I went to a baseball game the other day, played in the sunshine—and the heat—but it’s my kind of baseball. The amazing part of it was that the Braves pitcher pitched with the flu. And as Terry Francona, of the losing Red Sox said, “If he was sick, I’d hate to see him pitch when he’s not sick.”
Tommy Hanson is 22 years old and six feet, six inches tall. He went into the season bearing the incriminating label as the Braves No. l prospect. I say “incriminating” because these are a few of the Braves’ past No.1 prospects: Bruce Chen, Macay McBride, Wilson Betemit, Jordan Shafer and on its goes. This was the second time I had watched Hanson pitch and I am buying into this No. 1 prospect now.
Hanson beat the Yankees the first time, shut ’em out. He beat the Red Sox this time and shut them out the six innings he pitched. That adds up to 20 shutout innings in a row. This was his most impressive performance, for the temperature was 96 degrees, if not higher. He’s every inch as tall as advertised, slender and lanky, easy motion and an expression that never changes. No smile, no frown, all business. Takes off his cap, reveals a mop of red hair and strokes his brow and moves on, His mound manner is that of a young man at ease.
Chipper Jones has the most effortless swing you can imagine, and illustrated it. He gave Hanson his first lead with a sort of backhanded home run into the leftfield stands. This is something significant: in the 5th inning, Chipper grounded to Dave Ortiz at first and Big Papi beat him to the bag. Now, when you can’t outrun Big Papi, you’re definitely not on steroids.
Garret Anderson padded the lead with a home run in the 4th inning, and Hanson kept delivering the goods. Never a change in motion or demeanor. I’ve seen a lot of young pitchers come and go, but I can’t ever remember being this impressed. First, the Yankees and all their big guns, now the Red Sox. Meantime, Brad Penny, a big-time old-timer was lumbering along and sweating like a farmhand. He’s heavy and bulky, more of him to get tired than Hanson.
The Braves came close to letting it get away when Bobby Cox went to his “second closer,” Mike Gonzales. Gonzales bothers me, with that rocking, weaving motion of his, and his repulsive grimace. And in the middle of all this, some idiot dashed out onto the field. Thankfully, he had his clothes on. Made me a little nervous when Cox sent Gonzales out to face two right-handed batters, then Ortiz and Jason Varitek, who switches, and singled.
It was a beautiful day to hear “God Bless America,” and the biting exchanges between the “Let’s Go Red Sox” fans and the tomahawkin’ Braves, who, sad to say, were out-shouted.
Love, love, love daytime baseball!
(Forgot to tell you: Hanson was just brought up from the Gwinnett farm, but takes nothing for granted. He still lives in Lawrenceville.