(UPDATED: 11:45 p.m.)
So there’s this scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” when all of those who have been condemned to death and are hanging from crosses suddenly break into the cheer tune, “Always look on the bright side of life …”
And that pretty much sums up the Braves right now. They are a team of “Brians.” Every ounce of their corpses screams – a blood-curdling scream – that they are condemned for a season without a playoff game, or at the very least without another win.
And yet, they live. They sing!
For a short while, Braves fans actually cheered Tuesday night when their team trailed the Philadelphia Phillies 7-0 in the seventh inning. Why? Because team officials – desperate for something to spark a cheer, or at least prevent throwing objects – showed highlights on the video board of Houston taking a 5-0 lead over St. Louis.
This is what Braves fans have to live for these days: Astros highlights.
Hoping to somehow, some way drag their seemingly dead behinds into the playoffs as a wild card, the Braves instead were dismembered by the Phillies 7-1. That makes four straight losses and eight in the last 11 and … well, we’ll stop there. And yes, league rules mandate they must play their 162nd game.
Meanwhile, Atlanta’s current favorite team also failed: The Astros botched that 5-0 lead and lost 13-6. So the Braves have dropped into a tie with the Cardinals.
The Braves could be toast soon. Derek Lowe already has pulled the chute. He allowed five runs in four-plus innings. It would’ve been more, but the Phillies couldn’t stop laughing.
Lowe didn’t quite provide $15 million worth of clutch. But given that he is now 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA, maybe there’s a chance the Braves at least qualify for federal disaster relief. He has lost his last five starts, most by several furlongs.
I can’t recall if the Turner Field crowd ever chanted, “Let’s go, Braves!” on Tuesday. But they chanted, “Let’s go, Houston.”
A 105-loss Astros team has a stronger pulse than the home team. The Braves’ game was so over so early that you half-wondered why the marketing department didn’t just mandate that the team leave the field. The could’ve shown the St. Louis-Houston game on the screen. It would’ve kept more fans in the stadium. They would’ve sold more hot dogs.
It’s one thing for a baseball team to fade in the pennant stretch. It’s another to spontaneously combust.
The Braves are 10-19 in their past 29. Yet somehow, they started the night with a magic number of two to clinch the National League wild card. They realized a win would at least clinch a tie with the Cardinals for the playoff berth, thereby forcing a one-game playoff (albeit in St. Louis on Thursday).
But Lowe gave them no chance. And frankly, their bats would’ve given Cy Young no chance. Those are the three absolutes about the Braves these days. They can’t hit. They can’t pitch (save Tim Hudson). The other team is better.
Asked before the game what his thoughts were of Lowe, manager Fredi Gonzalez said, ““My thoughts are he’s going to give us a hell of a pitching performance.”
Did he mean Vaudeville?
There was a rainbow over Turner Field two hours before the game. But any belief that it represented some wonderful fantasy evening ended quickly. The game’s second batter, Chase Utley, cracked a Lowe pitch somewhere over that rainbow. It was 1-0. And counting.
Lowe was booed in the first inning. And in the top of the third when he gave up two more runs. And in the bottom of the third when he came to the plate. And in the fourth when he allowed another run. And in the fifth when he allowed a leadoff single to Jimmy Rollins.
Finally, Gonzalez went out to get him. A mob with pitch forks and torches already had started to form on the field level.
Gonzalez gambled that the struggling Lowe could give him more than rookie Julio Teheran. Consider the gamble an epic fail. Lowe was 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA in his past four losses. Guess what? That wasn’t an aberration.
We can debate just how much should be expected of a 38-year-old starting pitcher who has thrown over 2,500 innings in his career. But when a team is dying on the postseason vine, nobody wants to hear excuses. The Braves needed a strong performance. Lowe face-planted. They all face-planted. But for what it’s worth, postseason tickets are on sale.
By Jeff Schultz