Friday's game could make a difference

Macon TelegraphJuly 21, 2012 

It was Sunday, June 27, 2004. The Braves were 34-39, not a good start for a team that (at that point) had won 12 straight division titles.

They were in Baltimore playing the Orioles. Coming into the series, the Braves had won only seven of the last 20 games. They had split the first two games of the series, losing the first one 5-0 and then winning game two on Saturday by the same score.

It had been a pretty ordinary, boring season so far.

But in the rubber game of the series, Baltimore jumped out to a 7-0 lead after six innings. Jaret Wright did not have a very good start, and it looked like the Braves would limp out of town with yet another losing series.

Then something special happened. The Braves scored one run in the seventh inning, and then scored seven runs in the eighth inning to take the lead. It was an amazing comeback, and the energy in the Atlanta dugout was amazing.

Atlanta won 14 of its next 18 games and took off. They finished 96-66 and won yet another division title. After that comeback win in Baltimore, the Braves went 61-27 and almost every player on that team pointed to that game as the turning point in the season.

Could that have happened on Friday, when the Braves were down 9-0 to first place Washington and came back and won 11-10? It was a remarkable comeback for a team that really needs a good weekend. Being down 9-0 was the last thing that needed to happen, but a miracle win will give the Braves a chance to instead have a special weekend.

There are a few things to wonder about with Atlanta’s win. First, what will it do for the Braves, a team that needed an emotional victory against a team many believe it can’t beat? And second, how will the Nationals react to such a crushing loss?

Maybe if the two teams split the double-header on Saturday, Friday’s win will lose some of its luster. But the Braves have an excellent chance now to have momentum that might give them an even better shot at winning the four-game series.

The Nationals have proven all season that they are a very good, and maybe even an excellent team. Sure, it’s ‘only’ July 20 and there’s still plenty of baseball left. You can give me all that ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ nonsense, but the fact is this is a big series for the second-place Braves.

They need to win the series. They have not played well against the Nationals the last five years, and that includes seasons when Washington had a bad team. Plus, just do the math. The Braves started the series three and a half games back with four to play against Washington. A dream weekend would have us waking up to find Atlanta in first place on Monday.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but there’s no doubt after a game like Friday night you might think they can do anything. The players were pumped up like never before (kind of like the same dugout was in Baltimore eight years ago), and if they can’t feed off this victory they might never do it. This could be a game-changer, in more ways than one.

Any time the second-place visiting team comes back after being down 9-0 to the first-place home team, it’s a big deal. Let’s just hope the Braves can play well in the double-header Saturday and we can look back on this game Friday as the night things turned around.

The Braves had no business winning this game, but they did it. And we, the fans who still have doubts about this team, needed to see it as much as they did.

I mean, Paul Janish, the worst hitter on the team, got a bloop hit to win the game. Craig Kimbrel blew the lead and the Braves still won. They just never gave up. We might have, but they didn’t.

Amazing.

To quote the late, great Larry Munson, from October 1980: "We were gone. I gave up. You did, too."

It was a fun game to watch, and I hope you didn’t turn it off. I was tempted, but I stuck with them. And if you did watch, you’ll probably be glued to the TV this weekend to see if this one game can make the Braves the team to beat in the NL East.

 

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.  Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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