Update: After 13 innings, the Braves’ epic failure is complete

Brian McCann can't bear to watch. Can't blame him. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Brian McCann can't bear to watch. Can't blame him. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They’d been portrayed, not without cause, as choking dogs. They finished September having won two of nine series and having watched, numbly if not nimbly, an 8 1/2-game lead go poof. But even a choking dog can have his day, or night, and the 2011 Braves tried to give themselves one Wednesday.

They failed. They failed in the way this entire month had been a failure. They took an 8 1/2-game lead and threw it all away, and by the time they got done losing Game No. 162 they had made us suffer through all the failures that comprised this failed month.

They led 3-1 after three innings and 3-2 after eight, but Game No. 162, like the season itself, lapped into overtime. They hit early, then stopped hitting. They saw a key run thrown out at the plate. In sum, they suffered the kind of wobble that had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

Before Game No. 162, Chipper Jones had noted that the populace seemed ready to box these Braves’ ears. (Or words to that effect.) Attempting a tiny joke, someone suggested such civic outrage only went to show that Atlanta cares. Said Jones: “We care, too. We care more than anybody else.”

Fredi Gonzalez, lately portrayed as a do-nothing manager, cared enough to do something after Tuesday’s ugly loss. He sat his men down and told them he wouldn’t pick any other bunch over this to go out and win a game. Then, being practical, Gonzalez advised his charges to get some sleep and come back ready to play. “It wasn’t Knute Rockne,” he said Wednesday. But then, brightly: “Maybe 50 years from now it will be in a book of great speeches.”

It might not have been Henry V at Agincourt, but it — or something — did the trick. The Braves were loose and supple from the start of Game No. 162, which isn’t easy to do when your constituency stands ready to break out the rotten tomatoes. They had leadoff hits in each of the first five innings. They fell behind in the top of the first but answered in the bottom, and Dan Uggla’s crushed homer off Cole Hamels’ 0-2 fastball untied matters in the third.

And not a moment too soon. Uggla’s ball landed in the bleachers about the time the Cardinals were about to begin their game against 105-loss Houston, and sure enough St. Louis put up a huge early number. (Five first-inning runs on seven first-inning hits against Brett Myers, who like Chipper is an alum of Jacksonville’s Bolles School. Chipper had been hoping for “Bolles mojo.” No go.)

This became the game these Braves had played from April through the August: Tim Hudson gave them 6 1/3 innings textbook innings, and then the once-bulletproof bullpen took the baton. Eric O’Flaherty needed two pitches to induce Shane Victorino to hit into a double play to end the seventh. Jonny Venters walked/plunked the bases loaded in the eighth but struck out Raul Ibanez on three pitches.

Then it was the ninth and the kid closer entered to do as he’d done all season. Instead Craig Kimbrel, who’d blown two saves this month, blew another by slinging the ball around like a bad point guard. He yielded a leadoff single to Placido Polanco, walked the bases loaded, saw Chase Utley drive home the tying run with a fly ball and walked Hunter Pence to boot. The bulletproof bullpen had been hit.

Kimbrel was pulled for Kris Medlen, who in his second appearance in 14 months held the tie and got the Braves through the 10th. The Braves had a chance to win in the bottom of the inning, but Michael Martinez hauled in Chipper’s drive with Michael Bourn aboard. And neither Brooks Conrad, who struck out, nor Martin Prado, who tapped out, could drive home Jason Heyward in the 12th.

To the 13th. Scott Linebrink entered. Ahead 0-2 on Brian Schneider, Linebrink walked him. Chase Utley moved Schneider to third with a two-out single, and Pence brought him home with a broken-bat grounder in the second-base hole.  (”Couldn’t have thrown it out there any better,” Gonzalez said.) Down a run, the Braves were three outs from elimination.

Jones led off against David Herndon and struck out. (The Braves’ at-bats from the ninth on had been little except hero swings, to unheroic avail.) Then Uggla induced a walk. But Freddie Freeman rapped into a 3-6-3 double play, and the season was done. There would be no trip to St. Louis, no 163rd game.

