Brooks Conrad has his career moment, wins it for Braves

Brooks Conrad capped the biggest ninth-inning comeback in Braves history with a walk-off grand slam against Cincinnati (Curtis Compton/AJC).

Brooks Conrad capped the biggest ninth-inning comeback in Braves history with a walk-off grand slam against Cincinnati (Curtis Compton/AJC).

This was a big moment for Brooks Conrad. Possibly even bigger than when he was MVP for Pittsfield in 2001. Bigger than when he rocked for Round Rock in 2004 (and was hit by a career-high 12 pitches). And Salem – dude, he owned Salem.

Could it be even bigger than in 2008 when Brooks Conrad, minor-league lifer, the closest thing on the Braves’ roster to Crash Davis, played for the Sacramento River Cats and was named the team’s “Best Teammate”? (Did that come with a participation trophy and a gift certificate to Pizza Hut?)

The Braves left for Pittsburgh Thursday night. Somebody will be buying Brooks Conrad dinner. Maybe a car.

Before this season, the 30-year-old had played 36 games in the major leagues and 1,103 in the minors, give or take a Motel 6. On Thursday, he exorcised every miserable night’s sleep, every seven-hour bus ride from his mind and body. Pinch-hitting in the ninth inning, Conrad hit a walk-off, grand slam homer to punctuate a seven-run ninth-inning and the biggest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history. The Braves stunned Cincinnati and probably themselves, 10-9.

“I’m on cloud nine,” Conrad said.

“There’s something you don’t normally see,” manager Bobby Cox said.

“We’re sitting there thinking, ‘Did we just win this game — did we just score enough runs to win this game?” Chipper Jones said.

We live for these moments in sports. Half of the announced crowd of 21,621 had left by the time Conrad stepped to the plate. Years from now, probably 121,621 will claim they were there to the end.

Cincinanti's Laynce Nix had Conrad's fly ball bounce off of his glove, then the top of the wall and over for a home run. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Cincinanti's Laynce Nix had Conrad's fly ball bounce off of his glove, then over the wall for a home run. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Braves trailed 8-0. Starting pitcher Tommy Hanson felt blessed that he became an afterthought following an eight-run second-inning. He had to be rescued by Jesse Chavez (a string of words so seldom typed).

By the ninth inning, when the Reds led 9-3, Cox had pulled Jones and catcher Brian McCann out of the lineup and was in surrender mode.

Then Troy Glaus singled. Eric Hinske, who had struck out three times, singled. Yunel Escobar hit a potential double-play ball to deep short that Orlando Cabrera bobbled (it was ruled a hit). A two-run single by Nate McLouth followed. Then came a walk. Then another botched potential double-play, this time an error when third baseman Miguel Cairo couldn’t get the ground ball hit by Martin Prado out of his glove.

That made it 9-6. Bases loaded. The stage was set for a dramatic finish, but only because Jason Heyward was up. He struck out.

New script.

Conrad, a switch-hitter, left the on-deck circle. But after the Reds pulled left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes out of the game and put in righthander Francisco Cordero, Conrad, now planning to hit left-handed, forgot to switch his batting helmet (with the ear flap on the other side).

“When I got to the plate the umpire said something but I didn’t really hear him,” Conrad said. “Then [Reds catcher] Ramon [Hernandez] said, ‘Hey, you may want to switch your helmet.’ So I had to move that past embarrassment real quick.”

He did. Just looking to hit something in the air, Conrad slapped a 2-2 pitch to deep left. Laynce Nix leaped at the wall. But the ball went off his glove, then off the top of the wall and over.

Conrad? He thought it was an out.

“From my angle, I thought he had brought it back,” he said. “I had my hands on my helmet. I thought, ‘No way.’ Then fans started going crazy and [teammates] kept running around the bases.”

He was pounded by teammates in a celebration at home plate. He was joyously assaulted again in the clubhouse. This time players doused him with hand sanitizer.

These are the stories we don’t see coming. Conrad was signed as a minor-league free agent in 2008.  He hit a game-winning,  pinch-hit three run homer last season in Washington. But he spent most of the season in Gwinnett. This spring, he was the last player to make the roster. He barely beat out Joe Thurston.

“Tough decision,” Cox said.

He doesn’t wear batting gloves. “He just raw-dogs it,” Jones said.

“You have to have guys like him on a team. Just down and dirty, clay everywhere, from head to toe.”

Jones realized something from the dugout. Conrad was pinch-hitting in his No. 3 spot (which later became the pitcher’s spot after a double-switch). “Great decision by Bobby, getting me and B-Mac out of there,” Jones said, smiling.

