The Creation of a Braves fan. This Braves fan.

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My post on Bryce Harper’s rooting interests caused a couple of commenters to question my Atlanta Braves bona fides. I, after all, am not from Atlanta, and the Braves, after all, had an amazing string of success starting 19 years ago. Am I not myself a front runner? At least originally?

The answer is no. I explained that answer a couple of years ago in a ShysterBall post. Because, hey, why not, I reproduce that post below. Enjoy.

I was born into a Tigers-loving family in Flint, Michigan, and grew up on the Ralph Houk-Sparky Anderson teams of the late 70s and early 80s. We moved away in January 1985, however, and I soon started to lose touch with them. I began to stray.

It started innocently enough. Random channel surfing that summer caused me to stumble upon my first WTBS broadcast, and I was curious. I was initially attracted by the NWA wrestling — the Koloffs and the Rock and Roll Express were engaged in quite a feud, if I recall — but the Braves games sucked me in, with random little things holding my interest each time as I tried in vain to maintain my fidelity to the Tigers. “Is that Rick Cerone? I wondered what happened to him.” “Len Barker? I thought he was supposed to be good. Maybe I’ll just watch a little more of this start.” Two hours later I would realize that I had watched every last Rafael Ramirez at bat, every Pascual Perez victory

I wasn’t hooked yet — hell, Pascual Perez went 1-13 in 1985, so seeing all of his wins wasn’t much a trick — but by 1986 I was past the point of no return. I was a Braves fan, even if it took me a year or so to admit it to myself. Desperately, like a man trying to save a dying marriage with purchases of jewelry, I continued to follow the Tigers via The Sporting News. But without Ernie Harwell around, it wasn’t the same. I hung around as late as the last great team of 1987 — that season-ending weekend series against the Jays was like that last ditch B&B weekend in which you fool yourself into thinking you and her still have a future together — but as soon as it was over I knew that my rooting was more about inertia than anything else.

But despite all of that — and despite the fact that I had been messing around with Atlanta for over two years by this point — I was still in Braves denial. When asked, I would say I was a Tigers fan. When pressed, I would say that I was just watching the Braves because they were on, not because I was into them or anything. This led to some embarrassing moments, of course, most notably the time in August 1987 when I stayed in our hotel room during a family trip to Myrtle Beach to watch Tom Glavine’s major league debut — shelled by the Astros, unfortunately — rather than head out to the beach. Did I say I wasn’t feeling well? Did I try to even hide it by then? I can’t recall exactly, but I know now that everybody probably knew already.

So if I was in denial, when did it end? I’ll tell you exactly: in the bottom of the third inning during the Braves-Dodgers game on the evening of Friday April 15, 1988.

Six days before that game I had been in a nasty car accident. I wasn’t hurt — not even a scratch — but given that I was in the back seat of a Chevy Chevette that had just flipped over three times and ended up on its roof, well, that was something of a miracle. The other five teenagers in the car weren’t unscathed, but no one died, and by the time of the Braves-Dodgers game, we knew that everyone would be OK.

The crash had put an abrupt end to my going away party. You see, for the second time in three years, my family was moving to another town, this time 120 miles south to Beckley, West Virginia, and my friends wanted to send me off in style, which for this crowd meant lots of underage drinking and an epic automobile accident. My parents, who thought I was at a sleepover at the time of the crash, had no idea how to punish me for a transgression so major. At times like these people tend to default to what they know, however, so they grounded me for something like three months.

Of course the grounding was kind of pointless considering that, in six days, I would be moving to a town in which I didn’t know anyone. It was especially pointless considering that, due to a screw up with the realtor and the sellers of our new house, we were going to be living indefinitely in the Beckley Ramada Inn at the expense of the United States Department of Commerce’s employee relocation division. Ground me? Where the hell was I even going to go? I was already in my own private Guantanamo.

We left Parkersburg for good on the afternoon of the 15th. Two hours later we pulled into the Ramada. After a joyless dinner at the Western Steer Steakhouse, my brother and I retired to the double room we would share for the next two months. I clicked on the TV. The Braves-Dodgers game started at around 10:30pm. Given the significance of the day in my life and in my baseball fandom, I remember the game more clearly than I remember the Indians-Red Sox game I watched last night, and what I don’t remember I’ve gotten from Sean Forman.

