It’s among the oldest bits of baseball wisdom, right behind, “Good pitching stops good hitting.” In Thursday’s Game 1, the Atlanta Braves lent further credence to the old saw that the batted ball will always, always seek out a shaky glove.
A.J. Ellis drove in the Dodgers’ second run on a double to left that sliced under the glove of Evan Gattis, who’s not really a left fielder. Juan Uribe mightn’t have been in position to score that second run had he not moved from first to center center fielder Jason Heyward, who’d been a right fielder until circumstances dictated a move, tried to throw out Yasiel Puig at home on Skip Schumaker’s sacrifice fly. (Puig is the second-fastest man in baseball, after the Reds’ Billy Hamilton.)
Carl Crawford scored the Dodgers’ third run after reaching on a single to second baseman Elliot Johnson, who’s not really an everyday second baseman. (The play should have been scored an error.) The aforementioned Ellis scored the fifth run after reaching on a double to right that Justin Upton, who’s not the right fielder Heyward is, couldn’t reach.
And right there we saw the trickle-down effect of the Braves not wanting to include the hitless wonders B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla in their October lineup. Elliot Johnson shouldn’t be starting a playoff game, but Uggla hit .179 this season and didn’t make the 25-man roster for this series. The elder Upton hit .184 and made the cut only as the 25th man.
Had B.J. Upton been stationed in center field, his younger brother would have been deployed in left and Heyward in right, and there’s a chance the wrong-headed throw home and the two Ellis doubles would never have happened. Had Uggla been playing second base, he might have gloved the grounder Johnson fumbled.
It didn’t end there: Johnson went 0-for-4, striking out three times, the last coming on a called Strike 3 with two out in the ninth and two Braves in scoring position; B.J. Upton pinch-hit in the fifth and struck out looking on a curve after flailing at Clayton Kershaw’s first two pitches.
On a night when Kershaw wound up striking out 12 – and the Braves would whiff 15 times – maybe none of this should have mattered. But Kershaw, who needed 77 pitches to net the first 12 outs, didn’t really find himself until the middle innings, by which time the Dodgers had taken a 5-0 lead. The belief here is that the Braves missed a chance to beat baseball’s best pitcher by letting the game get out of hand early, and they underscored another baseball truism in the process: In the playoffs, little things become big things.