Afterward, Conrad was asked the obvious: Had he ever experienced a moment like this?

“Having my first-born kid,” he said.

On the field?

“Nothing compares,” he said.

Earlier posts

We’re live, and Braves are alive: Do you think it’s for real?

Fredi Gonzalez should top Braves’ list to replace Cox

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

119 comments Add your comment

Dave

May 20th, 2010
7:12 pm

Very nice ending and a very nice piece of writing.

Dave

May 20th, 2010
7:12 pm

And damn, I was first, though I’m not going to say it.

Braves fan80

May 20th, 2010
7:14 pm

BOOM THAT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!!

Steve

May 20th, 2010
7:18 pm

Wow. That gave me chills and goosebumps. Don’t think I’ve witnessed anything like it since Sid Bream’s slid to beat the Pirates in ‘91 (or ‘92?) This team may be special.

Don

May 20th, 2010
7:19 pm

QUESTION:
Bobby Cox put Brooks Conrad in the Lineup a few days ago and he immediately got hot; whereupon Cox immediately benched him.
Does this mean that now that he has hit a PINCH HIT GRAND SLAM for a walk off win – that COX WILL NOT use him as a PINCH HITTER ANYMORE????

chamblee dawg

May 20th, 2010
7:20 pm

Bat Masterson

May 20th, 2010
7:29 pm

Just crazy man, gotta be happy for Conrad.

Mr Charlie

May 20th, 2010
7:42 pm

Don, just ask every baseball coach he ever played against what they think of Bobby, but of course, you know coaching, none of those guys know what they are talking about.

NCBravesFan

May 20th, 2010
7:45 pm

Don = Robert, if anyone knows him from DOB’s blog.

southern hope

May 20th, 2010
7:46 pm

very nicely written story…

btw, did that really just happen?!!!

NCBravesFan

May 20th, 2010
7:46 pm

Wonder when the Braves last had three straight last at-bat wins?

wxwax

May 20th, 2010
7:50 pm

Awesome. Brought a tear to my eye.

Thanks for posting the video.

Don

May 20th, 2010
7:50 pm

Mr. Charlie, With the Pitching Staff that we have, how did Bobby Cox manage to lose nine straight games. Why was he still using Melky during that 9 game losing streak when he had already proven that he was not producing – instead of giving Hinske a chance. Why was he using McLouth when he was not producing at all at that point – instead of giving Infante a shot in his position. Why was he keeping Chipper in the 3rd spot on the batting order when he was hitting barely over .200?
Are these all signs of a great manager?

RomeDawg

May 20th, 2010
7:58 pm

I agree with Don. Keep Conrad and Hinske in the lineup until they cool off. That was awesome. These Braves seem to have a flair for the dramatics!

heartofdarkness

May 20th, 2010
8:02 pm

Bobby should use Chipper as Conrad’s defensive replacement.

BravesFanSince66

May 20th, 2010
8:03 pm

You gotta love the never-say-die fight in these guys lately; the stuff champions are made of.

Resign or Resign?

May 20th, 2010
8:04 pm

Dave:

My thoughts exactly!!

mike

May 20th, 2010
8:06 pm

Don,
Don’t question Bobby. He is all knowing, and loyal to a fault. He will stick with slumping players until the season is almost unsalvageable, and THEN start to turn things around.

It’s kinda his thing.,

BenFranklin

May 20th, 2010
8:09 pm

Can’t stop smilin’ today. What a moment! I even teared up, too.
Unbelievable!!

Mr Charlie

May 20th, 2010
8:15 pm

Obviously the way he used Conrad worked well today. Fact is, it it works, you are a genuis, it if does not, you are a bad manager. It is easy to second guess.

I am guessing you were for pulling Glaus for Hinske after 6 games.

Fact is, the “strategy” of baseball is grossly overrated, it ain’t rocket science. The sign of a good manager is one who gets his guys to play hard, keep focused, and communicate what is expected, and keeps all the politics, media, and drama from effecting his players.

How did they lose 9 games? Things did not go right, the team took time to gell. I ask you this, after a 9 game losing streak, in his last season, after 40 years, how did he keep this team from giving up, for quitting on the season? How did he keep his team believing in themselves? How did he convince them that they had what it took to get back over 500? You think a Bobby Valentine team would have overcome that?

Again, ask any baseball person, ask any player, any coach in any sport what they think of Bobby, but of course, you know better, because Brooks Conrad has not been starting over the past week.

Mr Charlie

May 20th, 2010
8:17 pm

Mike, you are kinda right. Cox only finishes better than 500 for about, what 30 years? Is it better to pull you slumping players just before they get hot? Cox it DA MAN!

