Suddenly, Braves see everything go wrong

What's that thing about a picture telling a story? Matt Diaz gets picked off third, and the Braves' playoff hopes probably go down the drain. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

What's that thing about a picture telling a story? Matt Diaz gets picked off third, and the Braves' playoff hopes probably go down the drain. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

The sudden wake-up call in July, the mind-numbing 15-2 run in September, the otherworldly creature that seemingly once inhabited the body of Martin Prado — this is what happens when everything catches up to a team in one night.

The Braves didn’t lose a game Wednesday night. They suffered the mother of all market corrections. You figured maybe this would happen in December. You know, like maybe Yunel Escobar turns an ankle while hanging Christmas lights. Instead it hit during the final spasms of a playoff race.

What’s more unpredictable? That the Braves extended their postseason hopes this long, or that they probably were ended by Ricky Nolasco and a bizarre base-running mistake by maybe their best base runner, Matt Diaz?

The Braves’ wild-card hopes were badly bruised Tuesday night when they lost to the Marlins and Colorado won in extra innings. This one dropped them to the canvas. They lost again to Florida on Wednesday, 5-4, dropping them four games behind the Rockies in the wild-card race with four games to go. Their postseason extinction number: one. It will be a short countdown.

“We know we’re in real need of some serious help,” said Diaz, “not necessarily from the Rockies but maybe from above — maybe a miracle or something like that. It’s a sinking feeling.”

Do you believe … how it ended?

A three-run Marlins' third buried Javier Vazquez and the Braves early. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

A three-run Marlins' third buried Javier Vazquez and the Braves early. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

After five innings, the Braves trailed 5-0 and had struck out 12 times (including nine straight). They managed a final gasp for those few fans who 1) showed up and 2) stayed. They scored two unearned runs in the seventh and added two more in the ninth to close to 5-4. A walk to Nate McLouth loaded the bases with two outs, bringing up Prado. The first pitch was in the dirt. Diaz, who was on third, began to dart home, then stopped, then started back toward third, then hesitated and considering coming home when he saw Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino turn the wrong way looking for the ball.

“I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I can make it,’” Diaz said. “When you think, you’re done.”

Paulino found the ball quickly. He threw to third. Diaz was done. So, probably, are the Braves.

Everything that went so right during a 15-2 run went so wrong for the second night in a row.

Question: Ricky Nolasco?

We can’t be certain if he was channeling Cy Young, Sandy Koufax or Walter Johnson. We just know he wasn’t channeling Ricky Nolasco. He struck out 16 in 7-2/3 innings. One more, and the Braves would’ve been eligible for aid from FEMA.

This is the same Nolasco who entered the game with a 5.32 ERA. Houston dented him for 10 runs in just over three innings last month. He picks now to get serious and ruin a party.

Mathematics says it’s not over. Javier Vazquez, who had one of his worst outings, said, “Obviously, we have an uphill climb.”

Fact is, it would’ve been an uphill climb if the Braves had 14 games left, not four. Diaz accurately pegged it when he called for divine intervention.

Maybe it figured to end. It just didn’t figure to end like this.

Nolasco struck out the first two Braves of the game, McLouth and Prado. Then he struck out Brian McCann in the second. Then things just got stupid. He struck out everybody in the third, the fourth and the fifth. When Adam LaRoche doubled to lead off the sixth, fans didn’t know whether to applaud or run onto the field and hug him.

Meanwhile, Vazquez, was getting rocked. He allowed five runs (three earned), eight hits, a home run, a wild pitch and hit a batter in six innings. In five previous September starts, Vazquez was a 4-0 with  a 1.93 ERA. He has been the Braves’ best starter this season, leading general manager Frank Wren to marvel before the game, “He’s as solid as a rock.”

But on this night, Vazquez, Diaz and the Braves got sideways. Everybody was due.

145 comments Add your comment

Capt Caveman

September 30th, 2009
11:12 pm

Tough way to lose, but that’s the sad beauty of baseball. It can all change in a hurry.

Sid Bream

September 30th, 2009
11:12 pm

First!

BRAVES LOSE!!!

BRAVES LOSE!!!

Sid Bream

September 30th, 2009
11:13 pm

Ok…Second!

