Well, I’ve slept on it (though not well), and I’ve decided: Bobby Cox cannot start Brooks Conrad in Game 4 of the NLDS tonight. This has nothing to do with baseball strategy. It has everything to do with human kindness.
Brooks Conrad is a journeyman whose journey has led him into the wilderness, and he can see no way home. It’s incumbent on someone (meaning Cox) to come rescue him. It isn’t that Conrad has developed Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblauch Disease, where he can’t throw straight. Poor Brooks is so confused he can’t even think straight.
We saw it last night even at those times he wasn’t making an error. He looked to second base before throwing — accurately — to first base, and in the game’s strangest moment he called off Derrek Lee to run over and catch a pop that should have been the first baseman’s all along. It isn’t that Conrad isn’t trying. On the contrary, he’s trying so hard he can barely remember where to stand.
Credit Conrad for facing reporters after the worst postseason game any Brave has ever had. (Let’s recall that Lonnie Smith ducked out after stopping at second base in the Metrodome in 1991.) But now it’s up to Cox. He has to do the right thing: He has to bench Brooks.
If that means playing Troy Glaus at third base and letting San Francisco bunt three times an inning, so be it. (The Giants are starting Madison Bumgarner, who’s a lefthander, so having Glaus at third — as opposed to Eric Hinske — makes a bit of tactical sense.) Omar Infante can move back to second, and Conrad can go back to being a pinch-hitter.
The important thing is to get Conrad in the dugout. He’s doing no one any good at second base, himself least of all. (His evocative postgame words: “I wish I could dig a hole and sleep in it.”) And there’s no percentage in inflicting further indignity on the tough little guy whose big hits helped get the Braves beyond Game No. 162.
He’s doing his best, but at the moment his best isn’t very good. I’m not certain what Bobby Cox will decide, but if I’m anything of a Bobby reader after 25 years of study, I’d say he’d made up his mind last night. This would not be a punitive benching, a Charlie-Finley-trying-to-deactivate-Mike-Andrews-in-the-World-Series thing. This would be an act of mercy.
Update: The Braves have announced their lineup for tonight’s game. Glaus is starting at third base. Conrad isn’t starting.