Don’t look now, but a playoff drive has come out of nowhere

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The Braves handed out “Believe” signs to those who entered Turner Field on Monday, not that a lot of folks deigned to enter. (Attendance was generously — very generously — announced as 25,046.)  But we can’t blame anyone for being slow to catch on. Not this team. The Braves themselves weren’t sure they were in a playoff drive until … oh, about five minutes ago.

We’ve seen some Septembers in this city. We saw the worst-to-first’ers chase down the Dodgers in 1991, and we saw the Braves pass the Giants in the final six hours of the 1993 regular season to conclude what many claim was The Last Great Pennant Race. But we’ve never seen one quite like this, and neither has Bobby Cox, who has seen everything twice.

“We got in it a little bit late,” he said Monday night, and by “a little bit” he means “at the last possible instant.” But here Cox’s team is, two games back of Colorado in the wild card chase with six to go, and that’s not all!

Cox again: “We’re only four behind Philadelphia [in the NL East]. With six to go. But that might be stretching it. That’d take a little miracle.”

We’ve already seen the 2009 Braves work a mini-wonder. They were 8 1/2 games behind Colorado on the morning of Sept. 10, not even in fourth place in the wild card standings. (San Francisco, Florida and the Cubs were ahead of them.) They’ve lost twice since. They’re 15-2 and playing so well they don’t even have to hit to win: On Monday they mustered three hits and beat the Marlins 4-nil.

“We’ve got a chance to do it,” Cox said. “We’re watching the scoreboard every inning.”

There wasn’t much to watch Monday night. The Rockies were off, and the Phillies lost big to the Astros. And the Braves were otherwise occupied watching Jair Jurrjens do his best Russ Ortiz tap-dance — remember Russ Ortiz? — as he worked into and out of trouble. And then it was done and the Braves had gained a precious half-game and everybody was left to wonder: Is this really happening?

Terry Pendleton has been in pennant races galore. He hit a massive home run off Norm Charlton to help the Braves overhaul the Reds in 1992, five years after he’d hit a massive home run to help the Cardinals fend off the Mets. (Who was the Mets’ pitcher that night in Shea? Roger McDowell, who now coaches alongside Pendleton.) But even the grizzled T.P. hasn’t seen one quite like this.

Are the Braves going to pull this off?

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“The latest [point of pennant-race entry] was in August,” Pendleton said. “But we’d been up and down … We came home [over Labor Day weekend] and got swept by Cincinnati, and everybody else around the team — maybe not the guys themselves — thought it was over. But we went back on the road and played well and we showed signs.”

That was the pivot point. The Braves took two of three in Houston, then swept the Cardinals in St. Louis, then swept the Mets here. They lost two of three to the Phillies in what seemed another clear reversal, but they haven’t lost again. And they’re closing in on Colorado, which itself reached the World Series by winning 21 of 22 dizzying games in 2007.

“Guys have continued to battle,” said Pendleton, who was the battler’s battler. “We all believed we were capable of playing better than we’d played.”

It took them 5 1/2 months to figure out it, but they’re figuring like mad now. They’re two games out with six to play. They’ve got the softer schedule. They’ve got the wind at their backs. This can happen. It really could. As the signs said …

Believe.

(And here’s a little something about Monday night’s attendance, or the lack of same.)

118 comments Add your comment

Here we go again

September 28th, 2009
10:59 pm

I’ve NEVER been first!

Here we go again

September 28th, 2009
11:00 pm

And if we do make the playoffs, who knows? The reason Bobby Cox only has one WS is because baseball’s post season is about who’s hot at the right time, not whose team really had the best year.

Mark Bradley

September 28th, 2009
11:01 pm

You have now. Kudos!

Here we go again

September 28th, 2009
11:05 pm

I now live in LA, 3 time zones over, which means I get to still be awake at all of the weird times you blog, MB. So maybe this won’t be the last time I’m first, either. It also means I would LOVE to see some braves playoffs games in Dodger stadium!

Mark Bradley

September 28th, 2009
11:06 pm

And that hot part is funny, too. You couldn’t have been any hotter than the Braves were in 1993, but they lost to the Phillies in what was then Round 1.

But more recent history has shown that’s it always better to be playing well down the stretch. The White Sox nearly blew their division in 2005 but rallied in the final week. And then they sailed through the postseason, losing only one game, as I recall.

Bill

September 28th, 2009
11:07 pm

The eye of the Tiger………..what took them so long to put it together? Mark keep up the good job. This is fun.

