In a 4-1 Atlanta win tempered by a scary injury to one of its top players, the Braves once again proved they can bounce back from adversity. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Chris Johnson provided some silver lining on a difficult day for the Braves organization
On an afternoon when star outfielder Jason Heyward was sent to the hospital (more on that in a minute) and first base coach Terry Pendleton left the game after finding out about the passing of his sister, Debra Bradford, Braves third baseman Chris Johnson allowed the team to walk out of Citi Field with a win.
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Johnson, who, along with many of his teammates, struggled throughout the afternoon, delivered the game-winning, three-run home run in the 10th inning to hand the Braves their 12th extra-inning win this season, second-most in baseball.
“Just looking hard, just looking for something out over the plate,” Johnson said of his 10th home run of the year. “I had a tough day today before that at-bat, so honestly I was just trying to keep it simple, stay short and put it on the barrel. And, you know, it went over the fence.”
Yes, it did.
Though the win was not with controversy — first base umpire Jerry Layne’s safe call in favor of Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman on a bang-bang play with two outs eventually led to Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and manager Terry Collins getting ejected — it assured the Braves of yet another win following a loss. Atlanta has not posted back-to-back losses since its first series following the All-Star break (Chicago White Sox, July 20-21).
Johnson’s 1-for-5 day drops him farther back in the NL batting race (Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is now four points ahead), but his ability to bounce back from a three-strikeout day should not be overlooked.
“He’s one of those guys that when he has a bad at-bat or something, it’s right there and then, but it goes away and he goes out and plays defense. You wouldn’t know that he had thrown a helmet or got upset at an at-bat because he doesn’t let it carry over, I guess is what I’m trying to say,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It was a tough day until that last time.”
Johnson becomes the eighth Braves player to reach double-digit home runs this season.
As the team now enters a series against the Cardinals, he’ll have an opportunity to reclaim the NL batting lead from Molina … just as he did last month when the Cards were swept at Turner Field.
2. Jason Heyward’s injury altered the course of the game
The sixth inning offered up baseball’s scariest moment of the day, as Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward was hit in the jaw with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball from Jonathan Niese.
Multiple outlets are reporting Heyward’s jaw was fractured on the play
and that he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks — in other words, possibly
the remainder of the 2013 regular season. The news was first reported by MLB.com Braves reporter Mark Bowman.
Heyward, who entered the game as one of MLB’s most productive second-half hitters, took the 1-2 pitch just under his helmet’s ear flap before staggering to the ground around home plate. Heyward was down for a couple minutes while being attended to by team trainer Jeff Porter.
He was eventually removed from the game and walked off the field under his own power, though cameras caught him spitting out blood on his way to the dugout. Gonzalez said after the game that Heyward never lost consciousness.
After being examined by doctors for about 45 minutes in the Braves
training room, Heyward was taken to a local Manhattan hospital for
X-rays and further examination. The Braves have yet to confirm the
extent of the injury, but Heyward did not join the team on its flight to
St. Louis for a matchup with the Cardinals.
“When you get hit in the head, everything comes into play: teeth, jaw, concussion,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully, the least of three, maybe some teeth, instead of a broken jaw or a concussion. But we’ll let the doctors put him through the paces there at the hospital and keep our fingers crossed.”
Niese was visibly concerned after the HBP, walking toward Heyward after the pitch before being led away by his catcher John Buck.
The 26-year-old right-hander, who has dealt with his own share of injuries, was blanking the Braves lineup before the incident — the Mets were leading 1-0 — but allowed two consecutive hits to Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman following the HBP as Atlanta tied the game, 1-1.
Heyward is hitting .253/.347/.423 with 13 home runs and 60 runs this season. After a slow start to his 2013 campaign, which included an appendectomy that forced him to spend some time on the DL, Heyward has been the team’s most valuable player in the second half, racking up 1.6 wins above replacement while hitting .323/.407/.566 and playing Gold Glove-quality defense. Since Gonzalez moved Heyward into the leadoff spot on July 27, the team is 19-4.
The Braves have certainly not been immune to injuries in 2013.
Season-ending injuries to starting pitcher Tim Hudson, top relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Christhian Martinez and infielders Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky have, of course, made big headlines, but Heyward, Freeman, B.J. Upton, Paul Maholm, Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, Gerald Laird, Jordan Schafer, Reed Johnson, Jordan Walden and others have also spent some time on the DL thus far. The list keeps growing.
Many of those injuries were of the 15-day variety, but it goes without saying that, for a team with such a substantial division lead, the Braves have done an excellent job of overcoming adversity to this point. How long can they keep it up?
3. Braves headline NL contenders receiving big-time rookie pitching contributions down the stretch
Alex Wood has shown the propensity to get himself out of jams of late. The Braves’ 2012 draftee and crafty lefty frustrated yet another opponent on Wednesday, limiting the Mets to just one run over six innings despite giving up six hits and two walks. His secret? The Mets only run came on a solo homer by first baseman Josh Satin as Wood stranded all seven base-runners he allowed.
Wood has now allowed one run or fewer in each of his past four starts.
But back to that “stranding runners” theme: Wood and fellow Braves rookie Julio Teheran have developed into two of the better pitchers around at leaving opposing hitters on-base during this second-half surge. After Wednesday’s performance, Wood has stranded 83.3 percent of base-runners in five post-All-Star break starts, good enough to tie for 16th-best in baseball with Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey. Teheran has been even better, ranking among the top-five in recent weeks (left-on-base percentage, via FanGraphs):
Yu Darvish (Rangers): 93.2 Dillon Gee (Mets): 90.4 Julio Teheran (Braves): 89.0 Zack Greinke (Dodgers): 88.8 James Shields (Royals): 87.0
That’s some pretty good company Atlanta’s rookie duo is keeping.
Over the course of the 2013 season, only the Miami Marlins — a team trotting out NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Jose Fernandez (3.4 WAR) and Tom Koehler (0.6 WAR) — have received better production from their rookie starters than the Braves. The Rangers, Cardinals and Dodgers round out the top five. And none of those teams boast a rookie combination performing at the level of Teheran-Wood right now.