What is there to say that hasn’t been said repeatedly over the past two weeks as the prospect of a historic collapse became a reality? Fredi Gonzalez proved to have Bobby Cox’s bad tactical decisions* without his grand strategic sense of how to handle a team over a long season without letting small bumps in the road turn into major detours. The Braves’ offense completely collapsed, especially after the first few innings on Monday and Thursday night. O’Ventbrel, the strength of the team for five months, simply ran out of gas in September.** The team seemed to be in a psychological fog, like a condemned man waiting for the end. Freddie Freeman’s double-play grounder to first was the end that we all saw coming for weeks.
* – What was your favorite last night? I’m stuck between Scott Linebrink pitching to Hunter Pence and Scott Linebrink being in the game at all. Michael Bourn not moving an inch after getting a one-out single in the tenth was also a nice touch.
** – Venters and Kimbrel combined for five walks in one and two-thirds innings last night. If that game was played in July, they mow through the eighth and ninth and the Braves win. If Kimbrel doesn’t blow three ninth inning leads in September – one on a Friday against the Cardinals, one on a Monday against the Marlins, and then one last night against the Phillies – then the Braves’ season would not be over. Gonzalez over-pitched O’Ventbrel over the course of the season, but I don’t blame him. What choice did he have with an underperforming offense that led to a bevy of close games? No, this one falls on Frank Wren for his decisions in filling out the back of the bullpen. Oh, and Peter Moylan’s treacherous back also deserves a mention.
At the end of the game, I had two lines in my head. The first was “this is what you get from Radiohead’s "Karma Police." We had the joy of the Braves being money in the regular season for a decade and a half. We never experienced what it’s like to collapse in September and now we know. Let’s not go through this again.* The second was Edward R. Rooney’s line to Sloan in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “between grief and nothing, I’ll take grief.” The line is meant to show Rooney being an emotionally closed-off clown, but it actually made sense to me last night. The events that bind a fan base together are both great victories and horrendous defeats. This is the latter and it will become a topic that random Braves fans will discuss when they are pumping gas at adjoining pumps at a Marathon.**
* – Thankfully, because baseball does not exist outside of the Acela corridor, this debacle will be a footnote, nationally speaking, because the Red Sox had an even more stunning collapse on the same night.
** - Fueling the American Spirit! What I will miss most about this season is listening to games. I really grew to enjoy Jim Powell. And yes, Richard Petty’s spots for Marathon.