Game 3: As tough a loss as I’ve ever seen, Leyritz included

This is Brooks Conrad. No other words are required. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This is how it felt to be Brooks Conrad. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

There’s no cheering in the press box, but I have to admit: When the ball went through Brooks Conrad’s legs, I gasped. Not because I care who wins or loses — I get paid not to care who wins or loses — but because, even though these are highly paid professional athletes, they’re people, too. And on a human level, this was as excruciating a loss as I’ve ever seen.

And yes, I covered the Jim Leyritz game in the 1996 World Series.

A third-string infielder pressed into service because Chipper Jones and Martin Prado went down committed three errors. The second cost a run. The third cost the game and maybe the Division Series. And this is how some of those in the massive crowd at Turner Field reacted to Conrad’s wretched night:

When the clip of his walk-off grand slam against Cincinnati was played on the message board before the bottom of the ninth, some people had the gall to boo.

What, the Braves’ manager was asked, do you say to a player on such a night? “Not much,” Bobby Cox said. “Everybody’s talked to him. We’ve encouraged him as much as we can.”

Would Conrad start Monday’s Game 4? Cox: “I’ll have to sleep on it.”

This assumes Cox gets any sleep, which he won’t. Because that was the other aspect of this careening night. The great manager who has taken his last team into one last October had outflanked his opposite number in what seemed the game’s key moment. Alas, the great manager outflanked himself.

The Braves trailed 1-0 for a couple of hours. Their first hit came in the sixth inning and was struck by pitcher Tim Hudson, which made no sense but also perfect sense. Their second hit came when Alex Gonzalez led off the eighth with a single to right. Then Conrad popped up a bunt — he was booed then, too — and Giants manager Bruce Bochy decided to pull Jonathan Sanchez, his overpowering lefty starter.

Cox had announced the right-handed hitting Troy Glaus as a pinch-hitter for Rick Ankiel, whose homer had won the epic Game 2. Bochy summoned righty Sergio Romo, against whom the Braves had rallied Friday night. Cox took down Glaus for the lefty-swinging Eric Hinske …

Who hit a home run.

And now the giddy Braves had only to get three outs to throw a hammerlock on the series. On came the rookie Craig Kimbrel, whom the injured closer Billy Wagner had anointed his heir apparent before the game, and Kimbrel got one out, then walked a man, then got another out. He dealt two strikes to Freddy Sanchez, who then singled up the middle.

Kimbrel didn’t throw another pitch. Cox wanted the rookie lefty Mike Dunn to face the left-handed hitting Aubrey Huff even though Huff had hit .296 against lefties this season, as opposed to .287 against righties.

“I was hoping Dunn could locate,” Cox said. “He got the first fastball over and he hung a breaking pitch.”

Then: “If [Huff] hits a double or a homer off Kimbrel, then you’re asking why we didn’t bring in the lefty.”

Huff’s single tied the game and took the air out of the stadium. Buster Posey’s grounder to second kicked everybody in the gut. Conrad let the ball play him, as they say in the trade, and wound up giving it the Bill Buckner treatment.

With the lead, Cox was asked, why not replace Conrad on defense? “We were down to one [non-catcher and non-pitcher] on the bench with [Diory] Hernandez. And we didn’t want to use [catcher] David Ross.”

Then: ‘We had this one won … We’re not the best team in baseball, OK? But we can win games and we can compete against anybody. But we can’t afford to make mistakes.”

Conrad made three. (Four if you count the botched bunt.) Cox made two. And a team of diminishing means that needed to win the regular season’s final game to qualify for the playoffs stands one loss from elimination.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Hudson said. “But we’ll come out tomorrow and put it behind us.”

Maybe they will. But honesty compels me to say I don’t know how.

538 comments Add your comment

pete

October 10th, 2010
9:34 pm

pete

October 10th, 2010
9:35 pm

Cox shows once again why he is the most over-rated manager in the history of baseball. 70 All Stars since 1991 to go along with the greatest SP staff in the history of the game he the Braves have 1 WS.

GO GIANTS

October 10th, 2010
9:37 pm

Thanks Brooks Conrad

FRUCK THE BAVES!!!

October 10th, 2010
9:37 pm

I was at the game, and when they showed a highlight of Brooks Conrad to hype up the crowd in the bottom of the 9th, I swear the entire crowd booed!!! Except for his biggest fans, the SF Giants, that is.

