Regardless of whether this Braves’ season ends in a division title, a wild card berth or one minor spasm short of the playoffs, this much can be said about them: They chose the most difficult way to get there.
Fall behind? Rally late.
Lose four regulars? Start an outfield worthy of camp Disney but somehow get by.
Drop game one of the series (again)? Feh! Come back and win the next two (again).
“I don’t know what the [expletive] is wrong with us – we lose the first game every time,” Bobby Cox said Sunday, the sting of those words softened by a slight smile and a post-game victory cigar.
They won again Sunday, 7-5. They won after blowing an early 3-0 lead and falling behind, 5-3, thanks to another dreadful start by Derek Lowe (20 hits and 13 runs, 11 earned, allowed in his last 8 2/3 innings). They won despite missing Nate McLouth and Garret Anderson and Martin Prado and Ryan Church or any semblance of a bench (pinch hitter: Javier Vazquez).
“Shorthanded is an understatement,” Chipper Jones said. “We’ve got nobody.”
Slight overstatement. They’ve got Brian McCann, who drove in five runs with a three-run crush job in the first and a tie-breaking two-run single in the eighth. They’ve also got a bullpen that held the Marlins to two hits after Lowe was carried out in the fifth.
Mostly, they have resolve.
They have lost game one in seven straight series of three games or more. But they have come back to win four of the last five of those series.
Just to be clear, Matt Diaz said: “We prefer not to lose game one. We would like to reverse that trend.”
How does this end? We can’t possibly know.
But this team is unique. It scraps, maybe like no Braves team we’ve seen in a while. Many point to the improved depth. That’s a factor. But it goes beyond that.
“You have a team where everybody wants to play,” coach Terry Pendleton said. “You have a team of guys who all know how to prepare themselves and work hard in the cage and in the field. We’ve had a few other teams where guys showed up every day. But this one stands out because a number of guys have been hurt but guys have stepped in to help the team keep pace. That says a lot.”
They are now a season-high eight games over .500 (66-58). Since June 28, they own the second-best record in the National League (32-18). The Phillies remain furlongs ahead in the East (6 ½ games with three games in hand). But Colorado is only four ahead in the wild card race, and the Braves have moved to within a game of second place San Francisco in that chase.
How did they make it this close? Still trying to figure that one out.
Cox: “We’ve been scrambling.”
Frank Wren: “There’s some resiliency there.”
Jones: “I like the fact that guys don’t hang their heads and remain confident and play better than we did after losing the first game. We come back late, we win on walk-off hits – all those things build character.
“If we can get to 10 games over .500 by the end of this month, with a ton of games left in our division, I like our chances, if not in the East, then the wild card.”
Lose one, win two. It’s not the path most chosen. Or preferred.
But the math works out the same.