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Matt Stroup

LaRoche's mental breakdown and other observations

The forecast did not call for brain-melting heat last Friday in Atlanta, but watching what happened to Adam LaRoche in the first inning of that night's game, you might have thought otherwise.

Making his first trip back to Atlanta since being traded this past off-season -- on Friday the 13th no less -- the notoriously spacey Pirates first baseman got a routine grounder that skipped up and into his glove (or so he thought). As is the protocol in such a situation, LaRoche began to trot over towards first to step on the bag and record the out. But a second later, he discovered a problem: The ball was in fact not in his glove at all -- it had actually caromed off his glove and ricocheted towards second.

Confused, and perhaps even a bit frightened (making this rarest of baseball mistakes has to make you feel naked), LaRoche stopped short of first. Then, oddly, he went into a half crouch, perhaps sensing that the ball was somewhere behind him and he might be in the way. (At this point, it might have made the most sense to just curl up in the fetal position and start whimpering.)

As it turns out, LaRoche's instinct was right -- the ball was behind him, and he was in the way. Charging full speed towards the play, second baseman Freddy Sanchez picked up the ball and instinctively shoveled it towards first, hoping to get it to pitcher Ian Snell. The only problem was that LaRoche was standing directly in the path of the ball, which thumped against his back somewhere in the vicinity of his right kidney.

For Braves fans who had never seen this exact occurrence before but knew this sort of play all too well from years past, it was impossible not to simultaneously smile and shake their heads in disbelief.

At long last, Adam LaRoche had come home.

Now, some other notes from a memorable week around baseball:

• On Monday evening, the White Sox beat the Indians 11-10, with John Danks getting the win and Bobby Jenks recording the save. That's Danks with the win, Jenks with the save. The first time in Major League history that two five-letter names both consisting of "consonant-vowel-n-k-s" figured into a decision. Actually, we have no idea if that's true, but it probably is. For the record, Cliff Lee -- that's L-E-E -- took the loss.

• It's been a disappointing year in Houston, where an aging roster just hasn't functioned properly. However, one thing that has worked well is the integration of rookie centerfielder Hunter Pence into the big leagues. Hunter Pence doesn't sound like a ballplayer's name -- it sounds more like the name of a professional cricket player, or perhaps a prominent surgeon (Dr. Pence, you're needed in the O.R. immediately). Furthermore, Pence doesn't look like a hitter -- standing a gangly 6-4 with high socks, rolled-up sleeves, a single batting glove and a helmet that doesn't quite fit, he looks like a pitcher getting ready to take three strikes and head back to the dugout. But the second he connects, that misconception dissipates rather quickly. Entering this weekend, Pence was hitting .332 with 12 HR, 44 RBI, 24 doubles and 8 SB despite spending most of April in the minor leagues.

•· The modernized trimmings of Petco Park made it clear that the year was 2007, but the way Greg Maddux threw against the Mets on Wednesday night, it could have easily been 12 years earlier. Maddux ended up leaving after 5 innings because of a slight hamstring problem, but his final line was masterful: 5 IP, 4 hits, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks and 49 out of 65 pitches thrown for strikes. The way his fastball was tailing and nipping corners harkened back to 1995, when Maddux went 19-2 with an incredible 1.63 ERA. He can't always summon his past brilliance these days, but for a handful of innings on Wednesday, the 41-year-old Mad Dog was in vintage form.

• Speaking of Maddux, it's been eight years since he and Tom Glavine starred in the legendary "Chicks dig the long ball" TV ad, but the legacy of pitchers fancying themselves great hitters was alive and well during the recent Reds-Braves series in Atlanta. Monday, rookie Braves left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes got a rare opportunity to pinch hit -- and singled. The 22-year-old Reyes has looked somewhat overmatched on the mound in his first couple of starts, but he is absolutely no joke at the plate: During batting practice recently, Braves outfielder Matt Diaz saw a big lefty clubbing prodigious drives and assumed he was watching Brian McCann. Turns out it was Reyes.

In the same game that Reyes got his hit, Reds hurler Bobby Livingston went 4-for-4. He also got a win, but the way this series went, you get the sense that all he was thinking about were his four singles (and his .625 batting average). Two days after Reyes and Livingston went a combined 5-for-5, with the Braves out of position players in the 15th inning, Atlanta right-hander Kyle Davies came up to pinch hit with the winning runs on base. Unfortunately for the Braves (and for pitchers everywhere), Davies struck out, signaling the end of the series and the end of a splendid few days at the plate for a group of players who are normally supposed to find their glory elsewhere.

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