Philadelphia – The Braves seemed in fine spirits Wednesday afternoon. Players were sitting in the visiting clubhouse laughing over a Will Farrell sketch from “Saturday Night Live.” Bobby Cox had his managerial feet propped on the desk in his office, and he was mock-cringing over the notion of yet another Farewell Ceremony about to be staged in his honor.
In sum, the Braves weren’t glum. They’d lost the first two games of the series, but they had one more to play. And then they’d hop on their chartered Amtrak car for the haul down to D.C. for a weekend series against the Washington Nationals. And then they’d be done with this final road swing of 2010.
Asked if his team needed to win Wednesday, Cox said: “We need to have a good road trip. I look at road trips.”
Also this: “We win one here and a couple in Washington and we’re 7-2 or 6-3 on the trip. Every day is a big day.”
The Braves came to work trailing the Phils by five games in the National League East but still atop the wild-card standings. Someone wondered if Cox had stayed up late Tuesday awaiting the pertinent late scores from the West Coast. He said he hadn’t. Then someone else asked when Cox would start staying up late for such results.
“Hopefully we never have to,” he said, and he laughed.
People on the outside never seem to understand about baseball men: They’re not brooders. They see every day as a fresh chance. In Cox’s mind, the Braves hadn’t embarrassed themselves in the two losses here. “I think we’ve made it a ballgame,” he said, speaking of Games 1 and 2. “Our starter went four innings the first night and 2 1/3 last night, and we still had a chance.”
Wednesday figured to be better, if for no other reason than that the Braves weren’t set to deploy a rookie pitcher. The Game 3 starter was to be Tommy Hanson — a second-year man. And if you’re wondering whether Cox has been kicking himself about not shuffling his rotation for this series the way the Phillies’ Charlie Manuel did … don’t even start.
“That’s not even a second-guess,” Cox said. “There are reasons why you don’t do things.”
Such reasons presumably included the need to keep a tiring rotation on regular rest. And certainly no one could have foreseen the need to sub the rookie Brandon Beachy for Jair Jurrjens as Monday’s starter at the last minute. Neither Beachy nor Mike Minor could offset their Philadelphia counterparts, but Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay were so unyielding — between them they worked 15 innings, yielding four earned runs — that it mightn’t have made any difference who pitched for the Braves.
A writer asked if Cox had sought to impress on his men the need to “step up” in the series closer. Cox laughed. “How do you ’step up’?” he said. “If that’s the secret, then we’re 162-0.”
This is baseball, not football. This is baseball, a game played daily, as opposed to weekly, a game of skill and precision, as opposed to strength and passion. Trying harder doesn’t make a baseball team play better. If anything, the Braves seem to be trying too hard. How else to explain Brian McCann being thrown out at third base trying to advance on a sacrifice fly Tuesday night?
So maybe it’s true: Maybe laughter really is the best medicine. The Braves were laughing as they prepared and Cox was laughing as he entertained a host of national writers, and a team desperate for a victory didn’t seem desperate in the slightest.
And if a wild card is to be this team’s destiny … well, the old skipper wouldn’t toss back that parting gift, either. Said Cox: “I wouldn’t mind seeing a ‘WC’ up on the wall of our ballpark.”
And with that, the figurative floor has again been opened for questions, comments and tips on how to better play sound fundamental baseball. I’ll be honored to share yet another night with y’all, and it could be an extended one. There are storms in the forecasts. So get our your umbrellas and join me, won’t you?