Herschel Talker

October 10th, 2010
9:37 pm

MB:

It is inconceivable that Cox doesn’t leave Kimbrel in there to finish the job, our supposed closer of the future. Who knows if he gets the job done, but at least we put our best foot forward and stop with all the lefty-righty shenanigans that strike most of us as overmanaging. This is the kind of Cox stuff we have been complaining about for years.

HT

larry

October 10th, 2010
9:38 pm

Mark Bradley

October 10th, 2010
9:39 pm

This is all my fault.

jj

October 10th, 2010
9:40 pm

The season was lost tonight

Ben

October 10th, 2010
9:40 pm

Hate it for Brooks. We’re not in the playoffs w/o him.

BehindEnemyLines

October 10th, 2010
9:40 pm

As the horror of watching Conrad in the field begins to subside slightly, we’re left with a crystal clear vision of the Bobby Cox era. The nostalgia has been nice but the reality is that the franchise and it’s fans at least have a chance to be better off with someone else making the decisions on the bench. Three questionable decisions in the final inning, all of them wrong, would have been a fitting end to Bobby’s tenure, it’s what we’ve watched for so long.

jj

October 10th, 2010
9:41 pm

Season is now lost

Cooperstown Janitor

October 10th, 2010
9:42 pm

I was just taking out the trash, and noticed Bobby Cox’s entire file in the garbage.

Of course, his entire file included only one championship, so I went ahead and threw it out.

Brad

October 10th, 2010
9:42 pm

An analyst from ESPN has blogged that looking at some of the replays it appeared the 2nd base Umpire blocked his view and there wasn’t a chance for him to see it until it was too late. Either way doesn’t change result

For his own sake you can’t put him back out there ..use him as a pinch hitter. End of day they have to start hitting the ball.

Don

October 10th, 2010
9:43 pm

I told you all months ago this team and it’s maanger are losers. Well, tonight was just the icing on the cake. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. My guess is a 6-1 loss.

Herschel Talker

October 10th, 2010
9:43 pm

MB:

Here’s the point:

Despite the first two Conrad errors, we were still in a position to win the game. JUST LET THE CLOSER FINISH THE DAMN GAME AND STOP OVERMANAGING. And then maybe the 3rd Conrad error never happens.

So, yes, Conrad was terrible, and he blew the game. But Booby blew it worse, as we were in a position to win it, and he started to play his silly lefty-righty games when Huff’s stats show that he’s equally good against both.

HT

Hard Days Night

October 10th, 2010
9:44 pm

The fans tonight were behind the Braves all the way, standing from the first inning on cheering Hudson on. Why doesn’t Cox play Glaus or Hinske at 3rd and Infante at 2nd? Then use Hernandez as a defensive sub late in the game. Brooks just punched is ticket out of the big leagues, see ya at the G-Braves game next year.

SG10

October 10th, 2010
9:44 pm

Mark,

I wouldn’t say this was as tough loss as ever seen..I am sure there have been worst, including those elimination games we have lost in early 2000s. Our offense didn’t do anything except for one swing by Hinske. 3 hits in the game doesn’t do it. We are fortunate to be playing Giants who have mediocre offense themselves..

Kris

October 10th, 2010
9:44 pm

Brooks Conrad is a loser. He will always be remembered as a loser. I can’t stand that SOB – he has committed 8 errors in 6 straight games. He doesn’t deserve to be shining my shoes let alone carrying the bat boy’s water. I’m disgusted with him and Bobby Cox. This is the worst game I have ever been to in my life.

Jimmy's Buffet

October 10th, 2010
9:45 pm

Cox made 4 mistakes actually. Reminiscient of Lonnie Smith,Liebrandt/Puckett,J. Carter,Wohlers,etc.

George W. Bush

October 10th, 2010
9:45 pm

You guys were booing the kid more than you guys booed me, GO GIANTS

U gotta believe

October 10th, 2010
9:46 pm

Fellow Braves fans and Mr. Bradley, let’s not forget that these Braves had never failed with their backs to the wall. DOB predicted the Braves in five. Well looks like that certainly can still happen. I still believe they can do it. The players will stay alive for Bobby. Just watch

Bob in SF

October 10th, 2010
9:46 pm

I think the other thing Bobby could have done was put Diory Hernandez in at third and moved back Omar to 2nd for D. Also having Kimbrel throw anything but a fastball to an over matched Freddy Sanchez was a huge favor. I hate it for Brooks but it was unfortunate for him to be put in that situation in the 9th and some of the blame belongs on Cox.

Don

October 10th, 2010
9:46 pm

I told ya. Been saying this about this manager for weeks now. Glad the truth is exposed as reality.