There will, alas, be only an aftertaste that will linger long. The 2011 Cardinals became the second team ever to trail by 8 1/2 games in September and reach the postseason. The 1964 Cardinals, beneficiaries of the infamous Philly Phold, were the first, and that’s the miserable company these Braves will keep.

Dan Uggla gives the Braves the lead in Inning No. 3. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Dan Uggla gives the Braves the lead. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

They won their 81st game on Sept. 1. They never got to 90. They led by three games with five to play and never won again. They lost their 162nd game to a team that had no real reason to care about winning. They had the lead and the best rookie closer ever on the mound, and they lost. If you want to say they choked, nobody will argue.

The kid closer all but volunteered the cursed C-word. “You have to bottle up emotions and harness them,” Kimbrel said. “I didn’t do that today. September’s the hardest month of the year, and I let my emotions get to me. Things just started to move too fast, and I couldn’t put it together.”

Kimbrel was overthrowing. The hitters were overswinging. “We’ve been swinging really hard for a while,” Jones said. “When a guy’s living two or three inches off the outside corner, that’s not a ball you’re going to hit out of the ballpark.”

To return to Chipper’s assertion of eight hours earlier, these Braves absolutely tried their hardest. They actually tried too hard. But part, maybe even most, of being a champion is the capacity to perform under pressure, and these Braves buckled. There was, contrary to popular belief, no great mismanagement in this game: Fredi G.’s team was in position to win the exact same way it had all summer, except that summer ended and September arrived and the winning ceased.

“It just got a little wild,” Chipper said, speaking of Game No. 162 but actually the whole lost month. When the Cardinals began to close, the Braves were never the same. Even without Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, this team should have had enough to play into October. It won’t. It won’t because it choked. End of story.

By Mark Bradley

874 comments Add your comment

Norm

September 28th, 2011
11:52 pm

The game that hurts most is the 1st game of the last series in St. Louis going into the 9th with a 3-1 lead. Nothing more to say until next year. That was a disgusting effort all the way around.

Gotoguy

September 28th, 2011
11:53 pm

Dose of Reality

September 28th, 2011
11:55 pm

This hurts deeply, the only thing that compares to this is that Falcons loss to Green bay during the playoffs… But fellow Bravo fans, even after this heartbreaking loss to the phillies and pulling one of the biggest chokers of all time,but life will go on…. Let the playoff teams have their high priced bottles… Take the Kids out to play, enjoy quality time with Friends and Family, indulge in some of your favorite hobbies… There is truly more to life than these pathetic teams in our State… Have a great night

NO MORE PARRISH

September 28th, 2011
11:55 pm

Hello ticketmaster…. I WANT MY MONEY BACK!!!!

BYE BYE PARRISH. Take that old man Harley riding beard with you.

The ATL = Loserville

September 28th, 2011
11:56 pm

it never ends for the losing city of atlanta. Good riddance to these losers.

Dose of Reality

September 28th, 2011
11:56 pm

This hurts very deeply, the only thing that compares to this is that Falcons loss to Green bay during the playoffs… But fellow Bravo fans, even after this heartbreaking loss to the phillies and pulling one of the biggest chokers of all time,but life will go on…. Let the playoff teams have their high priced bottles… Take the Kids out to play, enjoy quality time with Friends and Family, indulge in some of your favorite hobbies… There is truly more to life than these pathetic teams in our State… Have a great night

Ross

September 28th, 2011
11:56 pm

The season is now over and the braves do not have to worry about this painful season anymore.

T. Tinklenutz

September 28th, 2011
11:56 pm

SG10

September 28th, 2011
11:56 pm

Sorry to Say, Mark but the ending was apt.. in the past 6-7 weeks, Braves lost every series to sub-500 team and were swept by every playoff contender.. you don’t need bigger statistical evidence that they were awful.

ATLER (Ramblin Wreck)

September 28th, 2011
11:56 pm

Loser baseball team and loser sports writers. Braves, M.B. and J.S. = LOSERSVILLE!!!!!

MitchC

September 28th, 2011
11:57 pm

That was a very eloquently written article, Mark. One of your best.

