ATLANTA — Here are three things we learned from the Braves’ 8-4 loss to the Reds on Sunday, concluding pre-All-Star break portion of the season.
1. The best news for the Braves came in the 8th inning and had nothing to do with the game
Before the first pitch on Sunday, a pall settled over Atlanta as it was announced that Freddie Freeman, who received almost 20 million fan votes to make the All-Star team this week, would not be able to play Tuesday, due to a jammed thumb from Saturday’s game against Cincinnati.
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But that bit of bad news was tempered when, with the Braves trailing 5-2, manager Fredi Gonzalez got a call in the dugout, saying that catcher Brian McCann had been chosen to replace Freeman on the National League roster.
“(Fredi) told me that if I was willing to accept it, that I was on,” McCann said on Sunday. “I said ‘absolutely,’ and that made it official right there (in the dugout).”
This will be McCann’s seventh All-Star appearance.
“When you walk in that door and you’re sitting around with the best players in the game, there’s a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”
National League manager Bruce Bochy (Giants) said that, in addition to McCann’s outstanding first-half numbers, the catcher’s experience with All-Star Game pressure would help the team on Tuesday. The winning league earns home-field advantage for this year’s World Series, and McCann was the All-Star MVP in 2010.
“That (All Star Game) was one of the biggest highlights of my career, so far,” McCann said. “It’s something I’ll never forget and hopefully something I’ll be able to do again.”
He was torn that he was replacing a teammate, but as McCann said on Sunday, “Freddie (Freeman) has carried us. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be able to play in the game. I’m glad somebody in this clubhouse got to go in his place … but a lot of hard work went into this offseason and the rehab that I went through (after shoulder surgery). Now, it’s all paying off.”
2. Sometimes, numbers don’t tell the whole story
If you looked at the line on Julio Teheran, you might have assumed he didn’t throw that poorly. He logged 96 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, with 61 strikes. Unfortunately, he also gave up seven hits, five earned runs and two walks. He hit one batter and threw another wild pitch to go with only three strikeouts.
Drilling a little deeper, you see that Teheran fell behind in the count with 13 batters. The Reds hit two homes off Teheran — one by Jay Bruce in the third and another by Shin-Soo Choo in the fifth — both on 1-0 counts. Brandon Phillips’ RBI groundout (third inning) also occurred on a 1-0 count.
“My arm was feeling really slow,” Teheran said. “Even when I was warming up,, I could feel that it was slow and I knew I needed to figure out a way to get deep into the game. I was trying to put my best stuff on my fastball, but it wasn’t working in the bullpen when I was warming up. It was a little bit out of control.”
The Braves got on the board first after Reed Johnson reached base on a seemingly routine pop fly to the infield. But something extraordinary happened.
The sun — that bright star in the sky that has been a stranger to most in Atlanta this summer — blinded Reds third baseman Todd Frazier … and a ball that seemed to hang in the air forever fell harmlessly to the ground.
Four pitches later, Gerald Laird hit a curving shot over the first baseman Joey Votto’s head and off Jay Bruce’s glove in right field. The ball rolled around in the foul-territory dirt, until Johnson sprinted around from first base to score.
It could have been more. Reds starter Tony Cingrani walked Teheran to load the bases with two outs in the third inning, but got out of the jam when Jose Constanza hit a bullet back to the mound that Cingrani fielded for the third out.
Cingrani was the first batter up in the third and reached on a perfectly placed bunt that squirted past Teheran and short of Dan Uggla. Then, Choo ripped a single to center which moved Cingrani — who flashed great speed for a pitcher — to third.
Votto, batting .316 on the year, drove Cingrani home with hard-hit double to right field. The Reds took the lead two pitches later on Phillips’ RBI groundout.
Bruce scored two more with his 19th homer of the season, making the game largely academic by that time. The Reds tacked on three more runs in the 9th off reliever Anthony Varvaro.
Looking at the big picture, though, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was not displeased with the first half, especially given the rash of recent Braves injuries (Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Jordan Schafer).
“We lost a lot of key players, but the guys who stepped in did a good job for us,” Gonzalez said. “Even today, we hit the ball hard, so you feel good. Any time you’re back is up against the wall the way we were with those guys hurt, you feel good about your club.
“Right now, anybody that flinches a little bit or grabs something you get a little scared. But hopefully now we’ve got these four days (off) to get some guys healthy so they can get going again.”
3. Evan Gattis made good swings in his return
The return of Gattis (starting at first base in place of Freeman) was greeted with wild cheers, even before the 26-year-old rookie took the field, after being out of the Braves lineup (since June 18) with a strained oblique.
Not only was Gattis a big part of the Braves’ stellar spring (14 homers, .563 slugging), but his story captivated every baseball fan in America. Battling bouts of depression, walking away from the game twice, working in a golf cart barn, a ski lift, as a janitor and mechanic, a waiter and a cook before finding his way back to the game, Gattis’s life was a saga that Bernie Malamud would have found almost too implausible for fiction.
Unfortunately for Braves fans, there were no Roy Hobbs moments on Sunday afternoon, even though the slugger twice hit the ball hard and had two other quality at-bats.
In his second plate appearance, Gattis belted a blistering liner to Reds shortstop Zack Cozart who made a throwing error to first in the hopes of catching Chris Johnson out of position for a double play. The ball scooted to the Braves’ dugout, allowing Andrelton Simmons to dart home for Atlanta’s second run.
“Gattis hit the ball hard today which was great to see after coming off the DL,” Gonzalez said.
The lineup, on the whole, crunched the ball at times. but to little avail. The Braves had nine hits and two homers — one in the eighth by Uggla and another in the ninth by Simmons — but they also has nine strikeouts.
“It feels great to get another homer,” Uggla said. “I wish I could get a few more hits other than the ones that are going out, but at least the ones I’m hitting are leaving (the ballpark). But all in all, I think we’ve had a good first half.
Gattis agreed, saying, “It’s good to be in the lead. Certainly. I felt great being back out there and getting to play a little first. I have a little more confidence and I saw the ball really well.
“Now, it’s just making little adjustments between at-bats. Luckily, I hit a couple of balls well. They just didn’t fall.”
That summed up the final outing as well as anything could. On Sunday, the Braves just couldn’t get anything to fall.