Before we take a look at tonight’s Braves-Cardinals series opener, let’s take a look back at The Moment that happened 42 years ago tonight, when the greatest Brave of all, Henry Louis Aaron, hit his 715th home run to pass the hallowed mark that held for so long by Babe Ruth.
The Hammer did it against the Dodgers, so we have the great broadcaster Vin Scully calling what was, and is, one of the greatest, most significant moments in the history of sports. Scully let the moment breathe by going silent for a bit, like the pro that he was and is, and then he put it into a bit of social context that still rings so eloquent and true today.
Scully: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South, for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother. He threw his arms around his father, and as he left the home plate area, his mother came running across the grass, threw her arms around his neck, kissed him for all she was worth….
“For the first time in a long time, that poker face of Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months. It is over. At 10 minutes after 9, in Atlanta, Georgia, Henry Aaron has eclipsed the mark set by Babe Ruth.”
Here, watch again, it never gets old:
Chills? I know I had them watching it again today. Absolutely. Moments like that are what make baseball, and sports, so damn special.
• Tonight’s game: The Braves welcome the Cardinals to town and each team is still looking for its first win of the new season, the Cardinals having been swept in three games at Pittsburgh this week and the Braves blowing late leads in each game to lose both in a two-game series against the Nationals.
Couple of positive points for Atlanta fans, facts which might surprise you: Matt Wisler, who starts the series opener for the Braves, will make his 20th career start and, oddly enough, third start and second in a row against St. Louis of the Central Division.
Not only that, but his 2-0 record and 1.15 ERA against the Cardinals are his best marks against any team he faced.
He’ll face left-hander Jaime Garcia, who is 2-1 with a 4.04 ERA in six career starts against the Braves, including 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts over the past two seasons. Garcia is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts at Turner Field.
Wisler and Shelby Miller were dominant for the Braves when they swept a doubleheader from the Cardinals on the final day of the 2015 season, with Wisler pitching the second game and having the best outing of his young career, allowing just four hits and one walk in 8 2/3 scoreless innings.
His other start against the Cardinals was a July 26 win at St. Louis, when he gave up seven hits, two runs and three walks in seven innings.
Wisler was 5-3 with a 2.93 ERA in nine home starts as a rookie, allowing five homers in 58 1/3 innings at Turner Field. He was 3-5 with a 6.75 ERA on the road, allowing 11 homers in 50 2/3 innings.
He’ll try to start the 2016 season the way he finished 2015, when Wisler posted a 2.21 ERA and .219 opponents’ average in six games including five starts.
Another positive note from the Braves’ perspective: They are 10-9 against the Cardinals since the beginning of the 2013 season, including a current four-game winning streak that included a season-ending three-game series sweep at Turner Field.
The Cardinals had a 4.78 ERA and hit just .168 in their series at Pittsburgh this week, including one-run scoring outputs in the opener and series finale.
The Braves weren’t much better offensively against the Nationals, batting .190 and totaling four runs in the two losses. But they got quality starts from Julio Teheran and Bud Norris and, as we said, the Braves were in position to win both games before blowing late-innings leads after defensive mistakes in each game.
Against tonight’s starter Garcia, Freddie Freeman is 4-for-7 with two homers, and Drew Stubbs is 9-for-29 with a homer against the lefty. The only other Brave with as many as seven official at-bats against Garcia is Jeff Francoeur (2-for-11, one homer)
• Let’s close with another terrific song from Merle Haggard, because it’s gonna take a while for some of us to get over his death this week. Here he is late in his life with George Jones, another of country’s Mount Rushmore artists who left us in recent years. R.I.P., Hag and Possum.
“FOOTLIGHTS” by Merle Haggard & George Jones
I live the kind of life most men only dream of
I make my livin’ writin’ songs and singin’ them
But I’m forty-one years old and I ain’t got no place to go
When it’s over
So I hide my age and make the stage and
Try to kick the footlights out again.
I throw my old guitar across the stage and
Then my bass man takes the ball
And the crowd goes nearly wild to see
My guitar nearly fall
After twenty years of pickin’ we’re still alive
And kickin’ and kickin’ down the wall
Tonight we’ll kick the footlights out
And walk away without a curtain call.
Tonight we’ll kick the footlights out again
And try to hide the mood we’re really in
Might not put on our old Instamatic grin
Tonight we’ll kick the footlights out again.
I live the kinda life most men only dream of
And I make my livin’ writin’ songs and singin’ them
But I’m fortysome years old and I ain’t got no place to go
When it’s over
So I hide my age and make the stage and
Try to kick the footlights out again…