Atlanta Braves were the final opponents of the great JR Richard

Atlanta Braves' nemesis J. R. Richard throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior for the ALCS. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Atlanta Braves' nemesis J. R. Richard throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior for the ALCS. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Braves outfielder Gary Matthews was a close friend of J.R. Richard and on deck when Richard threw his last pitch. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Braves of the 1970s had a love-hate relationship with J.R. Richard, he loved facing them, and they hated to see him on the bump.

J.R. Richard passed away Wednesday, August 3, 2021, and former Atlanta Braves players were among a host of his peers to express their feelings for an opponent who made future Hall of Fame players look overmatched at the plate.

Gary Matthews was a member of the Braves from 1977 through 1980, just as Richard was reaching his prime. Over that span, Matthews batted .288/.354/.456/.810 against the league, with a 114 OPS+, hitting 81 homers,  96 doubles, and 18 triples.

Against Richard, Sarge batted .143/.280/.167/.447 with six hits – one a double – in 50 PA. Matthews faced Richard more than any other batter; he told the New York Times, no one ever threw harder than Richard.

"“I kid you not: If they took the radar gun that they’re using right now and they put it on J.R., when the ball left his hand like that, it was probably going 110.” “If he doesn’t have that stroke, he’s in the Hall of Fame. He had Hall of Fame stuff and he would have had Hall of Fame stats. J.R. Richard doesn’t have to take a back seat to any pitcher that’s ever pitched in the major leagues.”"

Mathews should know; he faced some of the hardest throwing pitchers in the game:  Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden when he was striking out 270+ players a season, and Nolan Ryan.

When Dale Murphy was asked about the toughest pitchers to hit (Twitter link), he said…

"“Anybody that played in the late 70’s or early 80’s will probably give you the same answer: JR Richard.”"

Hall of fame third baseman Mike Schmidt explained what it was like facing Richard.

"“From the right side of the batter’s box, it was very, very intimidating. You almost had to go into a defensive hitting mode — do anything you could to just make contact. It was a very unusual night when he pitched.”"

More from the NY Times.

"Richard faced 16 Hall of Fame hitters for a total of 548 at-bats, the equivalent of a batter’s full season. Collectively they hit .245 off him, with 138 strikeouts. Everyone else combined to hit .209."

He was even harder on the Atlanta Braves.