About here, you’re doubtless thinking that nothing good could have come from a game in which the Braves worked four hours and 18 minutes to go 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position and lose to a last-place team at a time when it would have behooved them to win. And here’s where I say, “Wrong again, O Skeptical Ones.”
Good things that came from Monday’s twisty tilt: The Braves lost no ground, nobody else got hurt and the excruciating game finally ended.
Said Brandon Beachy, the first of eight pitchers deployed in this 12-inning extravaganza: “When we tied the game, I thought for sure we’d win.”
They could’ve and should’ve. But they didn’t. The Braves’ best player twice failed with the winning run in scoring position. (”I’ve got to do something there,” Brian McCann said. “I put together two horrible at-bats. That was the outcome of the game.”) Carrying the winning run, the Braves’ fastest runner didn’t try to score from third on a pitch that hit the backstop. (”I thought [McCann] foul-tipped it and I leaned backward,” Michael Bourn said. “If I had gone, I think I’d have been out.”)
Alex Gonzalez drove in two runs but took the Great Circle Route under a pop fly that led to the Marlins’ third and fourth runs. Arodys Vizcaino let in that fourth on a wild pitch. Three Braves — Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Eric O’Flaherty — watched benignly as a sacrifice bunt became a base hit.
Were these signs of a team that’s trying its hardest to choke away a bountiful season? Let’s give the Braves the benefit of the doubt and say it was simply one of those strange games that baseball spawns on occasion and nothing more dire than that. “You keep telling guys, ‘It’s not the end of the world,’ ” Fredi Gonzalez said, and as it happened this losing night wasn’t even the end of the Braves’ 4 1/2-game lead in the wild-card chase. The Cardinals wasted a late lead and lost in Pittsburgh. Whew.
It wasn’t as if the Braves lacked for chances. “We had 13 hits [actually 14],” Bourn said. “Eventually that’s going to break through.”
St. Louis has crept closer than it should have, but it isn’t as if the Braves could fall out of the wild-card lead tomorrow or the next day or even the next. They’re 4 1/2 up with 14 to play. Their next 11 games are against teams with losing records. They aren’t playing well, but they still should qualify for October, and once you’re in everybody, as the saying goes, starts 0-0.
It would have been nice if the Braves could have pushed their advantage back to 5 1/2 games, but time is on their side. If they go 7-7, the Cardinals would have to go 12-3 to shade them. (And the Cards play the Phillies, who’ll be looking to clinch the East, over the weekend.)
Monday night wasn’t the highlight of the 2011 Braves’ season, but let’s not make too much of it. Another day is gone and the Cardinals are no closer. That’s a victory of sorts. But it would, I’ll concede, help if the Braves manage a few real victories soon. Win the next four or five and that should be that.
By Mark Bradley