BnB

September 28th, 2009
11:07 pm

Concerning the Pendleton HR off of McDowell…Ron Darling was the Mets’ starting pitcher that day and he was already showered and walking out to his Mercedes in the parking lot thinking he had a win when that exact HR ball came bounding out of the stadium and hit his car leaving a dent in the door. He kept the car until he retired. True story.

cHARLIE

September 28th, 2009
11:09 pm

Win Lose or Draw, these Braves have shown heart. I havEn’t seen pitching this good in Atlanta sinced 1996

Mark Bradley

September 28th, 2009
11:09 pm

Hadn’t heard that one, BnB. That’s a dandy.

That home run is considered one of the low points in Mets’ history, and they’ve had several.

Bill

September 28th, 2009
11:11 pm

Frank Wren please don’t trade any pitchers this winter. Sign a good relief pitcher.

deja vu

September 28th, 2009
11:12 pm

Enter your comments here
Let’s just hope if they get in Bobby goes with the hottest arms and leaves Derrick Lowe in the pen. Vasquez, Jurgens, Hanson and Hudson looks like it would match up with about anyone, but Bobby will probably run Lowe out in game one and kill the momentum that got them there.

BnB

September 28th, 2009
11:13 pm

Just finished Darling’s book called “The Complete Game.” It’s quite good. I laughed out loud when I read that part. Even though they were thrashing us with regularity back then those Mets teams of the mid-80s were fun to watch. One of my all time favorite MLB ABs was when Nolan Ryan knocked down a pesky L. Dykstra and stared back at him as if to say, “Yeah, I did it.” Next pitch Lenny took him downtown!

Will

September 28th, 2009
11:13 pm

MB — I, too am on the west coast, in California. Born and raised in Atlanta … I can hardly contain my excitement right now, watching this from about 3,000 miles away. Yet — I’m SO ANGRY at the fans back in ATL. Seriously, show better for these games. This miraculous winning streak is really happening! I know it’s a football town, but the Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets and Falcons still have three months to go. These Braves need the fans NOW.

Robbie

September 28th, 2009
11:13 pm

This is almost making me as happy as BAMA rolling right along!!!!!!! BRAVES WIN THE SERIES (WORLD that is)……… BAMA WINS THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!! My life would be complete!!!

Keep it Rolling

September 28th, 2009
11:13 pm

I believe Braves… I just wish more fans would show and support our home team

ACE OF HEARTS

September 28th, 2009
11:14 pm

Enter your comments here Wouldn’t it be nice to have some of those blowed games back. Only look to the first series of the season in Philly that one hurt then and still hurts now. Factor in the blown saves and the infamous we were waiting on the ground ball game of Lowe and where would be now? Even if we only picked up half of those games we would be in front in the WC and very close in the division. There is reason to believe, if for no other reason than the Braves have made this last week of the season mean something and when was the last time we could say that.

BnB

September 28th, 2009
11:15 pm

Always easier to lose by ten runs than one where you think back over every booted ball or missed pitch. Would be awful to come up one half game shy!

Robbie

September 28th, 2009
11:18 pm

BnB that IS a great freakin story!!! I was a Brave at heart, but I LOVED the Mets during that time. So fun. So entertaining, and what GREAT entertainment they were!!!

Brett

September 28th, 2009
11:20 pm

EDITOR’s CORRECTION: Rockies off (not Marlins, they were playing Braves)

Gemini

September 28th, 2009
11:22 pm

I gotta keep doubting the Braves’ chances. Every single time I get my hopes up the Braves lose, so for now, I’m staying negative.

Michael

September 28th, 2009
11:23 pm

I think the race is really great, but I just have serious doubts if the Braves can make the playoffs. Take a look at every second-half series against the Phillies. The Braves were either swept or lost 2 of 3. I think there have been 4 series in the second half. Just notice where the Braves would be had they just won one of those series and not been swept once.

The postseason is a whole new game, but the Phillies will probably crush Atlanta if that matchup occurs.

VanMan

September 28th, 2009
11:25 pm

I think you meant “The Rockies were off.” Not the Marlins. The Braves were playing the Marlins, so they couldn’t be ‘off’. Unless you meant another kind of off, like ‘off their game’.

