Update: The Braves lose another game but hold their ground

Chipper Jones got the Braves started with a homer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Chipper Jones got the Braves started with a homer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A lead once bulbous had been reduced to a pimple in the time it takes to say the words, “A lead once bulbous.” But, being a professional athlete, Chipper Jones broke out the usual brave bromide Monday afternoon. “We still control our own destiny,” he said, blithely ignoring the cold truth that these Braves have controlled nothing this past month.

They’d led the wild-card chase by 8 1/2 games on Sept. 1, the day they posted their 81st victory. It’s nearly October, and there’s no guarantee these Braves will ever win a 90th game. They’ve lost six of the past eight series, and one of the two exceptions wasn’t really a series but a rescheduled doubleheader in New York.

They’ve watched the Cardinals draw ever closer, and now the regular season had been reduced to three games. Win two and the Braves would assure themselves of no worse than a tie for the wild card and a Thursday play-in game; win three and the Braves would qualify for the playoffs, no strings attached. But their collapse has forced us to reassess possibilities, and a more realistic question seemed: Can they even win one?

Monday’s game offered hope — for three innings. Jones hoisted a first-inning homer that took us back to 1999, to a time when this player was capable of turning a playoff race by himself. But then, as happens in life as well as baseball,  reality descended. The Phillies scored four runs and washed away a 2-0 deficit, and by game’s end Chipper was limping after appearing to hurt himself legging out a double, and in his final at-bat he hit into a double play.

On paper, this seemed the biggest mismatch of the series: Cliff Lee, who’ll probably finish second in the Cy Young voting, against Randall Delgado, who had started six big-league games. Which only goes to show that, in baseball as in Hollywood, nobody knows anything. Four of the first eight Braves to face Lee managed extra-base hits, and Delgado made it through three innings having yielded only an against-the-shift single to Ryan Howard, who surely didn’t intend to put the ball where he did.

Then the Braves stopped hitting, which they can do against pretty much any pitcher any time, and the Phillies started. Placido Polanco’s two-out single off Delgado — are two-out RBI’s even allowed? — and halved the Braves’ lead in the fourth, and Jimmy Rollins’ homer tied it in the fifth. Delgado was gone after that inning, replaced by Cristhian Martinez, who lasted two batters.

Shane Victorino’s triple into the corner forced Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to summon Eric O’Flaherty for a lefty-against-lefty parlay at a moment when a strikeout was warranted. But Raul Ibanez, who’d failed with the bases loaded and one out two innings earlier, drove O’Flaherty’s first pitch, a slider, through the infield.

About here, the only consolation came via the scoreboard above left field. The Cardinals, who’d led 1-0, had fallen behind the Astros. The only comic amusement stemmed from the Braves’ announcement of the game’s attendance. (Autumn attendance is a sore subject with this franchise, as you know.) Monday’s gathering was assessed as 42,597, which seemed the biggest baseball inflation since Mark McGwire’s biceps.

There were moments when this crowd of uncertain number sounded loud and proud, but as the night unfolded the pride gave way to resignation. These Braves are perilously close to a failure of epic dimensions. At least some infamous September flops — the ‘69 Cubs, the ‘78 Red Sox, the ‘64 Phillies — had to win either their division or league; these Braves have only to finish first among runners-up. And with two games left, nothing is assured.

“We’ve had more than enough opportunities,” Jones had said, “to walk off the field with wins that would have put this away long ago.” But instead the Braves have been forced to race against time, and time keeps running both ways. The regular season’s end hasn’t arrived soon enough, and this time can’t retrace its steps to June or August and remember how easy winning seemed then.

And at the end Monday, the proud man who’d opened the scoring with a massive drive off the estimable Lee was reduced to looking every bit of his 39 years. The Braves are dancing on the lip of the volcano, and Chipper no longer seems capable of riding to the rescue.

Then again, the Braves mightn’t need rescuing. The Cardinals rallied to tie the Astros but flubbed a go-ahead chance in the 10th and lost in the bottom of the inning on a bloop double and two bunts. As catchable as these Braves appear, the chasing Cards still haven’t caught them. After another long day at the races, the shaky lead held. Still one game up, and now only two to play.