I’m not even upset. I’m annoyed, disgusted, humilated,etc. I didnt even feel this bad to say I was a Braves fan, when they stunk in the 1980s.

I dont know where they go from here. They should have walked to the Wild Card. Simply, this “Major League Team”, should hang their heads in shame.

GeorgiaBorn

September 28th, 2011
11:58 pm

If Heyward is hustling on Utley’s hit, the confused Phillie base runner (Schneider) never makes it to 3B. Instead Heyward trots to the ball and Schneider trots into 3B. The next hit would have NEVER scored Schneider from 2B. That was the pinnacle of the Braves season.

RB

September 28th, 2011
11:58 pm

I’ve attended Braves games up to the last 2 years.I made a wise choice and stopped waisting my time. I’m not impressed with Freddi and I didn’t see a rookie-of-the-year canidate when it counted.

ATLER (Ramblin Wreck)

September 28th, 2011
11:58 pm

You people can’t blame Terry Pendleton for this one.

Parson Brownlow

September 28th, 2011
11:58 pm

On the bright side, our bullpen will be well-rested next game.

SG10

September 28th, 2011
11:59 pm

This is like watching hurricane path all week…you saw it was coming – still hoped it would go in different direction..but ultimately you find yourself in the eye of the monster with devastation around it..unless of course you wisely evacuated. The last part is hard to do with emotional attachment with the team.

richie

September 28th, 2011
11:59 pm

A fitting end to a disappointing season. A real “close, but no cigar” season for the braves. But now the balls in Frank Wrenns court. Do something to make the team better.

Doom and Gloom

September 28th, 2011
11:59 pm

This hurts very deeply, the only thing that compares to this is that Falcons loss to Green bay during the playoffs… But fellow Bravo fans, even after this heartbreaking loss to the phillies and pulling one of the biggest chokers of all time,but life will go on…. Let the playoff teams have their high priced bottles… Take the Kids out to play, enjoy quality time with Friends and Family, indulge in some of your favorite hobbies… There is truly more to life than these pathetic teams in our State… Have a great night everyone

Not a fool

September 28th, 2011
11:59 pm

I washed my hands of these chokers in ‘96. Nice to see that 15 seasons later nothing has changed.

Don Gurian

September 28th, 2011
11:59 pm

I guess I will never laugh at the Mets again!!! Theyonly blew a 7 game lead.

chris

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

good column mark..honestly couldnt say it any better..this is a epic failure and yes one of the biggest Braves chokes that even eclipses the 1996 World Series when we could have been up 3-1 and a hanging curve ball ended that fantasy and a series win. I have to believe this will carry over to next year and without some major adjustments to the roster in getting rid of some dead weight in veterans who were overpaid and didnt produce (LOWE being at top of list) in the clutch, don’t see us even being this close in 162 games this time next year. Sad night, sick feeling inside and disgust. Total failure, game over man, game over.

SG10

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

The way Cards fought back, they certainly wanted it more than the Braves. Actually, it is hard to imagine any professional team not wanting it. In way this result may be good, if you don’t want to Phillies to win it all. Cards match up very well against them and I predict they will go to the world series!

PrestonF

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

They always represent Atlanta well as the city with the biggest choke artists ever. There’s no doubt that Atlanta is the worst sports city in America. But hey….at the least the Dream is in the finals! I will be pulling for them. Its funny that the women go further than any other sports team we have.

Packer Ed

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

What I will ask Santa for Christmas

1. The Braves are sold to a new owner who wants to win and the Braves are not purchsed by the new owner for tax purposes.

2. The new owner will fire Frank Wren, wasted tons of money on 2nd tier free agents, Wren stinks!

3. Chipper Jones decides he does not want to steal from the Braves anymore and retire. If Jones does not retire then just pay him the money and release him.

4. Derek Lowe and Kawakami are given their outirght release tomorrow and pitch in Japan next year

5. Fredi gets an outstanding television offer from ESPN and quits (Only way he leaves because the Braves would never fire Fredi).

