Game three of the NLDS between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves was one heck of a roller coaster of emotions. The script was written almost perfectly for Atlanta as a two-run pinch-hit home run by Eric HInske gave the Braves the lead in the bottom of the eighth, but the absence of Billy Wagner to close out the game and the third error of the day by Brooks Conrad cost Atlanta a victory.
The Braves were no-hit through the first five innings by Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez, and only had one hit until an eighth inning single by Alex Gonzalez. The Braves first hit of the day was off the bat of Tim Hudson, who also pitched a terrific game allowing only one unearned run (on an error by Brooks Conrad).
The home run by Hinske in the eighth was a huge momentum swing, but the Braves bullpen, missing closer Billy Wagner, could not hold the lead. Craig Kimbrel came on to start the inning and attempt to save the game, but allowed two baserunners while also getting two outs. Bobby Cox decided to go to his bullpen and bring on Michael Dunn for the lefty-lefty match-up -- a mistake as Aubrey Huff has hit left-handers well this season. He continued that trend with a single that scored the tying run. A strong and accurate throw from Jason Heyward may have nailed the runner at home, but his throw was up the line.
Peter Moylan then came on to try and get the right-handed hitter Buster Posey, but Brooks Conrad let the ball go through his legs for his third error of the day, allowing the Giants to score the go-ahead run. Brian Wilson was able to close the game out for the Giants in the bottom of the ninth.
The range of emotions from Hinske's homer to Huff's single to Conrad's error was almost overwhelming. Cox may have over-managed that ninth inning, instead of just letting Kimbrel get one more out. But the difference in the game was two unearned runs for the Giants, off two separate errors by Conrad. I just don't see how Bobby Cox can play Conrad in game four. It's going to have to be either Troy Glaus or Diory Hernandez in the field. Both are also suspect defenders but at this point the errors are in Conrad's head as much as they are in his glove.
Our umpiring nemisis, Paul Emmel -- who was responsible for the blown call at second base on the stolen base in game one, and some questionable calls at first base in game two which led to him tossing Bobby from the game -- was behind home plate for game three. As good and consistent as the strike zone has been for the first two games, Emmel's zone was anything but consistent and led to a lot of questionable strikes, most of which went against the Braves. I find it disgraceful that MLB can allow and even reward an umpire who has made this many questionable calls in this series to be behind the plate. Why can't they stick him down one of the outfield lines (or at home in front of the TV)? Why is he allowed to continue to inject his poor judgment into this series? It's not all the umpire's fault that the Braves are down two games to one, but just about all the critical calls have gone against the Braves.
The Braves offense needs to find some sort of catalyst. Jason Heyward is 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts in this series. Brooks Conrad is taking his poor fielding to the plate with him, and is just 1-for-10 with four K's. The only regular hitting over .250 is Brian McCann.
What a disappointing game. We had it. We had the momentum. The backups on both sides of the ball just aren't getting the job done.
For an inning by inning recap of the game, go here.