BRAVES LOSE!!!

BRAVES LOSE!!!

Bob Horner

September 30th, 2009
11:14 pm

Our Season…By Bob Horner…Lil Matty Diaz stood at the hot corner waiting to make a play. Along came a pitch, that flew past the dish and Matt broke for home and a big payday. But halfway there, he caught a lil scare and changed his mind from going home. He got thrown out, I am going to pout , and spend the rest of my days watching the Falcons at the dome !!!

The end

Ilya Kovalchuk

September 30th, 2009
11:15 pm

Donny and I had a deal that I’d sign for 10 years if the Braves made the playoffs.

Well, Atlanta, I guess this is goodbye!!

Mike Lum

September 30th, 2009
11:17 pm

I still say that in March most of us didn’t expect the Braves to be so close to the playoffs on October first. Hey, it could still happen!

Dave Justice

September 30th, 2009
11:18 pm

Just imagine where this team would be with the me from the 1990’s.

On second thought, I’m sure Wren would have traded me to get Hampton back.

Suckers.

wild deer

September 30th, 2009
11:19 pm

Looks like Chipper’s one day closer to wearing his camo. We’re SO screwed.

The_Future

September 30th, 2009
11:20 pm

Fitting that one of the worst baserunning teams in the majors loses like this. Great job coaching em up, Bobby. October 2010 can’t come fast enough.

Betty Diaz

September 30th, 2009
11:20 pm

I wish Bob wouldn’t make up poems about my son like that……….but…….OMG, that was hilarious !

a nice, firm ass

September 30th, 2009
11:21 pm

Kim Hudson has it.

John Smoltz

September 30th, 2009
11:23 pm

AHAHAHAHAHA!

Losers.

falling hard and fast

September 30th, 2009
11:24 pm

Prediction: Braves get swept by the Nationals.

crap man

September 30th, 2009
11:24 pm

Man……..Matty D. was smokin’ tonight. The question is… “What?….?

barkeep

September 30th, 2009
11:25 pm

Smoltzie, is that you? You old carpetbagger!!

Bobby Cox's Brilliant Managerial Stretegy

September 30th, 2009
11:29 pm

Norton, you’re up!

*thinks he’s outsmarted the competition*

MarlinsForever

September 30th, 2009
11:29 pm

Attention all units….a waaaahmbulance is needed at Turner Field.

PMC

September 30th, 2009
11:30 pm

So far they’ve overachieved record wise anyway. It’s disapointing…. until you look at the difference between this team and opening day and realize that they totally and completely lowballed the spending for the lineup. No power…no average….no speed. It’s like trying to win a race with no engine. It’s incredible they were able to go 15-2.

Chipper was totally and completely awful. His error cost them the game…. and he did
nothing at the plate to redeem himself.

Oh well. It’d be nice to end with a sweep of the Nats if they both don’t just mail it in.

Bat Masterson

September 30th, 2009
11:30 pm

It was Satchel Paige, Jeff, you know he pitched down there for the Miami Marlins AAA club from 1956 thru 1960.

Poor Matt, he should have run like something was gaining on him.

PMC

September 30th, 2009
11:31 pm

Also…. at least the end was fun but…. SERIOUSLY GREG NORTON? Can’t someone burn his uniform or steal his cleats?

HOW THE HELL DOES GREG NORTON BAT IN THIS GAME?????

NEWS FLASH

September 30th, 2009
11:34 pm

Marlins aren’t going to the playoffs either!

Now go celebrate this meaningless victory!

crap man

September 30th, 2009
11:35 pm

Why didn’t Matty D. disguise himself as a baserunner? If nothing changes, nothing changes.

BravesFaninMD

September 30th, 2009
11:37 pm

Why the Braves won’t make the playoffs… and it isn’t because of Matty’s honest base-running blunder:

1) Chipper should’ve been moved down the order;
2) Church should’ve played more… for awhile he led off and did great;
3) Laroche should’ve hit in Chipper’s spot
4) NORTON was still on the team as of 30 Sept and allowed to actually pinch-hit;
5) Their pitching was fantastic and last few weeks and they got LUCKY enough to move up the standings, but just don’t have the big bats to win it

BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR, I’LL BE WATCHING AGAIN!!!