Charlie

October 10th, 2010
9:47 pm

Hate it for Brooks. I know he’d give anything to have made all three of those plays. Love Bobby, but perhaps he should play Glaus at 3rd. I was thinking today that Glaus deserved a start. Hindsight’s 20/20 though. Tomorrow, I’m betting with Glaus at 3rd and Omar at 2nd they’ll at least make the routine plays. Glaus might even get a big hit or two. He should be well rested. It’s worth a shot. Take the pressue off Brooksy, he’s done too much to suffer like this. Maybe as a pinch hitter he’ll give us a lift and give himself a lift!

SG10

October 10th, 2010
9:47 pm

One play that epitomizes Brooks Conrad is when he called off 3 time gold glover D.Lee to catch the pop-out near the first base..he runs after everything. The error that he made in the right field was Heyward’s play but Heyward appeared nowhere and Conrad was there to catch it, rather lose it.

Denny

October 10th, 2010
9:48 pm

Another stupid thing is we can’t get hit after hit. Our only chance is with the long ball, like we saw Friday night and tonight. And what do we do? We play the worst defensive player we have and leave a big bat glaus on the bench. Cox is by far the most inept manager ever.

todd grantham

October 10th, 2010
9:49 pm

Mark, looks like my little conversation with Brooks got caught in the filter, alas..

WHOOPS Conrad

October 10th, 2010
9:49 pm

ward

October 10th, 2010
9:49 pm

Mr. bradely we simply are running out of players, and Conrad wasn;t a seconbaseman in the first place. Giants are the better team, and we would be fooling our – sevles to say the Braves are better. I;m happy were in the play offs, any thing else is a bonus. We simply need are bats to wake up or it;s over, and the fat lady is singing, and we will be left in the rain sadly.Go!!! Braves!!! I;m going down with you. Go!!! Braves!!!!

Dawgdad (The Original)

October 10th, 2010
9:49 pm

Mark, you remember Mike Andrews, well Brooks meet Mike. I really felt sorry for Andrews and now feel terrible for Brooks. I hope he can stay in baseball but it will be a struggle.

Jason Heyward shouldn’t be totally off the hook on this one either, he played poorly. That fly ball error on Conrad should have been Heywards ball and to strike out in the ninth without lifting his bat, not good.

What ever happened to the old baseball axiom when you have two strikes, “too close to take”. The whole team is guilty of too many “too close to take” strikeouts.

HitaSingle

October 10th, 2010
9:50 pm

All three plays were unusual plays. In decisiveness on whether to tag runner, throw to second or first, pop up in the sun field I thought Heyward should have gotten there, and the umpire helped blocked his view on the last one. But all three plays should have been made and Conrad would say that. The Braves should have won, but we chased too many third strikes out of the zone and umpire didn’t help like on Heyward’s last ab. Just frustrating. Tough to win when you can’t put 2 or 3 hits together.

Turtsnap

October 10th, 2010
9:50 pm

Yep, I agree, the great manager outflanked himself. Well said MB. I was scratching my head when he pulled Kimbrel. If he is your closer of the future, you let him stay in. Yanking him might lower his confidence level too. We are screwed unfortunately!

Jimmy's Buffet

October 10th, 2010
9:50 pm

If Conrad starts tomorrow Bobby does not care if they win or lose.

Don

October 10th, 2010
9:50 pm

OK MARK, good column. I think I’ll be watching the Yanks and Philies in the WS… Phils Win.

fastdawg

October 10th, 2010
9:51 pm

This guy is suppose to be world.s greatest manager. What a joke. Bobby makes more mistakes than George W.

Jason Foster

October 10th, 2010
9:52 pm

I agree with you, Mark. I’ve not had this sick-in-my-stomach feeling after a Braves playoff loss since Game 4 of the ‘96 World Series. There have only been a few times since 1991 when the Braves had a playoff game won and then gave it back. I can count four: Game 2 of the ‘92 World Series, Game 6 in ‘96, Game 5 in the 2005 LDS and tonight. Even the 2005 loss wasn’t as bad as this one, for me at least. There’s still at least one more game to play. But I can’t help but think we’ll all be left wondering what might have been.

sc ace

October 10th, 2010
9:53 pm

I am not a Bobby hater, but HT is right. Let Kimbrel finish… he’s way more reliable than Dunn. Overmanaging indeed.

I know diory can’t hit… so he will fit right into this lineup tomorrow … hell he may as well hit 6th

DP

October 10th, 2010
9:53 pm

Face it folks, this team has been operating on fumes for a while now. As much as we’d like to believe in fairy tales, the Wagner loss was the final straw. Bravo to the Braves for making it this far. The last two innings are why we’re all fans…man, it hurts… but, what a game!

todd grantham

October 10th, 2010
9:53 pm

too bad. a little levity takes a bit of the sting out.