D Hawks

May 20th, 2010
8:18 pm

Great finish today! I was at the game with a group of my co-workers, and we were so glad we had stayed until the end. I must say if we hadn’t been sitting in the shade we might have been gone. Unbelievable!

MitchC

May 20th, 2010
8:19 pm

Jeff, I didnt see the game today, but gosh I wish I had!

This team is red hot. If they keep playing like this, there is absolutely no reason they can’t win the wild card, even if they dont catch the Phillies.

I’m very proud of how the Braves are playing. Hopefully, they can keep winning

Pete

May 20th, 2010
8:22 pm

This will be the “Comeback” to remember.
Just awesome.

Thirty Points to your Twenty-Four Points

May 20th, 2010
8:25 pm

Schultzie…. Next time 11Alive interviews a young man who just hit a walk off grand salami, get your ugly face out from behind him.

I swear on my life, I was watching the news with my girlfriend and she said “eww! is that Jeff Schultz in the background?” hahahahaha!!!!

Doug Markham

May 20th, 2010
8:27 pm

Great piece of video.

Mr Charlie

May 20th, 2010
8:29 pm

IF a career .300 hitters got .100 over 20 games, chance are, he is going to hot and bat .400 over the next 20. If you pull him after 20 games, and you put in a career .240 hitter how got 8 hits in his last 16 at bats, chances are, he is going to cool off. So, you pull your guy who is about to get hot, for a guy who is about to get cold. That is a recipe for 72-90. Notice, over 40 years Bobby does not have many 72-90 seasons? On top of that, to be able to deal with the egos, and drama and the pressure to “do something” while millionaire athletes are bitching, it what makes BC GREAT.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by IMasterfeed, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Here's a look at Brooks Conrad's career (and YouTube) moment for the Braves. http://bit.ly/bUGW2J [...]

Mr Charlie

May 20th, 2010
8:29 pm

Fact is, if you morons had your way, Glaus would have been parked on the bench, and might never have found his stroke this year.

Eric C.

May 20th, 2010
8:31 pm

Hopefully this is a game that can really turn things on for the rest of the season…sometimes one freaky game can do that.

Mitchell

May 20th, 2010
8:31 pm

Is it me, or are the supplementary or commentary blogs only populated by people who never post on the main blog?

I never see you people on DOB’s blog. What’s up with that?

Eric C.

May 20th, 2010
8:33 pm

Mr. Charlie…ha, I’m definitely guilty, and I’m glad to be proved wrong about Glaus.

Eric C.

May 20th, 2010
8:34 pm

Mitchell…I get on both occasionally, but with a full time job and family, it’s not easy dude.

Dave

May 20th, 2010
8:41 pm

Resign or Resign,

Just sweet isn’t it?

Monger

May 20th, 2010
8:42 pm

Braves of 2010 are looking more and more like the early and mid 90s teams, that never gave up, and produced down right miracles at times… From Sid Bream’s Slide on Cabrera’s base hit, to Justice’s homer in Game 6 of the 95 WS, to Lemke’s October heroics, to Eddie Perez’s MVP NLCS run, to many, many comebacks and amazing memories. These 2010 Braves in Bobby Cox’s last season, are producing some great games and most importantly wins. I hate to end this great nostalgia on a sour note, but these wins are no thanks to Cox and Chipper. These two “staples” of Atlanta Braves baseball are becoming major hinderances to the braves chances of winning, and need to leave ASAP and not get in the way of this Braves miracle season of 2010. Chipper is hitting 3rd STILL, and doing the worst job of his career, with an amazingly low 2 homers all year, 11 RBI’s, to go with his awesome .229 Batting average. Today, I honestly was a happy camper when Cox took him out, he had failed miserably in clutch situations with men on base today, struck out or hit routine fly balls…He mearly has warning track power now. But hey he is leading the majors with 29 walks, as our goofball announcers pointed out!!! And who can we thank for continuing to play and bat this guy 3rd?? Thats right Bobby!! Dont get me started on all the strategic errors and head-scratching lineups he has had this season….WE ARE WINNING IN SPITE OF THESE TWO, NOT BECAUSE OF THEM!!!!