Chuck P

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

I think Fredi’s got to go. When they showed him sitting on his hands with Linebrink in trouble, I knew it was over. No way Linebrink was going to throw it by anybody. All you could do was pray he made it out of the inning. The manager has got to trot somebody else out there in that situation.

crackbaby

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

Tough tough season Bravos. It was not meant to be. Trouble scoring runs and losing your starting pitching made the slide inescapable.

It’s okay – we have football. Go get ‘em next year.

Techster

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

College ball is the way to go in this town. Better value, better talent.

chem

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

We’re from Atlanta. We’re used to it so it doesn’t hurt.

The Atl

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

At least the atl is still black mecca! the black chicks here are superfine quality!!!

Texas Deadbeat

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

Georgia Born-My thoughts exactly. Trivial…but still…a perfect representation of the overall attitude/culture of this team…something needs to change next year.

JSS

September 29th, 2011
12:01 am

Serves all of you women haters right, now you and Fearless Leader Jones can go and hide on the Deer harvesting farm and lick your wounded macho egos! Oh yeah, here’s a note to Chipper, next time to you tell your detractors to (and I quote): “Kiss you explicit” try to win something without David Justice carrying you! When do pitchers and catchers report?

Bradley Blows

September 29th, 2011
12:02 am

Yo called them to win all the way through, Bradley. You suck just lime these Braves.

kimmer

September 29th, 2011
12:02 am

Wow. Gonna be a looooonnnng off-season for these guys.

dawgonit

September 29th, 2011
12:02 am

Time to start blaming the fans. I expect an article about poor fan support within 24 hours.

Big Wally

September 29th, 2011
12:02 am

This proves that Fredi is no big time Mgr. There is no veteran leadership on this team whatsoever, and the young talent chokes.

Bradley Blows

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

Get out of Atlanta Bradley! Go subject some other town to your bile!

You are the worst sports reporter in the US.

Alex G

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

Yes. They waited until the 13th inning of the 162nd game to screw me, but theres a reason I have an atlanta A on my arm. That’s because I love my team. This isn’t the last we will hear of this bunch we are loaded for the future. It just really sucks now.

Fedup

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

45 years of this nonsense in Atlanta. No more. It’s Losersville all over again, with the whole world watching. Braves have pushed the ever-loyal fans over the edge, never to return to the fold. Good night for the last time. You pukes are on your own.

SG10

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

Oh.. we will be breaking new lowest attendance records in ATL next year..but can we really fault the fans after this season? See what happened to Mets? They have nobody showing up in their big new ballpark after their choke full seasons..

Don Gurian

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

And someone explain to me why you use OfFlaherty for 2 pitches when he has been the only solid one of the “Big Three” in the bullpen for the last month???????

Packer Ed

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

Cardinals could give the Phils a series, especially if they beat Doc in game one

chris

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

good article mark. sick night and sad ending. This one will sting a long time…memories of 2005 in Houston and 1996 here in Atlanta vs. the Yankees…..no “wait till next year” hurrah here….next year may be worse

johnr

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

The blame lies totally on Fredi. He decided to start his play off lineup at the beginning of September. He is the one to put in that no hustle Heyward in the line up and take out Constanza

G

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

Epic fail. Someone must take the fall for this.

Lee Jones

September 29th, 2011
12:03 am

The sad thing is that the Braves will not be any better next year. Both the Marlins and Nationals are on the rise, and they have clutch hitters. The Braves have enough pitching. They better gets some hitting or they will be hanging out with the Mets in the second division.

Tdavis

September 29th, 2011
12:04 am

What now Frank Wren???

dawgonit

September 29th, 2011
12:04 am

The most discouraging thing was the total disappearance of Brian McCann over the last month. Chipper didn’t hit anything down the stretch and is washed up as far as I’m concerned.

Spud

September 29th, 2011
12:04 am

The future should be good. There was very little chance this season would have lasted too much longer anyway. Pitchers and catchers will report to Florida before you know it, and all the hope and excitement of a new season will be in the air once again.

When oh Lord?

September 29th, 2011
12:04 am

When will this nightmare end?

Jim

September 29th, 2011
12:04 am

The Curse of Atlanta