Just eight days earlier, the circle of lockers in the main section of the Braves clubhouse had been a champagne-soaked mess.
Braves players lathered in beer were dancing, jumping, screaming, even at one point toppling a table in celebration of clinching the National League wild card.
But when Braves players from the 2010 team think back to the moment they’ll remember most from the end of the season, the most poignant time spent in that locker room, chances are the room will look a lot different.
It’ll be brightly lit, clean, and completely quiet – the moment from Monday night, when each player was seated at his locker. The Braves had just lost 3-2 to the Giants to get knocked out of the playoffs in the division series, and Bobby Cox took the floor for the last time as their – or anyone’s – manager.
“I don’t think there was a guy in here who could swallow,” Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said. “We were holding [tears] back, and then he got choked up a little bit, and then it was over.”
Chipper Jones said Cox managed to get out maybe 10 words. He was simply telling his players he was proud of them. And that was as far as he could take it.
For the first time in the 20 years since Cox first drafted Jones No. 1 overall in 1990 as Braves general manager, Jones saw him cry.
“Bobby has always been pretty sure about what he’s going to say and he’s pretty matter of fact,” Jones said. “He couldn’t get it out.”
When Cox finally turned to go, to head down to the interview room for his postgame press conference, the Braves gave him a standing ovation.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Jones said. “I don’t think I’ve cried in uniform since I was about 8. You spend as much time with Bobby as I have, it’s hard. He’s been a father figure to me; he’s been my only manager. It’s hard to swallow that this is going to be the last time.”
Jones has been a part of 12 playoff teams with the Braves. He thinks this one is special to Cox.
“I really think, out of all the teams, he’s got a soft spot in his heart for this club right here,” Jones said. “This club went above and beyond what was expected once the injury bug hit.”
Jones, Martin Prado, Kris Medlen, Jair Jurrjens, Eric O’Flaherty, Takashi Saito, and Billy Wagner all were lost to injury in the heat of the playoff run. Left standing, and maybe feeling the most emotion when it ended Monday, were players like Brooks Conrad.
A little more than 24 hours after his three errors at second base tarnished Game 3, Conrad’s emotions were still raw. Early Monday afternoon, Cox had sat down with Conrad and told him he was going to take him out of the lineup for Game 4, but that he supported him. On Monday afternoon Cox asked Braves fans, through the media, to do the same.
So when Conrad was asked about Cox late Monday night, it didn’t take long for the tears to come.
“I don’t think you see that a whole lot in this game,” Conrad said of Cox’s support. “It’s a cut-throat game. It can be brutal at times. And when you’ve got a guy backing you no matter what, it’s uh….”
Conrad paused. His eyes reddened. His bottom lip quivered.
“It’s pretty cool,” he continued. “He’s got every one of our backs no matter what. And…”
A full 10 seconds passed before Conrad could get out what he wanted to say next. It was what so many players had on their minds Monday night.
“I was proud to play for him,” he said.