The Braves have lost a series to Oakland, which has won two series this season. The A’s entered the week having been outscored by 199 runs; MLB’s second-worst team has been outscored by 70.
Even with these two victories, the A’s are on pace to go 34-128, which would be the worst record by a post-19th Century team by some distance. The 1962 Mets of Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Choo Choo Coleman were a comparatively robust 40-120.
Coleman, a catcher whose given name was Clarence, was asked on-air by Mets announcer Ralph Kiner how he got his nickname. “I don’t know,” Coleman said. Decades later, he corrected the record: “My friends called me because I was fast.” But we digress.
This is the low point of the Braves’ season. It’s among the lower points of any Braves’ season. The 1988 team started 0-10. At 12-27, Bobby Cox – then the general manager – flew to Chicago and fired Chuck Tanner, who would tell this correspondent, “I managed great.” Russ Nixon stepped into the breach.
The winning percentage would improve under Nixon, though only just. The 1988 Braves played .308 ball under the sunny Tanner. Spurred by the acidic Nixon, they rocketed to .347. The team finished 54-106. Two games were rained out and, as an act of mercy, left unplayed.
In July, those Braves played a twi-night doubleheader – don’t see those anymore – against Cincinnati. In the opener, the Reds fielded their A-team: Kal Daniels, Barry Larkin, Nick Esasky, Chris Sabo, Paul O’Neill, Jeff Treadway, Tom Browning. They won. In the nightcap, Cincy started a lesser group.
Pointing to the Game 2 lineup card in the dugout, Nixon told his charges: “That’s not a very good-looking team.” To which a Brave said, “Which one?” (The Braves won 2-1 in 10 innings, FYI.)
A year later, a not-quite-as-bad band of Braves carried an 8-3 lead into the seventh inning with the 23-year-old Tom Glavine working. The Padres loaded the bases. Nixon summoned reliever Mark Eichhorn. Jack Clark hit a moonshot grand slam. In the eighth, the lead down to one run, San Diego generated two baserunners against Joe Boever, whose name rhymed with “saver,” which on this occasion he was not.
The same Clark launched a laser into the second deck in left field. Had anyone been seated there, injuries might have occurred. As luck had it, attendance was but 5,332. The only harm done by Clark was two homers worth seven runs over two innings. The Padres won 10-9. Of Clark’s first epic blast, Nixon said: “I wasn’t sure Fulton County would hold it, and I’m not talking about the stadium.”
I mention this because … well, what else can I say after the Braves, who are rather good most days, put themselves in position to be swept by an opponent that was itself swept eight times before Memorial Day? Attendance for Tuesday’s tilt, which ended on Austin Riley’s walk-off bobble, was 5,116. Not for nothing are the A’s hot to exit the Bay Area for Vegas.
I could run the numbers regarding the Braves’ body of work. I could note that they lead the National League East. I could underscore how much of an aberration this is: Of the 14 teams the A’s have faced, they have a winning record against two; they’re 2-1 against Kansas City, the second-worst team in baseball, and 2-0 against …
In the attempt to lend – borrowing a line from a John Cale song – comedy to shame, I might also report that, in celebration of a second consecutive win, the A’s crowned “hero” Jonah Bride, who succeeded in hitting into what should have been a force-out at home, with the bucket that sits in the dugout and holds bubblegum.
We can’t cry over any baseball loss. It is, as they say, baseball. The worst team can win a series against the best team, which is close to what just happened in the Bay Area. This doesn’t mean the Braves are bums. It doesn’t make the A’s champs. (Their winning rally – three Raisel Iglesias walks and Riley’s error.)
The Braves aren’t playing well. They’ve lost six of nine. They’re 14-14 in May. But there’s another game – albeit against the A’s and their bubblegum bucket – today. That’s the thing with this sport. Over six months, there’s always another game.
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