MIAMI – Twelve losses in 18 games reduced the Braves’ wild-card lead to a mere 2-1/2 games over St. Louis, but the clubhouse atmosphere felt no different Tuesday afternoon than it had throughout the season.
There was no quiet sulking, no whispered discussions. No finger-pointing or damning comments – on or off the record – about slumping hitters or struggling pitchers.
“I really believe when we have survived this – and we will – we’re going to be a better team for it,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose bullpen blew a late lead in a loss for the second consecutive game Monday. “Because I’m around them all the time, and not once – and this is a sign of a good club to me – not once have you heard anyone, ‘It’s your fault,’ or ‘How come you didn’t do this?’ It’s we got beat, let’s regroup and come back out there and get ‘em tomorrow.”
Players have pointed to clubhouse chemistry as a big part of the team’s success the past two years, and veteran catcher David Ross said that has helped the Braves stay together during one of their worst slumps of that period – a slump that couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“We can talk about it all we want, but you’ve got to go out there and play,” said Ross, one of the team’s leaders. “There’s no pep talk anybody’s going to give you. We know everybody in this room is trying their best. We know everybody is grinding it out as best they can. We’re just going through a stretch we haven’t been through all year.
“We’ve had some bad luck and the ball bouncing the other way a little bit. When you’re winning, it seems like everything is so easy. When you’re losing, winning seems so hard. It is nice to know that you have a good group of guys in here that you don’t ever doubt what anybody’s motives are when they go out there.”
As Ross spoke, some Braves directed their attention to TVs hung above lockers in the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium. The TVs were tuned to MLB Network, which at that moment featured a couple of analysts talking about the Braves’ recent struggles, their suddenly vulnerable bullpen, and how the team might be teetering on collapse after blowing most of a 9-1/2-game wild card lead.
Third baseman Chipper Jones, dressing a few lockers over from Ross, suddenly said aloud, to a group of players within earshot: “We’re going to win tonight.”
Catcher Brian McCann, seated a few feet away, seconded the statement: “That’s right.”
A while later, McCann told a reporter the Braves’ confidence was still strong.
“Bottom line, there’s a reason we’re 2-1/2 games ahead and that we’re in the position we’re in,” he said. “We’re a really good ballclub. We’ve just hit a rough patch in September. It’s not the best time to get in a rut, but what we’ve accomplished this year – we’re right there. We need to keep going and make this thing happen. That’s what everybody’s mindset is. We need to make this happen.
“We’ve got eight games to go. We need to give it all we’ve got, play a little better baseball.”
Out in the dugout before batting practice, Gonzalez did not have the bearing or tone of a man who sensed something important slipping away.
“We will survive this stretch,” he said again. “Everybody goes through stretches, unfortunately we’re going through ours in September. But we’ll be a better club as long as you don’t start pointing fingers or start saying, ‘Why didn’t you call a certain pitch?’or ‘Why didn’t you swing at that ball?’ As long as that doesn’t happen, teams will survive it.”