American Dream

September 30th, 2009
11:37 pm

All you fans need to get off of Norton’s back. He is trying as hard as he can. Cox has faith in him and I for one hope the Braves bring him back for another season.

MarlinsForever

September 30th, 2009
11:41 pm

Well, our victory obviously isn’t meaningless to the Bwaves! Oh, and here’s a NEWS FLASH–Rockies lead the Brews 10-5 in the top of the 8th!

turkey

September 30th, 2009
11:50 pm

In June nobody thought the Braves would make it this far. I picked them to be a fourth place team and they proved me wrong. Frank Wren made some good decisions to get the team this far and hopefully make some better ones in 2010. The Braves have some tough decisions to make in the offseason to shore up some holes that have to be filled. Playoff or not this team made progress and I have high hopes for 2010.

wxwax

September 30th, 2009
11:53 pm

Schultz, was that you in the press box, red-faced and squinting at your computer screen without glasses?

Joe

September 30th, 2009
11:57 pm

I’m not surprised about the Braves they choke every year the only year they didn’t choke was 1995. 91,92,93,96,97,98,99,00,01,02,03,04,05,06,07,08.09. 10?

wawel78

September 30th, 2009
11:58 pm

am i the only one who has more confidence in the 5-8 hitters in the lineup than the first 4?

Jack

October 1st, 2009
12:01 am

American dream: Are you insane? “Cox had faith in Greg Norton.” Thats your reasoning for believing in a 36 year old pinch hitter who couldn’t manage to hit .135? cmon… no 36 year old hitting .133 should be playing in the mlb, let alone the braves. get real

Jack

October 1st, 2009
12:02 am

o and wawel78, your not the only one. I totally agree

Joe

October 1st, 2009
12:02 am

Whenever I hear the name Greg Norton mentioned I always laugh you guys make it seem like the guy is just a waste of space on the team. He barely gets playing time and when he do he looks rusty that’s because he’s hardly ever in the game.

bill

October 1st, 2009
12:06 am

So much for 2009. 2010 will be the same unless Booby is either fired or dies.

hill

October 1st, 2009
12:07 am

Here’s hoping for a fatal infarto for Booby before Jan 2009.

Joe

October 1st, 2009
12:11 am

Atlanta is the worst sports town in America.

gcs

October 1st, 2009
12:18 am

How appropriate that they get us excited again only to go out with a whimper. Call me when 2010 rolls around.

.

gayle

October 1st, 2009
12:18 am

According to ESPN, in 130 years of baseball, only 4 pitchers have recorded 9 consecutive strikeouts – only four!

And one of them was Ricky Nolasco tonight against the choking Braves.

This team is just pathetic in must-win games – look at the record.

And Greg Norton pinchhitting? How did that work out Booby?

Oh yes, I remember – strikeout with 2 on base.

What a bunch of choking losers!

alsim

October 1st, 2009
12:21 am

Please Bobby, change your mind and retire NOW!

Legend of Len Barker

October 1st, 2009
12:31 am

Did Norton play any games in the field this year? If he’s an defensive liability, why use him at all? He’s taking up valuable bench space.

I also thought it was error that we sent Kawakami to the bullpen but kept Lowe in the rotation. Kawakami had finally found a rhythm. Lowe struggled for most of the second half.

Cox also mismanaged Garret Anderson. I like Anderson as a hitter. He’s always been pretty solid, but never spectacular. Anderson played more games in the field this year than he had in several seasons. If anyone should have platooned, it should have been with Anderson.

Dr. Henry/Augusta

October 1st, 2009
12:46 am

OK Amer. Dream so we’re too hard on Norton….Well he came into the game in a key spot in the sixth facing a pitcher who had struck out 13 at that time and he was batting a lofty 100…Yes, one hundred. 6 for sixty…We had nobody out and runners on trailing 5 – 0 at the time…A couple of runs then may have led to a better ending….Well he promptly, on 4 pitches became number 14 swinging at a pitch 3 inches off the ground….The look on his face was one of bewilderment, such as “what am I doing here”…I don’t know if Cox knew it or not but most of our pitchers have batting averages higher than 100…

JT

October 1st, 2009
12:47 am

At least the game didnt end with a Norton strike out. That would have been much worse – and you know he wouldve gotten the chance instead of Infante if he had been available. I feel bad for Matty D. Hes played great all year. I hope this doesnt affect his confidence in the future. Bad end to a very exciting season. Oh well.

