Tag:Billy Wagner
Posted on: October 9, 2010 2:23 am
 

Glaus sets up Ankiel, Braves and baseball win

One small step for the Atlanta Braves, one giant leap for major league baseball.

Oh, and a belated Merry Christmas to the Braves as well.

Yessir. When the Braves agreed to terms with Troy Glaus last Christmas Eve, they did not exactly envision him playing third base with the season on the line in the 10th inning of the NL divisional playoffs.

Fact is, they did not envision Glaus playing third. Period, end of sentence.

So what was he doing, all brittle and lumbering, starting the Braves' most crucial 5-4-3 double play in years as they seized another game with their last licks and evened their series with the Giants at one game apiece with a 5-4, 11-inning, Rick Ankiel Special on Friday night?

Excellent question.

Short answer is, quite simply, it's the beauty of the game. Sometimes the best-laid plans are forcibly scrapped at the most inopportune times, and the game reverts back to the schoolyard. You play here, you play there, and we'll see what happens.

Long answer? Desperate for offense and with a hole to plug at first base, Braves general manager Frank Wren gambled that Glaus could learn a new position and add the bat Atlanta needed. It was a sizable gamble, too, in that the shoulder surgery Glaus underwent in January, 2009, allowed him to play in only 14 games for St. Louis that summer.

It worked fine for a time, especially in May, when Glaus collected 28 RBI in 27 games. But his production diminished as the summer wore on and then, on Aug. 12, came a season-changer: Chipper Jones was lost for the rest of the year to a knee injury.

So what happens? Wren acquires first baseman Derrek Lee from the Cubs ... and Glaus is such a team guy, such a Bobby Cox devotee, that he's all for bringing Lee aboard and volunteers to play third base while he's at it.

Not that the Braves took him up on it. Are you kidding? He's 33, he's 6-6 and 250 pounds, and Glaus had reached the part of his career where, if he did play third, the odds were far greater that he would hurt himself (and the team) than much good would happen.

Until Friday night became just late and crazy enough that the Braves were left without many options. And Glaus entered the game as an, ahem, defensive replacement in the 10th.

It figured that the first batter in the 10th, Edgar Renteria, immediately dropped a bunt in Glaus' direction. Do you know how many total chances Glaus has had at third in the past two seasons? Nine, that's how many. And just one this year, in the one appearance (two total innings) he had made there.

Renteria reached base, of course. And so did two other Giants.

And there in the bottom of the 10th, with one out and the largest crowd ever to gather at AT&T Park roaring, what should Buster Posey do but roll a 'tweener grounder -- it wasn't hit hard, but it wasn't a soft grounder, either -- in Glaus' direction.

And the big guy came up with it, wheeled and threw to second to start the 5-4-3, and the relay to first barely beat Posey. Said later throwing home for the force out was never an option.

One false move in the play, and Renteria scores and the Giants win.

Instead, Glaus was perfect, in both the plan and the execution.

And next inning, Ankiel blasts a fastball into the water. And somehow, Kyle Farnsworth keeps the Giants off the board in the bottom of the 11th.

Not only did it complete a rousing comeback for a down-and-out team that had seen Cox ejected nine innings earlier, it also breathed life back into a postseason in dire need of mouth-to-mouth.

Six outs from a fourth series going 2-0 when bearded Giants closer Brian Wilson was summoned by manager Bruce Bochy, baseball was edging close to four sweeps, a first round ending by Sunday evening, the next round not slated to begin until next Friday.

So what were we all supposed to do if the game went dark Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday?

Convene a national convention to bitch about the umpires?

But enough about a downer of a first round, something that has become an all-too-familiar event and might warrant baseball reviewing the playoff format.

Right now, all the Braves care about is that, somehow, they live.

And bleak as it may look with Jones and Martin Prado (oblique) done for the year -- and, quite possibly, closer Billy Wagner (oblique) to follow after he hurt himself in the 10th inning Friday -- Tim Hudson getting the ball for Game 3 in Atlanta on Sunday looks pretty darned good.

After they scored zero runs in their first 14 innings against the Giants, the Braves finished Friday with five in the last six innings.

They get a couple more Sunday, Hudson steps up and the Turner Field magic kicks in (the Braves' 56 home victories led the majors), who knows? The Giants -- and baseball -- might have a fight on their hands yet.

Posted on: June 4, 2010 11:11 pm
 

Braves' Venters a real vulture

LOS ANGELES -- Red-hot Atlanta and streaking Los Angeles got back to business here Friday night. And Jonny Venters, the Braves' one-pitch wonder, figured life would get back to normal after he unexpectedly scooped up his first career save Thursday by throwing, yes, one pitch.

While the Braves hooted and hollered and kidded him into Friday, the circumstances weren't funny.

Takashi Saito suffered a pulled left hamstring that would knock him onto the 15-day disabled list when he threw strike two to Russell Martin with two out in the ninth inning of Thursday night's game.