The Braves had dropped their first eight games of the season, all of them at home, most of them in front of pitifully small crowds. It was getting good and ugly by the 15th, and you could tell that Atlanta was tight. Tom Glavine was on the hill that night, but he wasn’t Tom Glavine yet. After an inauspicious rookie year, he had dropped his first start of 1988 on the night of my car wreck and took the mound against the Dodgers looking nervous and overmatched. The rest of the Braves looked the same, save Dale Murphy, who simply looked like he wanted to get the hell away from this crew of losers and misfits before any of what they were carrying infected him (it eventually would, however, as he went .226/.313/.421 that year).

It was tied 0-0 in the bottom of the third when Rick Dempsey reached on an infield single. Well, it was scored an infield single anyway, but that was some hometown-scorer generosity, because I distinctly remember Andres Thomas booting the sucker when he failed to charge it, failed to get his glove down, and failed to look, think, or react like a major league ballplayer. Wasn’t his fault, though, because he wasn’t really a major league ballplayer anyway. The next batter was Orel Hershiser, who squared to bunt. Gerald Perry took the ball himself at first, and ran over to the bag to force Hershiser out.

This was what led to the watershed moment. I’m not entirely sure what the argument was about, but Ozzie Virgil made a point to stand on the mound after Hershiser’s bunt and yell at everyone. Skip Caray seemed to think that the focus of his ire was second baseman Damaso Garcia, who perhaps didn’t rotate to first when Hershiser squared to bunt. Maybe Virgil thought they could have gotten two on the play if Garcia had fielded his position properly. Maybe he just missed Glenn Hubbard who had signed with the A’s that offseason. Whatever the case, he was hot, and he was yelling at everyone with the possible exception of Glavine. He was also humiliating himself and his teammates on national television, which Skip pointed out as well. If memory serves, Braves manager Chuck Tanner — a guy whose previous stint in a Braves uniform ended when he was waived during their last championship season — sat passively on the bench during this exchange, no doubt lost in reminiscence of the 1979 Pirates
or something. The game ended
up being a fairly close one, but the Braves eventually lost.

I watched all of this that night, and rather than upset me, it made me pretty damn happy. Why? Because here I was, virtually homeless, stuck in a shitty hotel room, cut off from friends in a new town, with the fact of my mortality just beginning to dawn on me after a week’s worth of post-accident denial and bravado. I was lonely, I was sad, and I was afraid of both the near and long-term future. In short, I was at a miserable low point, but the fact that my baseball team was too softened the blow.  Shared misery can be a good thing.

And you know what? Despite their unprecedented run of success between 1991 and 2005 — despite the World Series championship and the five pennants and the scads of division crowns in recent years — that 1988 team still stands as my favorite Braves team of all time. Why? Because we suffered together that summer. Because, like no other summer before or since, I lived with, breathed with, laughed with, and cried with a baseball team day-in-day-out.

To this day I remember young guys like Andres Thomas and Dion James pretending to have a clue as to what they were supposed to be doing on a baseball diamond. I remember old guys like Ken Griffey and Ted Simmons and Gary Roenicke wondering how in the hell they ended up in Atlanta. I remember developmental false starts like German Jimenez and Kevin Coffman providing a bleak view of Atlanta’s future. I remember diamonds in the rough like Glavine, John Smoltz, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, and Jeff Blauser who one day, I thought, if everything broke just right, might form the basis of a team that could play .500 baseball (not that I dared say such a thing out loud).

The 1988 season lasted forever, but it ended far too soon. I cheered in 1991, I roared in 1995, and I’ll always hang with them no matter how spoiled, impatient, or pessimistic I get with them these days. But I’ll never love a team like I loved the 1988 Braves.