BnB

September 28th, 2009
11:25 pm

Roger that, Robbie. I’ve been a Braves fan since they came to ATL but how could you not like the Mets back then? I always loved that guy named Wally Backman. He could have played with Ty Cobb. A scrapper. Doc Gooden, Darling, Strawberry, Hernandez…they were cool. The 86 league championships and WS were arguably the best ever played. 91 wasn’t too bad either except the way it ended…;)

BnB

September 28th, 2009
11:27 pm

Heck, if we would just walk Ryan Howard every time he comes up we probably win half the games we lost to Philly.

Woo Hoo

September 28th, 2009
11:29 pm

The more recent home series sweep by cincy is what really stings. Losing 3 to them? Just win one and you’re only one back now. Win 2, which they should have and you’re tied. Then again, we swept SL in their yard so I guess it evens out.

BnB

September 28th, 2009
11:31 pm

Right, WooHoo. In all honesty that’s when I wrote them off.

Mitch C

September 28th, 2009
11:35 pm

Mark, I think the Braves have a legitimate shot to pull it off. The question may be: How hard are the Dodgers going to play to win games over the weekend, having already clinched the West? If L.A. wins another game or two, they end up with the best record, but one would think that L.A. would want to play the Braves in the first round, because the Braves would be the wild card team, if they make it, instead of having to play one of the division winners, Philly or St Louis.

The schedule says the Braves can pull it off. Hopefully, the Brewers and Dodgers can give us help.

I’m very proud of how we’re playing now.

Knuckle Sandwich

September 28th, 2009
11:35 pm

Believe Baby! ONE HEARTBEAT!

Herschel Talker

September 28th, 2009
11:51 pm

MB – very exciting stuff, but let’s not anoint them yet. If the Bravos lose one to the Marlins, and the Rockies take 2 of 3 from the Brewers, it will be very difficult; almost no room for error at that point. But you gotta love the schedule going forward.

That Cardinals-Rockies game yesterday really hurt. Why do I have a feeling that the one they let slip away in Colorado the day before the all-star break is going to really be a painful one? That was a 2-game swing. We’d be tied right now.

Rick in Big "D'

September 28th, 2009
11:53 pm

Enter your comments here

Note Error “The Marlins were off”. While they brought no bats. The Marlins did play. Go Braves!!

Steve

September 28th, 2009
11:58 pm

Keep chopping, guys! I remember all the titles as well as the years prior. I’m out of state now and miss the boys of summer, but my heart is right there at Turner Field. Go Braves! Believe!

JP

September 29th, 2009
12:05 am

Lets get Geeked up Braves fans….Bobby and Chipper are going to will us in to the playoffs. and there is no team that wants us, hot as firecrackers and with experience. No one wants to see these Bravo’s get in. Lets make it happen,,,,,I am Jacked

Ryder

September 29th, 2009
12:09 am

It’s just refreshing to say Braves-playoff chase once again. They have the best overall pitching in the National League, and who knew that the offense would finally begin clicking? As much as I loathe the Dodgers, I am firmly in their corner the last weekend of the season.

Kelly Johnson Fan Club

September 29th, 2009
12:10 am

If we can just handle JOSH JOHNSON tomorrow, I feel like we’ll be in good shape. Speaking of JOSH JOHNSON, another Johnson has had some success against him. KELLY JOHNSON is 4-for-10 (.400 batting average) with a triple and a walk (.400/.455/.600/1.055) against JOSH JOHNSON in his career. KELLY could be a nice pinch-hitting threat if TIM HUDSON is outlasted by JOSH JOHNSON.

Braves Fan

September 29th, 2009
12:10 am

I long to hear BRAVES WIN, BRAVES WIN, BRAVES WIN again!!!! Lets get behind this team and will this team into the playoffs. I never wanted something so bad in my life. Just one game at a time boys, thats all it takes! LETS GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kelly Johnson Fan Club

September 29th, 2009
12:12 am

Considering the run we’re on, the Braves need a theme song for this stretch. I suggest BORN TO RUN by the Boss. I mean, the way they’re playing, they were BORN TO RUN!

Joe Johnson

September 29th, 2009
12:13 am

Hopefully the Dodgers can help us where the Cardinals failed: sweeping the Rockies.

That is, of course, assuming the Dodgers don’t get, you know … tired.

Billy

September 29th, 2009
12:14 am

It’s been incredible to see this team win like this. If we make it, I would be horrified to bet against us in the post season. Remember the Marlins in ‘97??????

Brandon Heat

September 29th, 2009
12:21 am

With a late run like this, I like our chances in the post-season, where, as they say, “anything can happen.” Wow, since 2007, we’re seeing much more playoff atmosphere in Atlanta.