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox summoned Venters, a 25-year-old rookie whom the Braves picked in the 30th round of the 2003 draft, to finish off Martin. Billy Wagner, the Braves' closer, was unavailable because he had worked four games in the preceding four-day span.

One slider later, job done.

And Venters still hasn't heard the end of it.

"When we were walking in, Bobby was screaming at me, calling me a vulture," Venters said Friday, grinning. "And [closer] Billy Wagner has been ragging me all day. Every time he comes around, he tells me he has to win his job back.

"He calls me 'The Closer.'"

Though Venters has finished five games this season, Thursday's was his first save opportunity. He's appeared in 17 games as a situational lefty and compiled a 1.27 ERA and a .181 opponents' batting average in 21 1/3 innings.

When he reached the mound after Saito limped off Thursday with the Braves clinging to the one-run lead, Cox had just one piece of advice for him.

"He told me, 'If you're going to throw a slider, throw it down," said Venters, who proved to be a good listener just a few seconds later.

Aside from the Braves' teasing and, yes, warm congratulations, Venters received several other messages.

"Quite a few," he said. "I had a bunch of texts last night when I came in. Mostly from family and friends."

As for the ball, it was safely tucked away on a shelf in his locker.

"That's probably going into a case," he said. "I never thought it would be like that -- if I even ever got a save."

Likes: Beautiful drawing of retiring Braves manager Bobby Cox on the cover of the Braves media guide. Nice angle, from behind Cox in the dugout as he's looking out onto the field at Turner Field. ... Really nice moment during batting practice Friday -- several moments, actually -- when Dodgers manager Joe Torre walked over to visit with Cox and the two future Hall of Fame managers spent 20 or so minutes sitting on the bench in the visitors' dugout, chatting. ... Got a chuckle earlier this week when, in the Mets' clubhouse, the song American Pie was blaring from an iPad in Alex Cora's locker. ... Henry Schulman, Giants beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, says Pittsburgh is a far better city than generally given credit for. I could not agree more. And the picture of this Primanti Bros. salami sandwich in his San Francisco Ball Scribe Blog made me wish I was sitting through that Pirates-Giants rain delay Friday night with one of those bad boys on a plate in front of me. ...

Dislikes: John Wooden, sleep well. Sad, sad day. If the world had more John Woodens, I guarantee you there would be far fewer problems. What a sweet and tear-jerking sentiment from former UCLA player Jamaal Wilkes, who said he was in the room with Wooden's son, James, when Wooden asked to be shaved, and noted that "his son made the comment that when he got shaved he was getting ready to see Nellie." Nell is Wooden's late and beloved wife, who died of cancer in 1975.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Don't give up on your dreams
"Or your dreams will give up on you"

-- John Wooden

Posted on: December 2, 2009 9:09 pm
 

Braves hoping they signed Wagner of old

There is no question that the Braves are off to a far better start this winter than last, signing closer Billy Wagner on Monday after re-signing starter Tim Hudson in November.

Question is, is Wagner the right guy?

I don't see a lot of middle ground here: I think this is either going to work out extremely well ... or it's going to backfire badly.

The Braves signed Wagner for $6.75 million in 2010 and a $6.5 million club option for 2011 and, because Boston was smart enough to offer Wagner arbitration, the Braves also forfeit their first-round draft pick to the Red Sox next June.

That's a lot of freight to pay for a 38-year-old closer who missed most of last season following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. And that's why I think the final verdict will be black or white, without shades of gray.

Wagner says his arm feels better than it has in a long time, and a small sample of games for Boston at the end of 2009 (1-1 with a 1.98 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings) backs him up.

And as Braves general manager Frank Wren notes, we're talking about a man who has converted 86 percent of his save opportunities over his career.

But is the 38-year-old, post-surgery Wagner still that guy?

That's the Braves' gamble, one in which they didn't blink in making Monday. (They do have a partial buffer zone for the lost draft pick, though, because they still stand to gain picks for relievers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who were offered arbitration, assuming they sign elsewhere).

The upside is tremendous, especially for a team Wren views as being capable of winning 90 games or more.

The downside? That manager Bobby Cox will be rummaging around his pen looking to fill the ninth-inning gap if Wagner blows out again or simply can't handle the requirements of a closer on a contending team (converting nearly every save opportunity, pitching on back-to-back days, etc.).

For now, this sure beats last winter, when the Braves spent November and December chasing their tail in failed Jake Peavy trade talks, finishing behind the Yankees in their pursuit of starter A.J. Burnett and getting burned by the agent for shortstop Rafael Furcal, who signed with the Dodgers after the Braves thought they had him.

Wagner's club option for 2011, by the way, becomes guaranteed if the lefty closer finishes 50 games next season.

If it gets that far, that will be money well spent.

 
 
 
 
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