LONG BEACH— The good times don’t last forever. But sometimes, when they come crashing down, you can’t help but look for the cause.
The Atlanta Braves were on a roll. A serious roll. A roll good enough to make the fan base believe it was possible again to win.
On July 1st, 2009 Bobby Cox made the strategic descision to exit the Kelly Johnson era. He awarded Martin Prado the starting second base position. Martin had been spot starting, filling in at random infield positions while Kelly Johnson sucked the wind out of every fan during every game, every at bat he had and every ball hit his way. Since Martin has been awarded the starting position he has hit .345/.408/.513. Kelly Johnson had hit .214/.286/.359 to lose his job.
Two days after awarding Martin Prado the starting job, Kelly Johnson landed on the DL with a wrist injury. He would not return until the 8th inning of a July 23rd game against the Giants.
Now, prior to Martin getting the starting spot the Braves were 36-40. Four games under .500 and in fourth place in the division, buried in the wild card. That didn’t hold much promise for any playoff position. When Martin was granted the starting job the team turned things around moving into third place in the division and within reach of the wild card.
There is a caveat in this good news of winning. July 23rd, 2009. The day Kelly Johnson came back from the DL. The team was locked in a 1-1 game. A type of game that over the previous twenty days the team could pull out a win and go home happy. In the 8th inning Kelly is brought in to play. The Braves normally solid relief pitching falls apart. The stellar defense the team had been playing for the past twenty days disappears. In a miserable inning Kelly Johnson enters a 1-1 game with the wild card leader and the team falls apart, four unearned runs score and the Braves lose.
Prior to that fateful day the team had been 13-6. The Braves had marched up to second place in the division, three games out of the wild card lead. Since Kelly Johnson stepped back on the playing field the team has gone 3-4, playing one game under .500, dropped to third in the division, four games back in the wild card race with five teams ahead of them.
The Curse of Kelly Johnson is not unfamiliar. He had a similar stain on the team in previous seasons. And to think, the Braves opened up room for Kelly to return by demoting Brooks Conrad. Conrad was a rookie who merely hit .344/.382/.688 while holding Kelly Johnsons spot on the roster.
Kelly got to start against the series opener against the Dodgers due to an injury to Martin. The jury is still out on the extent of Kelly’s envolvement with said injury. The Dodgers were running out Jason Schmidt for his third start in over two years. Schmidt is coming back from major surgeries and has been pretty much a punching bag for any team he faces. With Kelly Johnson in the line up the Braves manage to make Schmidt look like a hall of fame pitcher. The managed one hit off of him and zero runs. Schmidt was handing it to the Braves on a plater. Eight mile-an-hour junk down the middle. Five walks. It was there for the taking and The Curse of Kelly Johnson took.