Mitchell

October 1st, 2009
1:22 am

This game wasn’t nearly as important as the one the night before.

They officially lost me last night (Tuesday) and thank God because if I really still believed and actually thought we would win and that it still mattered, I would have a) had a heart attack even before the play happened, b) thrown my computer monitor into the wall, c) thrown my chair through the back door or d) killed the cat.

They got three damn hits on Monday. We saw it comin’.

If they really feel like they can’t win at home because of the fan attendance then they need to do something about it. I personally would like to see a new manager. I think that would solve a lot of problems.

I do not believe Bobby Cox deserves to return as manager. What has he accomplished? This is possibly one of the most disappointing finishes to a Hall of Fame career by any manager in baseball history.

The Braves are putting loyalty above winning. You know if it wasn’t for Frank Wren, Bobby would have been throwing Smoltz and Glavine out there every fifth day this year.

The Braves wouldn’t even be at this point if it wasn’t for Frank Wren. We still don’t have a complete team but I have a hard time believing that if we had a manager who didn’t kiss his players @$$es, who did think outside the box and wasn’t afraid to be creative, we could have at least won the wild card.

Mitchell

October 1st, 2009
1:26 am

Also, for those interested in a retrospective since this is the end of a decade:

The Braves under Bobby Cox have won one playoff series in ten years. Their record in seven playoff series this decade? 11 and 18.

Here we go again

October 1st, 2009
2:02 am

where the heck is sonny clusters? give us some plain-language perspective, please. we’re hurting.

kauai dawg

October 1st, 2009
2:36 am

non ah non ah non ah non ah non ah non ah hey hey hey good bye!

scottbravesfan

October 1st, 2009
3:52 am

Well at least Atlanta is sparred the embarrassment of not being able to sell out a playoff game this year.

Please move the team to Charlotte, Raleigh, Norfolk, Portland, any other city that does not have a team and would actually support the damn thing.

paw paw

October 1st, 2009
5:15 am

ME AND GRANDSON (MADDEX) NAMED AFTER GREG WAS IN DUGOUT AND HE SAW THE UMPIRE CALL SO MANY STRIKEOUTS HIS ARM HAS TO BE SORE TODAY WAS SAYING TO ME THE BRAVES NEED A BIG HIT BAD.. BY THE WAY HE IS JUST 3 1/2 YRS OLD.. DOESN’T TAKE LONG TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WE NEED. A STICK OR TWO… SEND GREG NORON PACKING TODAY AT THE EARLIEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kyle

October 1st, 2009
5:27 am

I really am not surprised and neither should you. the braves have done this at lest three other times this season in the second half alone. What’s that you say? Play great and battle to get within striking distance of the lead be it the division of Wild card and then fall apart. 2 times the braves got to within 4 games of the Phillies going into a 3 game set with them only to get swept and/or go on a 5 game skid. This season, when the games have mattered the most the Braves have lost.

Roscoe P. Coltrain

October 1st, 2009
6:39 am

To Management: Now that it’s too late to trade Chipper, good luck rebuilding for the next 3 or 4 years. At least after 2010, Cox won’t be in the dugout promoting mediocrity.

To The Fans: Stop with the Chopping. It is embarrassing. Yeah, it was fun in 91-92, young baseball team, worst to first, yada-yada…GROW UP! There is no Chopping in baseball, it brings NOTHING to the game, so stop already.

Oh…one more thing: I like turtles!

Preston Hannatized

October 1st, 2009
6:59 am

Matty Diaz didn’t lose the game – he made the last out. Chipper’s ole-E5 got the Marlins rolling. And Bobby’s gob-smackingly incomprehensible decision to send the rally-killing Greg Norton up to pinch hit with 2-on, none-out. There is no explanation to validate that move. I would rather have seen Huddy up there with a bat. Did anyone from the AJC or other media in the post-game ask Bobby WTF?