A year after an epic collapse, the Braves offer an epic clinch

Marlins Braves Baseball

A night of deliverance, as delivered by that man Freddie. (AP photo by David Goldman)

They were characterized as choking dogs a year ago and, truth being the ultimate defense, they had no cause to sue for libel. They’d gone 9-18 in September and wasted an 8 1/2-game lead, finally losing the wild card in the 13th inning of the 162nd game. In the bitter days that followed, some among us wondered if this team could ever recover from a collapse so egregious.

Three hundred sixty-three days later, we got our answer. Yes, it could. Yes, it has.

The man who made the final out — the final two outs, having hit into a 3-6-3 double play — of  September 2011 hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to put the 2012 Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. “Probably the coolest thing ever,” Freddie Freeman said of his climactic blast to dead center field, and nobody felt moved to dispute the point.

Champagne flew afterward in the Braves’ clubhouse, and if you’re saying, “Champagne for a wild card?” … well, you’re a raging killjoy and you’re hereby dismissed from class. Because we just saw, in this redemptive season and on this clinching night, a team that refused to yield to the doubts and fears spawned by September 2011.

“Last year we were a great team that had a bad month,” said Brian McCann, a beer in his hand and a Postseason 2012 cap on his noggin. “But we kept the core together and we kept believing.”

Said the great Chipper Jones, rarely greater (one huge hit, two runs scored, one driven in) than on the first night of his final homestand: “This is huge. There’s a lot of vindication, a lot of relief.”

Well, yes. As Tom Verducci of SI.com has noted, teams that fall apart so completely at the end of one season tend not to fare well the next year. Of the nine previous authors of collapses Verducci defined as epic , not one made the next year’s playoffs. (And the 2011 Red Sox, the Braves’ partner in fizzle, won’t do it, either.) This one just did, and it did it in grand style.

The setting seemed ripe for clinching. Kris Medlen was starting, and the Braves hadn’t lost a Medlen start since May 23, 2010. The opponent was Miami, which gave up on the season a while back and is now sitting around deciding whom to fire. Give the Marlins credit, though. On this night they looked like a real team.

Nathan Eovaldi, who entered with a 4-12 record and a 4.36 ERA, essentially matched the lately untouchable Medlen, and the rookie second baseman Donovan Solano hit his first career home run to hand the Fish an early lead. Then he hit his second career home run to give them a late lead. And then it was the bottom of the ninth and the Braves entered having had one hit since the third, and then …well, let’s let Frank Wren tell it:

“Chipper came up and got the double, and then Freddie was trying to do his job and get him in [from third, where Jones had advanced on a Mike Dunn wild pitch], and he hit it out.”

On this night of celebration, let’s spare a thought for Wren, the general manager who refused to destroy what he regarded as a good team after its epic collapse. (Contrast this with the Red Sox’s kneejerk behavior, which has resulted in a full season of wretchedness.) As the champagne splashed around him, Wren was asked if he felt vindicated.

“This team is very resilient, very driven,” Wren said. “We saw the culmination of that tonight … This speaks to the quality and character of the guys on this team.”

Translated, that was a proud GM’s way of saying yes. And Wren also said something else: “They’re not done.”

We know these Braves will play beyond the 162nd game. Perhaps it will be for only a day — that infernal play-in looms — but even if it is, just getting beyond the regular season is a major accomplishment for a team that failed in such a major way the last time around.

“These guys have played their hearts out all year long,” Wren said, and in their clinching moment there was on display all the heart and skill anyone could want. After losses, manager Fredi Gonzalez is fond of saying you have to tip your hat to the winning side. Here’s where we, meaning all of us, should tip our hats to Gonzalez and Wren and the team they held together. Here’s we give three cheers for these rather remarkable Braves.

By Mark Bradley

133 comments Add your comment

GT Trumpet

September 25th, 2012
10:26 pm

Go Bravos!!! (First!)

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
10:28 pm

GT Trumpet

September 25th, 2012
10:32 pm

Have I really been around long enough for a nickname?

Jon

September 25th, 2012
10:33 pm

I’m celebrating in Orlando. Get it, Braves!!!

ACE

September 25th, 2012
10:33 pm

Kudos to you Mark for a great gamer on this winning night.