By Mark Bradley

351 comments Add your comment

Choker Jones

September 26th, 2011
10:34 pm

Homer

September 26th, 2011
10:36 pm

McCann is supposed to be the best player on the team now. He doesn’t even show up.

Derrick

September 26th, 2011
10:36 pm

Cardinals just tied the Astros; 4-4 in the 8th.

Uh-oh!

dawg gone

September 26th, 2011
10:37 pm

Braves Lose, Braves Lose, Braves Lose……………………………….CHOKERS

Choker Jones

September 26th, 2011
10:38 pm

Georgia sports teams are pathetic. They really make it hard to remain a fan.

Homer

September 26th, 2011
10:38 pm

How do you feel with your hopes riding on Derek Lowe ? Its not looking promising…

Big Wally

September 26th, 2011
10:38 pm

Gotta take out Freeman and McFann, they are killing us offensively now.

GT311

September 26th, 2011
10:39 pm

Really the most sad looking bunch of losers I have ever seen. Freddi the Marlins job is open…please take it and leave!

dawg gone

September 26th, 2011
10:39 pm

EVEN IF THE BRAVES PITCHERS THROW A SHUT OUT THE REST OF THE BRAVES WILL TRY T0 DO EVERYTHING THEY CAN TO NOT SCORE

TomB

September 26th, 2011
10:40 pm

This is where the Braves miss Bobby Cox in my estimation. He just found a way whether changing the lineups or keeping the pressure off they players. We are missing the big guy.

GT311

September 26th, 2011
10:40 pm

I would just go up and bunt everything!! Its a fricking joke watching these million dollar losers!

stingembuzz

September 26th, 2011
10:40 pm

This team is beyond heartless.

GT311

September 26th, 2011
10:41 pm

Take 2 strikes down the middle and swing at an off speed pitch out of the zone…that’s the Braves hitting philosophy!

Biff Pocoroba

September 26th, 2011
10:41 pm

Fire Fredi. Someone give him a Harley as a going away gift and let him ride off to north Georgia and try and figure out how to use a bullpen. This team is hearltess and Fredi has no personality to shake them up.

Baby Ruth

September 26th, 2011
10:42 pm

Braves fan please don’t buy tickets next year. Make a statement to Frank Wren!

Runnin With The Dawgs

September 26th, 2011
10:42 pm

St Louis has come back, tied the game have two men on and nobody out —- all in the top of the eighth. Whatever happened to the Braves having innings like that?

GT311

September 26th, 2011
10:42 pm

That’s what they get for all the kissing crap during the season! Now they can go home and wear their dresses!

IliiniBrave

September 26th, 2011
10:42 pm

The Cards had Holliday and Pujols – two of their most veteran players – run a double steal. Can you see us trying that with McCann and Chipper? Or Prado and Gonzalez? That is the kind of moxie the Cards are showing this time of year. The Braves? 12 Ks – half of those with RISP!

Not too painful

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

Surprisingly this doesn’t hurt as much as it did in the past. I say pull Bmac and let Ross have a shot. But hey Braves fans, we DESERVE to lose.

j.j.m.

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

Like I said before braves are not the best sports team in atlanta

Don Cleveland

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

First? Better than the Braves in my first try.

joe jones

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

The Braves aren’t going to win another game. They are wetting themselves, you can see it in their faces.

tousheezy

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

GT311 that’s funny, yet true!!

Gladys

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

Same old stuff night in and night out. They’ll feel the pain in ticket sales next year. This team’s a nightmare!

aaa

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

This sounds a bit crazy but I would like to see Chipper as the manager next year, or at least the hitting coach.

Doom and Gloom

September 26th, 2011
10:44 pm

Looks like the fishing boats have come a callin’ for the braves… they are ready to go fishing…. hopefully Wren will sink this sunken ship next year (Lord Willing)

GT311

September 26th, 2011
10:44 pm

The Braves never have done anyting anyway…1 world series…they always choke! It shouldn’t be chop house….it should be choke house!

rogerash

September 26th, 2011
10:44 pm

awful im a braves fan but they are not a team that belongs in the playoffs!!! the cardinals belong in and the braves need to find a good manager and hitting coach and a lot of off saeson moves starting with lowe

mark

September 26th, 2011
10:44 pm

Let’s do the TOMAHAWK CHOKE! They need to mail it in and quit trying! OOPS too late! I am a braves fan, but they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Go Cards!