Report: Blue Jays weighing extension for Marco Estrada

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The Blue Jays aren’t ready to say goodbye to Marco Estrada just yet, according to a report by FanRag’s Robert Murray. Murray hears that the club is interested in re-signing the right-hander, whose two-year, $26 million contract is set to expire with the end of the 2017 season. According to unnamed sources within the organization, the team has yet to discuss the specifics of an extension, but both sides have stated interest in working out a deal. While the veteran righty appeared to be on his way out after getting claimed on revocable waivers earlier this month, the Blue Jays were either unable or unwilling to arrange a trade in the 48-hour window following the claim.

Estrada, 33, has been a mainstay of the Blue Jays’ rotation since 2015. He hasn’t looked quite himself this season, however, going 5-8 in 25 starts with the club and toting a 5.09 ERA, 3.9 BB/9 and 9.2 SO/9 through 139 2/3 innings. His slump can be partially attributed to a string of rough starts in June and July; more recently, he snapped a streak of three consecutive quality starts with a 10-hit, six-run affair against the Rays. He’ll look to rebound on Sunday when he takes the hill against the Cubs for the team’s series finale.

Command issues aside, there’s no question that Estrada has been productive during his three-year run with the club, earning his first career All-Star nomination in 2016 and posting a cumulative 6.7 fWAR from 2015 through 2017. He still has a bit of work to do to return to the 3.48-ERA, 165-strikeout totals of yesteryear, but barring another slump, seems likely to don a Blue Jays uniform again in 2018.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Cubs 4, Blue Jays 3: The Blue Jays didn’t look any more comfortable at Wrigley Field on Saturday than they had during Friday’s series opener, dropping their second straight game after Anthony Rizzo sealed the go-ahead run on an RBI single in the seventh inning. The Cubs, meanwhile, reveled in Jose Quintana’s second quality start of the month and delighted the crowd with a two-RBI effort from Ian Happ and footage of David Ross jumping out of a plane — a stunt that would have doubled in entertainment value had Ross successfully convinced manager Joe Maddon to join in the fun.

Pirates 6, Cardinals 4: Neither the Pirates nor the Cardinals had relievers to spare when a one-hour, 56-minute rain delay disrupted their contest in the second inning. Chad Kuhl and Michael Wacha were forced to return to the mound after the downpour subsided, both to very different results. Wacha struggled to regain command of the strike zone, slipping on two home runs and a productive double play as the Pirates built a five-run lead in the second. Kuhl, on the other hand, limited the Cardinals to one run over five innings, setting down six strikeouts and clubbing a second-inning double en route to his sixth win of the season.

Dodgers 3, Tigers 0: Curtis Granderson made his Dodgers debut on Saturday, scoring on Adrian Gonzalez’s RBI single in the seventh inning to put the club on the board. The win, capped by a smart Yasmani Grandal home run in the ninth, marked the Dodgers’ sixth straight victory and placed them in the history books alongside the 2004 Rays and 2006 Red Sox with 13 consecutive Interleague wins in a single season.

Mariners 7, Rays 6: Mitch Haniger is back from the disabled list, a point he emphasized in the third inning of Seattle’s win with his first career grand slam:

The Rays returned with three solo shots in the last third of the game, but fell just short of the tying run after Edwin Diaz shut down the top of the order in the ninth. With the win, the Mariners positioned themselves half a game back of a wild card spot, though they’ll need to edge the Angels and Twins to avoid any potential tie-breakers.

Angels 5, Orioles 1: Albert Pujols didn’t get any closer to tying Jim Thome’s home run record on Saturday, but that didn’t stop teammate Mike Trout from entering the history books. Trout clubbed two home runs in the Angels’ first win of the weekend, becoming the third Major League player with six consecutive 25+ homer campaigns before his age-26 season. Luis Valbuena, while a good 511 home runs shy of Pujols’ career record and 94 home runs and six years too late to match Trout’s milestone, also collected two home runs to back a solid effort from JC Ramirez.

Twins 5, Diamondbacks 0: The Diamondbacks were toppled in a rare shutout on Saturday, taking their second consecutive loss after an even rarer implosion from ace right-hander Zack Greinke. Greinke expended 96 pitches and a season-high four walks in four innings, while Minnesota trounced the D-backs with a five-run spread in the fourth. The righty’s early exit will put a strain on Arizona’s bullpen during their series finale as the club tries to stop their skid and retake their one-game lead over the Rockies in the NL wild card race.

