He said he’d sleep on it, but he didn’t. Addressing the media Monday afternoon, Bobby Cox looked all of his 69 years — plus 40.
“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” Cox said. “We came within one pitch of winning a huge ballgame, and we let it slip away.”
And now it was a new day, and the first thing he had to address after coming to work was the hot-button issue of Brooks Conrad, who had made three errors in Sunday’s Game 3. It was clear from Cox’s words of the night before — “I’ll have to sleep on it,” he’d said — that the Braves’ manager had essentially made his decision, but still he had to tell Conrad.
Said Cox: “I talked to Brooksy at length this morning. And you know, he needs a day off. He needs to get away from it for a day … This shouldn’t happen to anybody in the game of baseball, but it’s happened to Brooksy and he needs a day off. I told him to hold his head high and maybe pinch-hit and win a game for us.
“You know, he was our defensive replacement all year long — at second and third. We couldn’t wait to get him into games. So it’s an unusual thing that’s happened.”
Also this: “It’s always tough to talk about a subject like that. I just … you know, the fans have have really had his back all season long, and I’d like to see them continue that. He needs that help right now.”
Beyond Conrad, there was the lineup issue. The Braves had generated five earned runs in the first 29 innings of the Division Series, only one of them off a Giants’ starting pitcher. For Game 4, Matt Diaz moved to second in the order and Jason Heyward, 0-for-12 in the NLDS, was dropped to sixth. And Troy Glaus, about to make his first start as an Atlanta Braves’ third baseman, would hit seventh.
“Just trying to switch the lineup,” Cox said. “We got shut out in Game 1, and yesterday we were shut out until the eighth inning. Try to get Matty up front and maybe he can get on base three or four times, see what happens. Maybe Jason can drive somebody in from down there as well.”
With so much in flux, Cox managed to overlook the figurative elephant in the room: That Game 4 might be his final game as manager. Had the possibility of a shining career ending on this Monday in October crossed his mind? “It hasn’t,” Cox said, and he laughed. “That’s the first time it’s been brought up.”
Such is the cruelty of postseason play. Eight days before, his Braves had borne Cox aloft after clinching the wild card after they won the regular season’s final game and the San Diego Padres lost theirs. Twenty hours before, Cox’s team had come within one strike of taking a 2-1 series lead on San Francisco. But here it was, big and bold as life: An elimination game for the team managed by the man who has known 16 October runs.
He had made a deft move to help give his team the Game 3 lead: Announcing Glaus as a pinch-hitter for Rick Ankiel and then switching to Eric Hinske when Giants manager Bruce Bochy removed starter Jonathan Sanchez for reliever Sergio Romo. Hinske promptly delivered only the third pinch-hit postseason home run to lift a trailing team into the lead. (The first two: Kirk Gibson off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and — whoops — Ed Sprague’s blast off Jeff Reardon in Game 2 of the 1992 World Series against Cox’s Braves.)
But Game 3 of this Division Series won’t be remembered for the great move Cox made. (Did we mention that postseason baseball can be cruel?) It will be remembered for his decision to use Mike Dunn, as opposed to Craig Kimbrel, against Aubrey Huff with two outs in the ninth, and for his refusal to pull Conrad for a late-inning defensive replacement.
As jarring as the loss was, Cox wasn’t thinking negative thoughts. “Trying to plan a trip for tomorrow,” he said, looking forward to a Game 5 in San Francisco. Even on short rest, the world’s most optimistic man was primed to keep going.
And with that, the floor is open for questions, comments and rosy forecasts of Braves domination. I’ll be here all game, and I’d appreciate it very much if you’d join me. (Results not guaranteed.)