-Monger

Monger

May 20th, 2010
8:48 pm

LOL at Chipper saying that Brooks just “raw-dogs it”!!! Chipper is the king of raw-dogging!! Thats why he has a son with a hooters waitress!! He is the raw-dog king…way to put a great, classic quote full of irony into your article schultzie…maybe next article we will get a quote from Bobby Cox telling us how his wife likes when the players wear eye black…

-Monger

Braves fans suck

May 20th, 2010
8:56 pm

Tomorrows headline: BRAVES LOSE 19-0. IT’S OVER THE BRAVES SUCK. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

idiots

Bob Horner stayed hurt

May 20th, 2010
8:58 pm

good work Jeff…..good stuff..!!

cattle dawg

May 20th, 2010
9:02 pm

This game kind of reminds me of the game in the early 90s when Brian Hunter crushed a Rob Dibble fastball to when the game. At least I think it was Dibble. It was the reds and in Cincy I believe.

mike

May 20th, 2010
9:03 pm

Thanks Mr. Charlie; great points. I will say that you are mostly right…but I still think he goes a LITTLE too far somethimes. I mean Greg Norton last year? For real?
There have been a few times in the past where it was PAST time to pull someone….but thanks for pointing out that, usually, his grand scheme does work.

If the currently hot hitters stay decent, and the usuals (McCann, Chipper, and Escobar) return to form, this could be a good team.
I am cautiously excited.

JohnSmith

May 20th, 2010
9:04 pm

Here’s MLB’s link to the video recap from Cincinnati’s WLW feed: http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=8188441&c_id=cin&topic_id=8877986

The commentator thinks Nix has caught the ball…then dryly has to change his tune as Conrad circles the bases! Hilarity.

J-Smoove

May 20th, 2010
9:04 pm

I was listening in my car and Jim Powell and Mark Lemke literally predicted the outcome… Powell had J-Hey hitting the grand slam before the bottom of the 9th started, but I couldn’t believe how the game ended. Looks like the team has a little bounce in their step and I hope the wins keep rolling in. GO BRAVOS!!!!

cattle dawg

May 20th, 2010
9:05 pm

This article makes me want to go out an buy everyone a round at the bar.

thunderbull56

May 20th, 2010
9:06 pm

Soooo, you get to scoop fellow Braves beat writers foor this stoory.Cheap Dude! Next thing you know, you’ll beat all ‘tha NASCAR writers to JR’s next Win! BTW, I’d as soon watch Wrasslin’ as NASCAR ! Long as my barf bag’s in place Bro.!

Chief76

May 20th, 2010
9:12 pm

For all you Bobby Cox bashers out there, this is why Bobby is the best manager in baseball. Not the moves, not the line-up cards and the like but the culture he creates for the team. I have never seen a Bobby Cox team quit. Everyone lays it on the line for him every pitch, every at bat. He makes sure every player is involved whether it’s a spot start, a pinch-hit at bat, going back to a pitcher out of the bullpen the day after they give up the run that loses the game. Just voted the best manager by the players, every major league ball player wants to be on his team and give the all for him. And that loyalty produces these unexpected, improbable wins. Back during the height of the streak, the Braves payroll was third highest in MLB. If we had maintained that position instead of being a corporate bottom line, we would have those other Championships people moan about as a reason to get rid of Bobby.

caleb monroe

May 20th, 2010
9:13 pm

chipper sucks, hes old washed up and DONE DONE DONE!!! i dont understand why hes still batting third. but i will always love the braves despite how many championships they left on the table. another story another day.

Ted Striker

May 20th, 2010
9:28 pm

Nice article. You captured the essence of the experience.

rekingball

May 20th, 2010
9:47 pm

Bobby Cox is a genius. When Hanson was getting bombed in the 2nd, for 8 runs, and Bobby just sat there watching, I was wondering what was going on in Bobby’s head.
Now I realize that he was just letting the Reds get just enough runs, so that he could put Conrad in as a pinch hitter in the 9th, and swat the ball just out of the reach of the left fielder for that walkoff grand slamy.
Pure brilliance! I hope I can be that smart when I grow that old.

Dawgdad

May 20th, 2010
10:09 pm

I know Conrad is no Johnny Blanchard or Smokey Burgess, but if we had him or someone similiar pinch hitting last year instead of Greg Norton, how many more games do we win? I’m betting 4-6 and maybe we make the playoffs. Cox’s inability to make changes has limited his success. No one was advocating benching Glaus indefinitely, just wanted him to play the hot hand. How many games did he cost us, by refusing to play Hinske over Glaus, over the Melkdud, over Diaz, over Chip. To be successful you have to be above playing your favorites and sticking with a set lineup. Every player goes through slumps and bad streaks, minimize their exsposure. Let them work on their stroke in BP, in blowouts, and against guys they have had success against before. Why is Omar not playing some outfield, I think he is hitting over .300, put him in until he struggles.

Great game today, congrats to Brooks and Bravos.

Jeff Schultz

May 20th, 2010
10:12 pm

MitchC — I was about halfway through a column on Hanson and the starting pitching issues when I decided to stop writing in the ninth.