Reds 11, Braves 8: It looked like Robert Stephenson‘s luck may have finally taken a turn for the better. The rookie right-hander grabbed hold of his first win of the year on Saturday, backing the team’s 11-run outburst with five innings of two-run, three-strikeout ball. Cincinnati’s bullpen was far from flawless, especially after Blake Wood surrendered four runs in the ninth, but Scooter Gennett‘s go-ahead grand slam in the top of the inning gave the Reds enough of a cushion to pull off the series win.

Mets 8, Marlins 1: Marcell Ozuna wore several hats during Saturday’s loss to the Mets, from sole run producer to professional outfield field balloon patrol.

Despite his best efforts, the Marlins couldn’t rally against Rafael Montero, who helped snap a five-game losing streak after scattering one run and five strikeouts over six innings.

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: Newly-returned from the disabled list, CC Sabathia stifled the rival Red Sox through six innings while Todd Frazier belted the winning run with a 363-footer in the sixth. The Sox still sit four games up in the NL East, however, and commemorated the loss with a solo shot by 20-year-old Rafael Devers, who bounced a home run off the Green Monster for the third homer he’s collected in as many games against the Yankees. For the record, no Major League player under the age of 21 has managed the feat since Babe Ruth in 1915.

Astros 3, Athletics 0: Astros’ third baseman Alex Bregman learned an invaluable lesson during the club’s 3-0 shutout on Saturday: If you’re thinking of running on Boog Powell, don’t.

Indians 5, Royals 0: Trevor Bauer may not understand why he dominated during the Indians’ shutout on Saturday, but that didn’t make him any less grateful for the win. “It’s backward,” Bauer was quoted by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “I wasn’t sharp. I didn’t punch people out. I had a lot of balls hit hard. And no runs. So I don’t know. I’ll take it.” Bauer flummoxed the Royals through 6 1/3 innings, granting seven hits and two free passes while the Indians put up a modest five-run backing against Jason Vargas.

Rangers 17, White Sox 7: The Rangers hit season highs in almost every category on Saturday, dismantling Derek Holland and the rest of the White Sox with a whopping 17 runs, 20 hits and 36 bases. Home runs from Rougned Odor, Mike Napoli and Shin-Soo Choo crowned their efforts as the White Sox took their sixth loss in seven games and dropped to a disappointing 21.5 games back of the division lead.

Brewers 6, Rockies 3: Jesus Aguilar hasn’t been pencilled into the starting lineup since August 16, but that didn’t stop the rookie pinch-hitter from making his presence felt. He cranked a two-RBI home run off of Greg Holland in the ninth, giving the Brewers an edge as they tried to stay ahead of the Diamondbacks for the first wild card spot in the National League. Key defensive moves also played a role in the win, not the least of which was a rare 2-6-2 double play to nab Neil Walker at the plate and close out the first inning:

Padres 3, Nationals 1: Yangervis Solarte played spoiler to Stephen Strasburg on Saturday, taking the right-hander deep on a 1-2 pitch in the first inning for his 13th home run of the season. It was the fatal flaw in an otherwise pristine outing, during which Strasburg distributed four hits, two runs and eight strikeouts in six innings. That’s not too shabby for a pitcher coming off the disabled list with elbow issues, and certainly enough to put the Nats’ minds at ease as they push into the postseason. The Padres still have a 12-game gap to close if they want to contend this October, which will require them to scoot past the Pirates, Marlins, Cardinals, Brewers and Diamondbacks for a wild card spot.

Phillies 12, Giants 9: Denard Span didn’t come to mess around. The Giants’ centerfielder squared up the first pitch he saw from the Phillies’ Jared Eickhoff, postmarking it to the right field corner in the first inning. He needed just 15.79 seconds to touch home plate again, logging his first inside-the-park home run since he legged one out in Little League.

The Giants’ offense mustered up an additional eight runs behind Span’s initial effort, but had no way of preventing Ty Blach and Josh Osich from returning all nine runs and then some. The Phillies’ win, powered by a seven-run explosion in the sixth inning and Ty Kelly‘s go-ahead grand slam, was their second in 10 games and snapped a six-game skid.