The Baseball G-ds giveth and they taketh away. Friday night, the Braves rally from 4-1 down in the eighth, survive what looked like mortal doom in the top of the tenth, and then win in the eleventh. Last night, the Braves get a dramatic home run from Eric Hinske (a carbon copy of his game-winning blast in the final week of the season against the Marlins) in the eighth, only to watch the lead get frittered away in the ninth. The lead was lost because Billy Wagner wasn’t around to close the game, Martin Prado wasn’t around to field what would have been an inning-ending grounder, and Bobby Cox came to get Craig Kimbrel too soon. (Would you rather rise or fall on the guy who allowed 3.9 hits per nine innings or the guy who allowed 7.1? And keep in mind that Aubrey Huff hits as well against lefties as he does righties. Maybe Bobby, always thinking of the long-term picture, wanted to make sure that Kimbrel didn’t have a Mark Wohlers moment.)
Brooks Conrad is going to end up as the goat. He made a pair of errors and also made the Braves’ lives more difficult by popping up a bunt in the eighth. He has been dreadful in the playoffs, but I can’t get mad at him. For one thing, he’s a utility guy who has been forced into the lineup because two Braves infielders are out for the year, which has meant that the existing utility guy (Omar Infante) has become an everyday player and then Conrad has had to follow him into the lineup. Getting mad at Conrad would be like getting mad at the Falcons’ third-string quarterback for losing a game. For another, the Braves wouldn’t be where they are without Conrad. The team made the playoffs by one game. Take away any two of Conrad’s late-inning hits over the course of the season (and there is a panoply from which to choose) and the Padres are in the playoffs instead of the Braves.
Also taking the heat off of Conrad: the Braves are clearly inferior in this series. I was annoyed on Thursday night that the Braves lost 1-0 on a run that: (1) was out at second earlier in the inning; and (2) scored on a play that Infante should have made at third. Then I reminded myself that the Braves got three runners on all night and it’s hard to win when you don’t come close to scoring. The Giants, in contrast, had nine runners in the game, so not only did they get the run, but they also had the majority of the scoring threats. Yesterday was no different. We can beat ourselves up over the top of the ninth or we can note that by the end of the game, the Giants had put 15 runners on to the Braves five. The big issue in this series is that the Braves can’t touch the Giants’ starters because our hitters are swinging at everything.
One final thought: I was happy when I saw Paul Emmel behind the plate, thinking that he would feel guilty about butchering the play at second in Game One that led to the Giants’ only run. Sadly, this didn’t play out, as Emmel hosed the Braves’ hitters repeatedly. It’s like Emmel is seeking vengeance on behalf of all umps for years of earfuls from Bobby. The hell with him.