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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Disadvantages Of Kapok: Braves 5, Angels 2

Kapok (Ceiba pentandra) is a tropical tree of the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae (previously separated in the family Bombacaceae), native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and (as the variety C. pentandra var. guineensis) to tropical west Africa. The word is also used for the fibre obtained from its seed pods. ... The fibre is light, very buoyant, resilient, highly flammable and resistant to water.
— Wikipedia entry for kapok
Jon Garland is exactly kapok: light, fluffy, and highly flammable, filler used in the absence of something else. And today, that something else was a quality starter, but the Angels will take what they can get with Garland; even after this blowout, he left the game with a 4.13 ERA, which takes him below the rather loose threshold needed to make the quality start level (i.e. 4.50 ERA, what you get with three earned runs over six innings).

Garland got through the first in 1-2-3 fashion, but it was the only time he did so; thereafter it was rough sledding the whole way, and even in the third and fifth, the only two innings he didn't give up any runs, he gave up at least a hit. Oddly, he was tremendously pitch-efficient, requiring only 76 pitches to get through the nightmare of 5.2 innings, but his trouble was that he was way too much around the plate, and not very much fooling anybody. By my count, seven Braves either made outs (3) or got hits (4) on the first pitch, and eliciting six swinging strikes all night.

Garland had some luck, as when he managed to pick off center fielder Gregor Blanco at first, but most of his good fortune arrived before the game, when the blazing hot Chipper Jones (hitting .414 coming into the game!) had a freak accident of perhaps enormous bearing on the Braves' already dicey chances in the NL East. During batting practice, he hit a ball that ricocheted off the top of the batting practice cage that then caromed off his face. Unprotected by a batting helmet, the ball struck him in the eye, and he was carted off to the hospital for X-rays. During the game, the radio team announced that nothing was broken, and he is day-to-day, but that's gonna be one heck of a shiner he'll have in the morning.

The Angels also got lucky on another play in the third: with Maicer Izturis at first, Howie Kendrick doubled down the left field line. Left fielder Brandon Jones fielded the ball and threw it to the infield, and the cutoff man — I believe the shortstop, Yunel Escobar — threw a bolt down the line to catcher Brian McCann. Izturis wasn't even two-thirds down the line when McCann made the catch, and it looked like an easy play, but somehow Izturis managed to jar the ball loose and the run scored.

But outside of a very fine night for Chone Figgins on his return to active duty in the leadoff slot — 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, though he never scored a run — and Torii Hunter's solo homer, pretty much everything else that happened was lame from the home team's perspective. The Braves outhit the Angels 15 to 7, with the Angels letting Jo-Jo Reyes go eight innings and settle into a groove past the third in which he faced the minimum the rest of the way (and retired all but two of the Angels he faced). Figgins erased himself as the last out of the fifth on a caught stealing 2-6. Torii Hunter misread Omar Infante's fly ball in the fourth, allowing it to get past him for a double instead of a deep single, thus scoring Atlanta's second run. Hunter later tried to reach on a poorly-executed bunt single attempt in the seventh that rolled about five feet away from McCann, and though it was close, the outcome was never really in doubt unless the throw had sailed on the Braves' catcher.

But the most egregious and annoying moment of the game came in the ninth, with the video crew kicking the Rally Monkey into overdrive. After Izturis reached on a leadoff single against closer du jour Jeff Bennett, Howie Kendrick struck out looking on a late strike three call. Izturis started running for second and then, inexplicably, about halfway to the bag he slowed down as though there were a called ball four. Escobar bagged him like a New Yorker waits for a subway train for a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play that immediately took the crowd out of the game despite Vlad's subsequent meaningless single.

ESPN boxMLB .com recap

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