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
10:36 pm

Probably not. But I’m pressed for time. Hope you understand.

JWOOD

September 25th, 2012
10:36 pm

Gotta win the play-in game. Gotta win it.

ATL Jacket

September 25th, 2012
10:36 pm

Still plenty to play for in the regular season.

1. Ensure home field for the wild-card playoff game. We’re 6 games ahead of the Cards with 8 to go.
2. Try to catch the Nats. It might just be me, but I sense the Nats imploding, and have been imploding for sometime now.

Go Bravos!

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
10:37 pm

Thanks, ACE.

JWOOD

September 25th, 2012
10:37 pm

Also, didn’t we hurt Dunn last time he was put in late against us? Why did Guillen go that route again?

Bob Didier

September 25th, 2012
10:39 pm

Curtis Compton, great photo of Chipper. That’s a classic……………

T-Town Dawg

September 25th, 2012
10:41 pm

Great game. Congrats Bravo’s! I don’t think Cishek was the pitcher though.

phil

September 25th, 2012
10:41 pm

ACE lives!

Good piece, Bradley! A great night.

AppKerri

September 25th, 2012
10:42 pm

Three cheers & three more beers!! Go Braves!!

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
10:42 pm

No. It was Dunn. In my haste I typed the wrong name. Stupid of me.

phil

September 25th, 2012
10:43 pm

ACE lives…..

ACE

September 25th, 2012
10:45 pm

Hello Phil, Yea been here all night.

GT Trumpet

September 25th, 2012
10:45 pm

I understand. Glad you were on hand for the clinch! I hope you didn’t get too covered in champagne!

ACE

September 25th, 2012
10:47 pm

enjoyed a good night of blogging

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
10:47 pm

Got a few drops on me. Nothing serious. Thanks for the concern.

September Baseball

September 25th, 2012
10:48 pm

“but I sense the Nats imploding, and have been imploding for sometime now”

for the Braves to catch/pass the Nationals the Nats would probably have to lose these last 3 series and for a team that hasn’t even lost back to back series on the year, it seems improbable (won’t say impossible but does seem improbable). They can lose this series with the Phillies but if they’re planning on doing something they haven’t done all year, it would start in the weekend series against the Cardinals

ACE

September 25th, 2012
10:49 pm

Soak it up, soak it up. A lot of other clubs wish they could be doing the same thing. Think the pirates for one. I guess you could call the Pirates season a moral victory.

Hank

September 25th, 2012
10:50 pm

Was at the game. Stadium may have been half full, but it was a good vibe. On the way out I bought my wild card game tix (just in case we don’t catch the Nats). We better fill up Turner Field October 5!!!!

Hank

September 25th, 2012
10:51 pm

Very proud of the Braves this year though. They’ve been battling all year and deserve the playoffs!!

ACE

September 25th, 2012
10:53 pm

enjoyed the live blogging with Bradley.

MontyP

September 25th, 2012
10:53 pm

Game for the ages! Thank God last nights NFL referees weren’t the umpires tonight. They would have called Freddie’s homerun an out.

sg10

September 25th, 2012
10:53 pm

If Phillies sweep the Nats – and they will want nothing less to redeem themselves – and the Bravos sweep the Fish, we could be only 2 games back with 6 to play! Could that happen, will that happen? Let’s hope.. Phillies did that on the Mets in 2007 and 2008 so, it could happen..Let’s hope for some excitement down the stretch..being on the other side of collapse could be sweet redemption…

BaseballTopFan

September 25th, 2012
10:55 pm

Great job Mark !!!

What a difference a year makes.

We believe that last year’s collapse made the Braves a stronger team.

Looking forward to the AJC post season baseball coverage.

BaseballTopFan@Yahoo.com

ATL Jacket

September 25th, 2012
10:56 pm

Also remember that the Nats close with a home series against the Phillies. And they play 3 games in St. Louis between the two Phillies’ series. So, it could happen.

Chris

September 25th, 2012
10:57 pm

How do you play a season of 162 games…beat the team behind you in the wild card race by several games….then play ONE game to decide if you’re allowed to move on. Ridiculous.

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
10:57 pm

It could happen. Probably won’t. But could.

puff

September 25th, 2012
10:59 pm

Good vibe. Great momentum win. Plus Nats lose, gap down to 4, they’re in a bit of a skid. Long shot but not impossible. May Bourn soon return healed and ready to go on a month-long tear.

