Braves heed Fredi's words, back in win column
Manager offers positive reinforcement in pregame meeting
ATLANTA -- Fredi Gonzalez, manager of the Atanta Braves, had a meeting with his club on Tuesday. Basically, Gonzalez said, he wanted to remind to his players that this was a good team.
It is not likely that the Braves had forgotten, even though their last brush with victory had occurred on May 20. But this sort of reminder never hurts.
After the manager had reminded the Braves that they were pretty good, the Braves reinforced that point for themselves with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves, after eight straight defeats, finally had an answer for the question: What have you done for me lately?
The Braves had been in first place in the National League East before this losing streak. The Braves had the NL's second-best record on May 20. But then the bats went silent. After that, even the more reliable portions of the starting rotation produced shaky starts. The unhappy totals included four straight losses in Cincinnati, three straight losses against Washington at Turner Field, and then one more loss against St. Louis on Memorial Day.
At this point, Gonzalez decided to gather his own troops for what he referred to as a "little get-together." Gonzalez frequently has said that he is "not a meetings guy." He strongly favors dealing with his players individually as opposed to the team meeting format. But eight-game losing streaks have a way of stretching the previous limits of managerial behavior. In this case, a little positive reinforcement, a little support for the collective psyche, seemed to be in order.
"You know what? We're a good team," Gonzalez said in explaining his theme for the day. "Sometimes you have to remind them that they are a good club. Remind them that we're a good team and [remind them] we expect to win baseball games as long as we're wearing the Atlanta Braves uniform.
"There were no tables thrown," Gonzalez added, in a helpful hint about the overall positive nature of the meeting.
Whether there was a direct one-to-one causal link between the meeting and Atlanta winning for the first time in the last nine tries, Gonzalez did further the Braves' cause during the course of the game.
In the third inning, with one out and Michael Bourn on first and the Braves leading, 1-0, Martin Prado faced a 2-1 count. Gonzalez put the hit-and-run on. Without the hit-and-run, the bouncer that Prado hit to the right of second would have been a forceout at second at best, and a double play at worst. But with the play on, Cardinals second baseman Tyler Greene was forced initially to move to cover second. By the time he recovered and got back to field the grounder, Bourn was in at second and Prado was safe at first.
After a groundout by Brian McCann moved the runners to second and third, Dan Uggla hit a three-run homer. That was the defining blow of the game. But without that hit-and-run, Uggla doesn't get to the plate with two men on so that he could hit the three-run homer.
"With [catcher Yadier] Molina and [starting pitcher Jake] Westbrook, they're pretty quick to the plate," Gonzalez said. "So there was no sense of us trying to steal a base there, which Bournie would usually try to do. So we did a little hit-and-run and we're able to get those runners on first and second. Their second baseman did a nice job of keeping that ball on the infield and keeping the double play in order. And then, you know, Danny did a nice job there."
The victory was a relief for the Braves, although given the other 161 games, it does not offer permanent relief. It puts the baseball world in a more workable perspective for this team. As Uggla put it: "It snaps that feeling of 'Oh man, are we ever going to win again?'"
That's very good. There was a lot of stress and strain going on over the last eight games, but at the close of business Tuesday night, the Braves could look at the NL East standings and find themselves just three games out of first place. They also find themselves in baseball's most well-balanced division. There won't be allowances made for relapses into further long losing streaks, but if the Braves play the way they played Tuesday night -- timely hitting, capable pitching, solid defense, aggressive use of opportunities -- they should be able to avoid long-term difficulties.
The victory doesn't solve all of the Braves' problems. Chipper Jones is on the disabled list with a severe bruise. Freddie Freeman is still bothered by vision problems related to contact lens wear and dry eyes. But prescription athletic goggles for Freeman are on the way, and so, the Braves hope, is clearer vision for their first baseman.
"The casual fan thinks, 'Why can't they play?'" Gonzalez said, speaking of his players' health-related issues. "But they have the same kind of problems as everybody else.
"Yeah, it's frustrating, but sometimes you've got to deal with human troubles."
Well, one piece of trouble the Braves no longer have is the eight-game losing streak. Maybe, you know, the manager should call more meetings.
"No, no, no, no, no, no," Gonzalez said.
And then he added for clarification: "No. No."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.