Yunel Escobar was the first batter last night. and Oliver Perez looked horrible against him, throwing two balls very wide before getting a gift of a called strike. Fortunately, Yunel Escobar is young. After the strike call, he seemed to get antsy. Oliver struck him out, and that seemed to restore his focus on his mission — namely, to drag the Braves' casket out of their dark lair and into the morning sun. The Braves aren't moving, but you can never be too careful with them, as Armando Benitez and John Franco taught us once upon a time. I now recommend the stake in the heart, the communion wafers in the mouth, and about a gallon of holy water.
Along those lines, last night's game briefly threatened to turn into a horror movie, but in the sixth Oliver showed the grit needed to escape the most frightening action sequence (lineout to third, pickoff at second, strikeout) and Billy Wagner made his way across unholy ground (McCann and Teixeira and Francoeur, oh my!) not only intact but also unmolested. In the end, with Wright (“MVP! MVP!”) and McCann trading two-run shots, the difference  was that first-inning run scratched out on a Beltran groundout.
No Oliver Perez start is without a head-scratcher or two, of course. In the Times' game story , Perez said he's been “trying different things” and changing his mechanics. Wha? I hope that was out of context or the language barrier was at work, because otherwise that's puzzling: Why would anyone who'd been sent down by the Pittsburgh Pirates and survived to resurrect his career start playing around with his mechanics? Perhaps the answer is ( as is often the case with foolish tinkering) that Oliver Perez is young, too. At any rate, he did follow that admission with a certain wisdom, noting that he'd succeeded by keeping his arm slot consistent. And he got this bit of public advice from Carlos Beltran: “You need to look at the tape and continue to pitch like this.” From the center fielder's lips to the pitcher's ears, please.
Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones are not young, not anymore. But they were both absent — Chipper with an oblique strain and Andruw with the flu. Huh. Wow. I can only assume Chipper is very hurt and Andruw is very sick, what with their season circling the drain and all. If Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley want to sit out with a hangnail and a sore throat, I will applaud their caution. But somehow I think they'll show up regardless of what the trainer has to say.
Chipper's oblique was the subject of fascination for the SNY crew, which had the injury (a innocuous batting-practice swing) on tape. Their Zapruder-like analysis of the infamous swing led to yet another 2007 Keith Hernandez moment — a passionate denunciation of sit-ups. “Too much swiveling!” Keith exclaimed with indignation, as Emily and I giggled on the couch and Gary Cohen (who's gotten very good at sneakily turning up the heat once Keith gets rolling) goaded him by asking whether today's players didn't have enough body fat.
Keith is an icon, and so his age is immaterial, but he certainly is getting amusingly cranky — we knew he was off to the races when he groused that “I never did a sit-up.” Keith's get-off-my-lawn moments make me wish he could do postgame spots after a few hours at Elaine's. Sit-ups? We never did sit-ups — did we, Ronnie? Our regimen was shotgunning beers and screwing girls and deep-frying steaks and destroying planes and we won a freaking World Championship doing that — right, Ronnie? All you kids out there, you watch what happened to Chipper. Don't do that! What's that, Gar? Well, I think it's that the game's changed with the steroids and the sit-ups. And the swiveling! Too much swiveling!
Postscript: The Brooklyn Cyclones battled fog and the Staten Island Yankees and defeated both, ending the Junior Yanks' season and advancing to the New York-Penn League Championship Series, a best-of-three affair that begins Thursday. The game ended after midnight, taking it into Sept. 11 and thereby bringing up an old memory: 2001 was the Cyclones' inaugural year, and they won the first game of the Championship Series and could have won the title on 9/11. Instead, the game never happened. Brooklyn and Williamsport were declared co-champs. Given everything that happened on that terrible day, this is at most a footnote to a footnote. But that's not quite the same as nothing. Now, six years later, a win on 9/11 will give the Cyclones a chance at a new title. It's the least of things, but I found some small measure of satisfaction in it.