ATL Jacket

September 25th, 2012
11:04 pm

Chris,

According to the first point in this section of the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Card_Showdown#Purpose

“The addition of a single-game elimination creates a 50% chance that each team will be eliminated, adding incentive to win the division instead of settling for the wild card berth.”

gy6

September 25th, 2012
11:07 pm

Congratulations on a 163 game season.

Mark Bradley

September 25th, 2012
11:07 pm

Headed home. Been a long but memorable day. Thanks for hanging with me.

Growler

September 25th, 2012
11:14 pm

Well remember: this is stil a team with a very inconsistent offense. Medlen may have to pitch better than tonight to carry them into the Divsion Series. Too bad they couldn’t have pulled out a few more games down the stretch. (Still wincing at Fredi’s decision to leave in Gearrin in the game they lost in Miami last Tuesday [something never mentioned outside of blog comments]). But we’ll hope for the best October 5. The Cardinals had THEIR storybook ending LAST year.

Wrecker

September 25th, 2012
11:16 pm

gy6: You seem pretty confident that it will end at 163. Me, not so much. 5-1 against St. Louis this year.

Growler

September 25th, 2012
11:16 pm

Better to shoot for Nats and maybe face an ADDITIONAL one-game playoff for the division, or rest starters and get Medlen ready??

Buzz2011

September 25th, 2012
11:17 pm

The Braves ride the bats of McCane and ( 225) and Uggs ( 215) to playoffs.
Uggs is worth every bit of that $60 million contract. I mean $6 million, I mean $600,000,
I mean $60,000 ….Galling as Bradley would say… Galling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BravesfaninAugusta

September 25th, 2012
11:26 pm

This team is a lot of fun to watch and it is obvious they are having fun too.,,, we are lucky to have them as our team.

Dum-Bass

September 25th, 2012
11:36 pm

We are “lucky” to have the Braves, but unlucky to have FG as the manager. With another MGR this team could easily be tied right now for the division lead. He is himself totally responsible for a minimum of 5-6 losses this year. AND some are talking about him as manager of the year? Makes me almost throw up. How can some people be so naive?

Chop Chop

September 25th, 2012
11:37 pm

Every season is different, Mark. I expected the Braves to make the postseason this year. I expected them to make it last year. Why? The team has been pretty good when compared to the rest of the NL. The team has plenty of talent. Whether it wins anything big or not is something else entirely, but a man would have to be blind to doubt the Braves’ ability to win most of their games and contend for playoff spots.

Greg

September 25th, 2012
11:37 pm

The Braves are resilient this year. The loss of Beachy was a major blow. Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Hudson and Maholm(or Delgado) looks like a great rotation going forward.

Big Crimson 75

September 25th, 2012
11:40 pm

I like this Squad!!
Go Braves

Csonka

September 25th, 2012
11:41 pm

I haven’t seen a hit that dramatic in these parts since Sonny Clusters went yard back in the day.

Andrew

September 25th, 2012
11:44 pm

Wow, I’m so excited about getting into a 1-game “playoff.” This two-team wild card needs to go the way of the do-do.

Keith

September 25th, 2012
11:46 pm

Mark,

Despite your articulate ability to write about how remarkable this September CLINCH has been, there will be some that focus on the negative. How miserable their lives must be.

GO BRAVES! :)

Keith

September 25th, 2012
11:48 pm

And Fredi has done a pretty decent job as a follow-up to the collapse last year. He has managed egos and not “stood pat” with things as they were. He’s improved in his managing this year!

Keith

September 25th, 2012
11:51 pm

Re: Csonka

You must have missed Chipper’s 3-run shot in the 9th vs the PHillies in a 5-run 9th just a few weeks ago! :)

GO BRAVES!

Spud

September 25th, 2012
11:56 pm

The East ain’t over yet! The Expos have never won a division crown. This could be one of those snake bit things, where fate kicks in and history repeats itself.
Looking at the remaining games, the Expos play Phil’s, Card’s, and Phil’s. Braves have Mutts and Pirates after the Fish leave. Fate is the 800 pound gorilla in the Expos’ dugout.