Next step: playoff WINS!! (Glares at Thrashers and Dream … and Falcons)

Mark Bradley

September 29th, 2009
12:23 am

There’s no room for error, that’s true. But the Rockies have to be feeling the same pressure. The Braves have gained 3 1/2 games on them in a week.

Antonio Gramsci

September 29th, 2009
12:24 am

Bi-polar Mark Bradley’s pendulum swings back to the “they can do it” side! Yay!

JT

September 29th, 2009
12:28 am

Oh man! I kept watching and watching even after that bad Cincy trip. Total payoff. But where are the fans? Im in NY and I made it to Citi Field. If I was in ATL Id be there every game now.

Also, MB, can you please do a spotlight on Moylan. He has been the definition of clutch. The one hold that really stands out is Huddy’s first game back when he came in bases full w/ one out. Threw 2 pitches and got a DP. Havent seen many talking about it but he has been money for a long time now.

BugKiller

September 29th, 2009
12:29 am

People, stop making excuses for Bobby Cox’s epic failures in October. You sound like the people who try in vain to defend the indefensible Willie Martinez.

If the Braves somehow make the playoffs, does ANYONE actually trust Bobby Cox to make the right moves, to pick the right pinch hitters and know when to use them, and to actually handle his pitching staff well?

Who wants to bet Bobby would have Derek Lowe and NOT either Vasquez or Hanson, is two best pitchers, pitching in the first game?

Who wants to bet Greg Norton would make the playoff roster?

Bobby Cox is simply unable to make the right decisions in October because he flat out refuses to change his management style when the situation demands he does so.

He manages October as if it were April. And him refusing to retire this year will destroy any chance an excellent team next year has of winning it all.

Selfish and a terrible post season manager. Great combination.

Schulz

September 29th, 2009
12:36 am

Can the AJC please put out an APB to all Braves fans on the cover tomorrow! Im at school in NC and its hard to imagine that no one is at that stadium! I might just drive the six hours down and go to one of the games this weekend if its tied or a one game difference. So, all of you who live 5-55 minutes from the stadium (my parents included) should get down there and make the stadium a little more intimidating than a high school soccer game.

Joey

September 29th, 2009
12:42 am

“The Marlins were off, and the Phillies lost big to the Astros.” I think you meant Rockies, MB.

Turlock Brave

September 29th, 2009
12:47 am

I’m hoping the Braves can avoid the Bradley curse (no offense). It seems like every time the team got on a streak this year, a post like this is published, and everything goes to pot. Whatever happens, this is the most fun I’ve had in years watching the Braves.

Kelly

September 29th, 2009
12:54 am

Something about this just feels really strange. Just like 1991 and 1993 did. The ends of those seasons were pure magic. I hope and pray the return of that feeling means some true, pure magic is coming our way this year too. I haven’t been this excited in years about September baseball.

And I really want them to win it for Skip. I would give almost anything to hear him calling these games and hear his take on it all.

Coach (2010-Mr.Overrated retires)

September 29th, 2009
12:55 am

Don’t look now but our Braves playoff chances just took a huge hit. Josh Johnson, who was held out of Sunday’s scheduled start due to a 101.5 degree temperature has been cleared to start today’s game. The Marlins Ace is 15-5 with an ERA of 3.12 and has never lost at Turner Field.

We are gonna need a miracle.

Fred

September 29th, 2009
12:56 am

Quit whining at the “fans.’ We didn’t leave, we were THROWN OUT. Remember when there was a change in venue from Fulton County to Turner Field? The wonderful Braves management decided that they didn’t really need there long time season ticket holders and wanted their ‘corporate sponsors” instead. When the change in venue was made, they gave OUR seats to Corporate sponsors and their “not from Atlanta’ executives and told us to like it or leave. I for one left. Oh and you can get my old seats from a scalper, the “corporate sponsor” sells them the tickets that they aren’t using now that going to the Braves games isn’t the “in” thing anymore.

Basically they turned Turner Field into baseballs version of Chastain Park. The good seats all go to folks who go to be “seen’ not to see the game.

Ostrich Racer

September 29th, 2009
1:02 am

BuzzKiller, save it for the post mortem, if it comes to that. Try to relax and enjoy the ride — that’s what baseball is about. You’re missing out on a lot of fun by obsessing over Cox. We’ve all been wishing for meaningful late September baseball for several years — here it is. Live it, love it.