steve brown

September 26th, 2011
10:45 pm

Our 6 year part-time superstar limps into a double play killing our final rally. Not a .300 hitter on the team. Our left fielder is a 3rd baseman. We don’t have a starting right fielder. Our catcher’s eyes and mind seem to be out of focus.The old shortstop pulls a calf muscle and misses 3 games.The young relievers finally spring leaks. Two of our stud starters are damaged goods and a third one is plain ordinary. The #1 starter in all of the minors is apparently gone AWOL. All our hopes rest with Hudson on Wednesday and he spent the night in the hospital a few days ago. Perhaps we are getting exactly what we deserve.

Kane337

September 26th, 2011
10:45 pm

The Braves are 9-16 in the month of September. SMH

Weaseal

September 26th, 2011
10:45 pm

Heck even the marlines want take him back they just traded for a manager Ozzy ……

Big Wally

September 26th, 2011
10:45 pm

Gutless losers.

canyoubelievethis

September 26th, 2011
10:45 pm

The epic choke is almost complete, and no reason to expect this bunch of wannabes to even sniff the playoffs again……………SAD!

Kane337

September 26th, 2011
10:46 pm

Kimbrel’s blown save vs the Cardinals looms VERY LARGE

Big Wally

September 26th, 2011
10:46 pm

Seen better swings from blindfolded kids trying to hit a pinata at a birthday party.

OhioBrave

September 26th, 2011
10:46 pm

Oh what I wouldn’t give to see old #6 sitting in the dugout about right now.

Atlanta Sports Media

September 26th, 2011
10:46 pm

That’s OK, Braves! We still believe in you! And aw shucks, if you complete the worst September choke in the history of the MLB, well there’s always next year. No pressure from us!

Really?

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

I didn’t even watch… really, I forgot about it and I have seen all but the last week of games on TV or at the ballpark. I hate to say that I hope we lose the wildcard but if we do, maybe that will be a MAJOR statement that will cause Wren and others to shake things up because they need to be. It’s so disappointing. Really!

Biff Pocoroba

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

Time to jump on the Dream band wagon. They are the only Atlanta team to win a post season game this year.

GT311

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

What does it say that your best hitter is batting .228 (Uggla). Chipper is a good player, but he is old. The game is gone for him. He’s seen the Braves lose is the WS and playoffs a bunch anyway.

Phillies fan just laughing

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

The hard truth is, your team sucks. Your pitching is racked with injuries, you can’t get a timely hit to save your lives, and most of your fans are stuck in the 90’s. Your big four aren’t walking through that door, but our aces are. Chippers comments about beating us in the playoffs were laughable when they came out, now they are just a sad set of ramblings by a delusional man.

Missy LaDue, UGA Scholar

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

Does this mean my boyfriend lied to me again when he promised to take me to see the Braves in the playoffs and the World Series?

It is what it is

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

Hurry up and lose it already. Chipper let’s go hunting.

What Else Is New?

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

The Braves just don’t have it. They’ve been running on fumes for a while and now there’s nothing in the tank. They tend to get hot around the allstar break and then die a slow death. Well, at least people can’t blame Bobby for this one.

GT71

September 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

Cards tied. So lead will probably be down to 0.
Love baseball, the way the Cards play it.
NO freakin’ cap tipping for Braves, just golf and the beach it seems.
Can stomach muscles straining help?

Sammy

September 26th, 2011
10:48 pm

Someone cut our heads off and put us out of our misery.

dkmo10

September 26th, 2011
10:48 pm

CAN WE PLEASE BLEEPIN WALK RAUL IBANEZ FOR CRYIN OUT LOUD!!!!!!!! HE HAS KILLED US AND YET WE KEEP PITCHING TO HIM GOOD GRIEF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tomahawk Broke

September 26th, 2011
10:48 pm

“Tip” your hat to Charlie Manuel. He didn’t roll over like Freddie has done several times this season. Maybe be should get our old friend, Ozzie Guillen to come coach. At least he has some freakin’ passion and fire.

peachie

September 26th, 2011
10:49 pm

Hire Larry Wayne Jones SR ( Chipper’s dad) as the new hitting coach. He taught his son, maybe he can teach the rest of the team