Jimmy's Buffet

October 10th, 2010
9:54 pm

Did you ask Bobby anything Mark ?

ward

October 10th, 2010
9:54 pm

Plus what is diaz batting, nate mclouth batting, heyward batting,and the rest of the team.We are done if we don;t start hitting. It puts presure on the fielding and pitching.Let;s Go!!!! Braves!!!!Wake up!!! I;m with you!!!!!

Hummon

October 10th, 2010
9:54 pm

The critics always seem to assume that making the other choice would have worked. We have no way of knowing.

DP

October 10th, 2010
9:55 pm

Cox’s “we were down to one” comment explaining why he didn’t use Hernandez makes no sense. He was willing to burn 2 position players, Ankiel and Glaus, in the 8th, to get Hinske up against a right hander and that worked out. He was willing to the burn up virtually everybody left in the bullpen in the 9th, because when he took out Kimbrell and brought in Dunn (to face a lefty who hits lefties) it was clear Dunn would only face one batter before yielding to Moylan. And then he used Farnsworth, which left him with nothing but Saito had the game gone to extra innings. So what was he saving Hernandez for? He used 3 position players for one spot in the bottom of the 8th and 4 pitchers in the top of the 9th and his reserve catcher to pinch run in the 9th and he was saving Hernandez for what?

Who on earth besides Bobby Cox would use 4 relief pitchers in one inning while he left a guy with the fielding yips who had already made 2 errors in the game with a one run lead in the 9th and a better fielding replacement available on the bench?

shawn

October 10th, 2010
9:55 pm

This is on Bobby Cox..The moron that he is..Why did he not remove him from the game? He can not bunt, field or hit…I am glad that he retiring watching him for the last 20 years……

HitaSingle

October 10th, 2010
9:55 pm

Alot of what ifs and we can question all we want but to win over 90 games with this team, there is no way I will second guess him.

extremus

October 10th, 2010
9:55 pm

The worst thing Bobby Cox could do for Game 4 (or Game 5, should things get that far) is pencil Brooks Conrad into the lineup. Imagine Bill Buckner times three and you get a glimpse of how messed up the guy is right now; it’s not just his mechanics or his hands, it’s his brain at this point, as my brother observed. If he’s in that field he’s going to be either A) gunshy about what to do if a ball is hit to him or B) likely too overeager to redeem himself, which will only make things worse. He needs to sit, and stay out of sight and out of mind where those doubts can’t be reinforced by the boos of fans who adored him just a few short weeks ago.

If Bobby Cox has an Achilles Heel, it’s that he’s too blasted loyal and has too much faith at times in his players. Sometimes when I see the movie “Gettysburg” where Confederate General Robert E. Lee orders Longstreet’s soldiers to advance on the Union center I can see Bobby Cox playing the role, pure as day. “The boys will get it done” seems to be his motto to the end, and like Lee his players love him for that. But just as happened in Gettysburg, sometimes what is required is simply too much to ask of the personnel he has to work with.

Few would argue that Robert E. Lee was one of America’s greatest-ever generals who accomplished great things while usually out-numbered and out-gunned, but that mistake more than any other ended up defining his career and led to the end of the Confederacy. Bobby Cox has been one of the greatest baseball managers of all time, but unfortunately it’s moments like that eighth straight Wohlers slider to Jim Leyritz and third error in the game by Brooks Conrad that may end up defining his career with many Braves fans. Because in the end, sometimes the boys just didn’t get it done.

Jimmy's Buffet

October 10th, 2010
9:56 pm

Conrad was 0-4 so what if Diory can’t hit. He might get an infield hit.

graysondad

October 10th, 2010
9:56 pm

Bobby out thunk himself tonight. If your future closer is Kimbrell, treat him like a closer and leave him in. If Wagner had been in this situation, you think Bobby would have taken him out? No way!

todd grantham

October 10th, 2010
9:56 pm

Bobby’s one of the greatest, but he did outsmart himself tonight.

SG10

October 10th, 2010
9:57 pm

Braves and Giants have made this exciting series mostly on the ineptitude of each team’s offense..If one team figures it out, there will be no contest.. been waiting for Heyward to arrive. I hope it is this year. He doesn’t look like he is close to getting hits..He is either striking out or weak ground outs…I am amazed that Posey has been better offensive force than Heyward