ANAHEIM, Calif. – Bartolo Colon already had the worst ERA among qualified major league starters. On Tuesday night against one of his former teams, the oldest player in the majors endured one of the worst innings of his life, the blame for which fell not just on the Braves pitcher, but was spread around the infield like so much manure.
After Matt Kemp gave the Braves a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning with his ninth home run, Colon and the infield came completely unraveled in a nine-run third inning that sent the Los Angeles Angels to a 9-3 win at Angel Stadium, where a crowd was reduced to laughter before Colon was replaced after facing 11 batters in the third and getting one out.
Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer, the 599th of his career, to begin the scoring with one out. But if Jace Peterson hadn’t mishandled a potential double-play grounder on the previous batter, Pujols almost certainly wouldn’t have batted in that third inning and Colon could’ve had a seven-pitch scoreless inning.
It was just the first in a dizzying series of blunders and unforced errors.
“That was an inning that, I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed anything like that, and I’ve been at all the levels,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who has 41 years in pro ball in the minor and majors. “That was … phew, I don’t know. It was a little bit of everything. I don’t know how many extra outs we gave, I didn’t count. It’s hard to explain.”
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Colon lasted 2 1/3 innings and was charged with seven hits, nine runs (seven unearned runs) and one walk. In his past two starts, the 44-year-old has allowed 17 hits and 16 runs (nine earned) in 7 1/3 innings.
“To be honest I felt like that third inning was just a weird inning for all of us,” Colon said through an interpreter. “I wouldn’t really be able to tell you how to explain it; I don’t know how to explain it.”
The only time Colon ever gave up more runs was an April 2005 start against the Yankees when he was charged with five hits, 10 runs (five earned), three homers and five walks in 3 2/3 innings. This was the seventh time he was charged with nine runs, and in each of the other six he lasted at least three innings and allowed at least eight earned runs.
Oddly, he has allowed nine runs in each of his past two starts at Angel Stadium, where Colon gave up 11 hits, nine earned runs and four homers in five innings on April 13, 2014.
“I’ve seen a lot of weird things throughout my whole career,” said Colon, who has a personal-worst 6.99 ERA this season and is 1-5 with an 8.21 ERA in his past eight starts while allowing 67 hits, seven homers and 44 runs (35 earned) in 38 1/3 innings. He hasn’t pitched beyond five innings in his past seven starts.
“I like the way it started out. His stuff was kind of good, had the movement on his fastball again,” Snitker said. “That’s just such a weird inning, I don’t know what to take from it, quite honestly…. Right now he’s going (make his next scheduled start). Hopefully he has the same stuff that he started out the game with and we make plays.”
Colon got no defensive support but also couldn’t stop the bleeding, and the pitcher contributed to the debacle with a poor throw of his own that one of three errors in the inning. He also slipped before a throw on another play that was among the assorted miscues and near-inexplicable lapses in one of the worst Braves innings in Atlanta history.
“It started with me,” Peterson said.
There was a runner at first with one out when Kole Calhoun hit a seemingly tailor-made double-play grounder to the right of Peterson, playing second base in place of sore-kneed Brandon Phillips. Peterson got to it easily, but as he was attempting to field the ball and toss to shortstop Dansby Swanson, it came loose.
“I made the play, couldn’t get it out of my glove and just lost the handle,” Peterson said. “And after that it was all downhill. If I make that play, Bartolo was rolling. So, yeah, I’ll take it. Can’t lose the handle, got to just flip it. It sucks.”
“It wasn’t a fun inning, at all. So, I’ll leave it at that.”
Instead of a double play and a seven-pitch scoreless inning, the Braves didn’t even get an out on the play.
“Yeah, but it’s…there’s too many times that we’re not making a play and giving up a three-run homer,” Snitker said. “It’s happened like four times in the last 10 days or something. We can’t give teams extra outs. We’re not built that way. We’ve got 27 outs in a game and we can’t afford to give away one of them….
“It bothers you because this is the major leagues and that shouldn’t happen. That’s one thing these guys should be able to do is make plays, and we didn’t. And it was a lot of people not making plays.”
With two on and one out, Pujols worked a full count before hitting a long homer to left field to give the Angels a 3-2 lead.
The third-inning nightmare was in full swing, and Luis Valbuena followed Pujols with a single before former Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a grounder that skipped past the glove of current Braves shortstop Swanson into left field, putting runners at second and third.
Then came the strangest play of the hideous inning. Ben Revere hit a grounder that first baseman Matt Adams fielded some 20 feet in front of first base, but as he loaded to make a throw to the plate Adams held. It wasn’t clear why, since he had a play at the plate if he’d thrown. Then he turned to first base, and held up again when it looked like he had a play.
“I don’t know if he just kept bobbling it or what,” Snitker said. “I mean, he had a play at home and I don’t think he got the ball, and then everything shut down trying to get the out at first, even. I don’t know.”
Adams said, “Bobbled it at first. But it’s a play that I need to make.”
Another run in, still just one out.
Next, Cliff Pennington hit a comebacker to mound that Colon fielded, but he slipped before his throw to the plate, which was late. The fifth run of the inning.
After Danny Espinosa’s RBI single to center, Juan Graterol came up for the second time in the inning and hit another comebacker to the mound. This time Colon fielded it and misfired to second base, his error letting in another run.
Another former Brave, Eric Young Jr., followed with a bunt single to bring in a run. And then Calhoun again, this time hitting an RBI single. That was it for Colon, who was replaced by Jackson with Pujols coming up again.
Jackson walked Pujols, his ball-4 pitch bouncing so far in front of the plate that it missed the grass by only an inch or two. With bases loaded, Valbuena hit a line drive to Peterson, who tossed to second base for the double play – 13 batters after the previous would-be double play grounder he dropped.