it would be better to just go with either the red-hot Hinske or Melky Cabera, who is 2-for-10 with a double and just one strikeout in his career against the Mets ace.  

McCann’s struggles:  Regardless of what McCann says to avoid creating an excuse, his vision problems are the primary reason he’s not producing like he did in the past.  As anybody who has ever worn glasses will attest, it takes time to get used to the feel on the face and the vision that they create.

Before going hitless in four at-bats last night, McCann was showing some signs of improvement.  In his previous four games he had gone 6-for-16 with a double and a homer.  

Those two extra-base hits matched the total he had compiled in his previous 19 games.  
Within last night’s game story, I focused on the fact that McCann is hitting just .192 with runners in scoring position this year and .222 since the beginning of the 2009 season against left-handed pitchers.  

In hindsight, I should have also mentioned that this hitless evening was completed against a couple of guys who have had little trouble with left-handed hitters this year.   Feliciano has limited left-handers to a .172 (5-for-29) batting average this year and the right-handed Pelfrey has limited them to a .208 (16-for-77) mark.  

As McCann continues to get used to his glasses, he’ll show some of the same promise that he was building entering Monday night’s game.  As a four-time All-Star, he’s likely going to once again find himself heading into the offseason with a batting average around .300 and an RBI total that is around the century mark.   

But if the Braves are going to be playing meaningful games down the stretch this year, there’s no doubt that McCann is going to have to start taking advantage of those numerous run-producing opportunities that he gets in the cleanup spot.

With Martin Prado and Jason Heyward now occupying the lineup’s top two spots, McCann should start getting more opportunities to drive in runs.  It’s almost ridiculous that he has sat in the cleanup spot in 27 games this season and has just 27 at-bats with runners in scoring position.   

Further showing how bad the Braves leadoff hitters were during the season’s first six weeks, Chipper Jones has sat in his customary third spot of the lineup throughout the year and totaled just 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.  

But following in the footsteps of Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera has shown that run-producing situations too often occur at the wrong time.    In just 26 games, Cabrera has totaled 35 at-bats with runners in scoring position and hit just .171 in those situations.  

Fortunately for the Braves, Nate McLouth has hit .318 in his past six games and allowed Cabrera to fill the backup role that was envisioned when he was acquired from the Yankees.  If McLouth goes 1-for-4 tonight, he’ll improve his batting average to .200  —  marking the first time since April 9 that he would at least be at the Mendoza Line.  

Looking back on an improbable finish

While watching highlights of last night’s incredible finish, I noticed Bobby Cox’s reaction after Jason Heyward drilled his game-tying, two-out homer in the ninth inning.    While his players instantly celebrated when Heyward’s blast cleared the wall, Cox paused and then began clapping in an excited manner.  

When I get to Turner Field today, I’ll ask him if he remembers his reaction.  But my guess is that his split-second pause was just a product of the fact that he had to give himself time to think, “you’ve got to be kidding me, this kid did it again.”

As great as anybody thought Heyward could be, I think it’s safe to say that he has proven to be even greater during the first 13 games of his career.   Through the first seven games he’s played at Turner Field, he has already produced a memorable homer with the first swing of his career, contributed a walk-off single and foiled the rival Phillies with last night’s blast off Ryan Madson.  

At the ripe age of 20, Heyward has already proven to be Mr. Clutch in Atlanta.   He is hitting .727 (8-for-11) with runners in scoring position and .750 (6-for-8) with two outs and runners in scoring position.   During the eighth and ninth innings combined, he has batted .555 (5-for-9) and his two ninth-inning homers have been hit with the Braves trailing.  

It’s impressive enough to look at the fact that he has compiled 16 RBIs through the first 13 games of his career.  But while watching ESPN’s SportsCenter this morning, many of us learned that Ted Williams was the only other Major League player under the age of 21 to tally 16 RBIs through the first 13 games of his career.  

Still even with all of these impressive statistics, there’s a way to argue that Heyward’s homer simply added to the improbable events that occurred last night.   Down 3-0 with two outs in the ninth, the Braves needed just nine pitches and four at-bats to create a 4-3, 10-inning victory that put them in a first-place tie with a Phillies club that has navigated a much softer schedule through the season’s first two weeks.  

Troy Glaus came to the plate in the ninth inning hearing the displeasure of fans, who were unhappy about the fact that he’d booted a Ryan Howard grounder in the top of the fourth and then hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded and Heyward on deck to end the bottom half.

Or maybe those boos were a product of the fact that he was coming to bat with a .181 batting average.  Or maybe it was because he had produced just one hit in the 10 at-bats that he had previously compiled in either the eighth or ninth innings.  

Whatever the case, those boos quickly turned to cheers when Glaus belted Madson’s fastball over the left-center field wall.  His second homer of the year, set the stage for Heyward, who  came to the plate with just four hits in 27 at-bats with the bases empty.  

Stick with me, this was a night where improbability reigned.  Thus in order to figure out how Heyward fit the story line, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to use this early-season trend that really doesn’t bare a whole lot of significance.  

Heyward’s blast opened the door for Billy Wagner to produce a perfect inning and set the stage for Nate McLouth, who came to the plate to begin the top of the 10th inning hitting just .138 (4-for-29).  His most recent extra-base hit had occurred in the sixth inning of last year’s 15-inning season finale against the Nationals.

But after drawing a 2-2 count, McLouth made his first career at-bat against Jose Contreras a memorable one.  After drilling his game-ender into the right field seats, the Braves center fielder celebrated the first walk-off homer of his career in unique style.  

Finally provided the opportunity to carry through with a plan they devised last year, the Braves players and coaches didn’t rush on the field to celebrate this moment with McLouth.  Instead, they pranked him by going down the dugout stairs and heading toward the clubhouse.

“I looked when I got around second (base) and everybody had gone (toward the clubhouse),” McLouth said.  “I didn’t know what to do when I crossed home and there they were waiting for me in the tunnel.  I kind of did the weird little dance before I got down there.  I didn’t know what to do to be honest with you.   I knew I had to slam the helmet at some point, so I did that when I crossed home.”  <p>  

In case you haven’t seen video of this prank, click here to view it.   You can hear John Smoltz laughing with his broadcast partner Joe Simpson and saying, “That’s perfect.”

Further showing the camaraderie this club seems to have, the Braves certainly concluded an improbable finish in perfect fashion.   Entering the ninth inning, McLouth and Glaus had combined to hit .164 (12-for-73) with one extra-base hit.   

Entering tonight’s game against Roy Halladay, they carry a fresh sense of confidence and the tremendous momentum created by two consecutive walk-off victories.  

While Halladay presents a tremendous challenge, we’ve all quickly learned that anything is possible as long as Mr. Heyward is in the house.  

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