It was a dark night in a sunny season. A great closer went out two runs ahead and came back with a blown save.
“He’s been perfect,” Bobby Cox said, speaking of Billy Wagner. Then, correcting himself: “Almost perfect.”
Right the second time. Because this is baseball, where nobody’s perfect. But sometimes you learn more about a club on a dark night that in the afterglow of the most improbable walk-off win, and here’s what we saw from Wagner late Wednesday:
A guy who blamed nobody but himself. Not the umps, not the fates, nobody but the guy who had the ball with a job to do and, for only the fourth time this season, couldn’t do it.
Wagner hated the fastball he threw to Scott Hairston, which became the home run that halved the lead. He could live with the ball Yorvit Torrealba drove into the right-field corner to tie the game: “He hit a pretty good pitch.” And sometimes it happens.
Said Wagner: “It was one of those nights. I didn’t have enough to get it done.”
He didn’t seek to downplay the loss. “This was a big game,” Wagner said. “If you win this, you win the series and you’re going for a sweep tomorrow. Now tomorrow’s an even bigger game for both teams.”
The Braves and Padres could well be playing this sort of game late in October. They’ve traded the National League’s best record these past two days, and they resemble one another in many ways: Good starting pitching, great bullpens, just enough offense. The Braves have 16 victories in their final at-bat; Wednesday’s game marked the Padres’ 14th.
And there’s really little more to say about this: The Braves had a chance but didn’t win; the Padres seized their chance and did. Fair play to the visitors. But now they play again this afternoon, a big-time series and the league’s best record again on the line.
“The night didn’t go our way,” Wagner said, “but we’re still confident.”
The Braves should be. They’re good. The Padres are, too. Thursday’s game is the final schedule meeting between the two, but that isn’t to say they won’t see another again. Best-of-seven for the right to represent the National League in the Fall Classic — how’s that sound?