Friday night was bad. So was 1948, 1958, 1969, 1982, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 through 2005, 2010 and 2012.
One thing I know as a sports fan is that no matter the team in which you choose to invest your rooting interest, you will come away disappointed more often than not at the end of the season. This is as true of fans of the New York Yankees as it is of fans of the Atlanta Braves. Still, the last three years have been kicks in the teeth, and I was there each time. The last game I attended in 2010 saw the Braves take the lead on an Eric Hinske home run in the bottom of the eighth to snatch a 2–1 lead against the Giants, only to cough it up in the ninth after Brooks Conrad’s third error of the game. I was there on the final day of the 2011 season when Craig Kimbrel blew a save in the ninth allowing the Phillies to come back and win in the 13th. None of that prepared me for Friday night.
Make no mistake, the 2012 Atlanta Braves were not the 2011 Atlanta Braves. This was a much better baseball team. Over the course of 162 games, the Braves were clearly a better baseball team than the St. Louis Cardinals. One wild card game later and the Braves season is over. Where did it go wrong? Well, where didn’t it? Chipper’s storybook season came to an end with a thoroughly awful performance. He was out of sorts at the plate. His throwing error may have been the single biggest blow of the game. There was also a line drive on which he failed to make a play later in the game where he appeared to have not even made an effort. Dan Uggla looked as lost at second base as possible. Andrelton Simmons screwed up royally choosing to run four feet inside the foul line after a really bad idea. There were no big clutch hits with runners in scoring position. There were three errors. Ugh.
Of course, there was also “the call”. It was a ridiculous and absurd distortion of the intent of the infield fly rule. Sam Holbrook will live as one of the great villains in Atlanta postseason history, as he darn well should. Sure, professional apologists for the baseball establishment, like Peter Gammons, will defend the call for all their worth. That’s what they do. They are wrong. It was not, however, the reason the Braves lost. They simply played a really bad baseball game. In a one game series, that’s death to the season. (It doesn’t help that we have to listen to baseball’s self-appointed elite pontificate on the classless Braves fans, as if they reacted any different than fans would have in the other 29 stadiums.)
So, while I’m still feeling the crushing effects of the 2012 Wild Card disaster, I thought I would look back at every postseason disaster in Braves history. It’s a long, sad list.
1948 - The Boston Braves were in the driver’s seat following a spectacular 1–0 victory in game one that saw Johnny Sain out duel the Cleveland Indians’ great Bob Feller. Unfortunately, the Braves only plated two more runs in the next three games. Down 3–1, the Braves staved off elimination with an 11 run effort keyed by two Bob Elliott home runs. In game six, an eighth inning rally wasn’t enough to overcome the Indians the lead.
1958 - As Hank Aaron will tell you, anyone can win one World Series, as the Milwaukee Braves did in 1957. Winning two though, that makes you a dynasty, even if only for a short while. The Braves were up three games to one after four, including two spectacular Warren Spahn performances. The Yankees teed off on the Braves for a six run sixth inning to win game five. Spahn pitched masterfully again in game six, but he coughed up a lead in the tenth. In game seven, Lew Burdette game up four in the eighth and the Braves season came to an inglorious end. This is the World Series that haunts Hank Aaron to this day.
1969 - The Braves simply didn’t put up much of a fight against the Mets in the first National League Championship Series. Hank Aaron would homer in all three games, but the Mets were a team of destiny. The Braves may have scored fifteen runs over the three games, but the Mets scored 27. It was Hank Aaron’s final postseason appearance.
1982 - The 1982 Atlanta Braves won thirteen straight games to start the 1982 season and captured the hearts of the country on TBS. They squeaked into the NLCS, largely because of that season opening winning streak. The Braves were off to a great start in game one against the St. Louis Cardinals when the game was called because of rain. The Braves wouldn’t recover and were again swept in the NLCS.
1991 - It is easy to blame Lonnie Smith for the events in game seven, but that’s really a cop out. In the top of the eighth inning of game seven, Lonnie Smith led off with a single. Terry Pendleton then his a double to the wall, but Skates stopped running at second and only made it to third. Maybe he was deked by the Minnesota Twins. Maybe he lost the ball. No matter as the Braves had runners on second and third with nobody out. We all know what happened next. Ron Gant? A weak groundout to first. David Justice? Intentional walk to load the bases. Sid Bream? Double play. Many believe the 1991 World Series is the greatest ever. That’s of little comfort to Braves fans.
1992 - In game one, Tom Glavine out duels Jack Morris. In game two, Mike Stanton and Jeff Reardon cough up a two run lead. In game three, Steve Avery pitches valiantly but the bullpen again blows it in the ninth. In game four, Jimmy Key out duels Tom Glavine. In game five, the Braves smack Jack Morris around, making me very happy. In game six, Bobby Cox decides that Charlie Liebrandt should be a reliever and the lead is coughed up. Braves lose and the Toronto Blue Jays bring Canada their first baseball championship.
1993 - The Braves were the best team in baseball and battled until the final day of the season with the second best team in baseball, the San Francisco Giants. The Philadelphia Phillies would fall behind 2–1 after explosions from the Braves offense in games two and three, but ultimately, shoddy bullpen work and a lack of timely hitting would doom the Braves and the Phillies got the honor of falling to Toronto in the World Series.
1996 - On national television, Andruw Jones has his coming out party at Yankee Stadium in game one of the World Series. (He belted two home runs.) A star was born. The next night, Greg Maddux and Mark Wohlers shut down the Yankees. The next four games are a blur of heartache and tears. I hate the New York Yankees.
1997 - Greg Maddux. Livian Hernzndez. Eric Gregg. Enough said.
1998 - Do you remember Sterling Hitchcock? He was one of those league average pitchers that hung around the big leagues for thirteen seasons because he was left handed. In 1998, he dominated the Braves twice during the NLCS for which he was named MVP. It was a typical Braves postseason performance. A lot of runs in a few games, and hardly any in the others. The San Diego Padres went to the World Series. The Braves went home. Again.
1999 - Did I mention that I hate the New York Yankees?
2000 - I also hate the St. Louis Cardinals. This one of those infuriating postseason performances by the Braves where they didn’t even appear to put up a fight. I was even fortunate enough to get the watch the Cardinals eliminate the Braves.
2001 - This would be the Braves last appearance in the NLCS and it was not a successful appearance. Game two was great. Tom Glavine pitched a great game and John Smoltz closed it out in dominating fashion. The Braves plated eight runs on three home runs for an 8–1 victory. The only upside to the other four game is that the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees in the World Series. We were spared the indignity of watching the Braves drop twelve World Series games in a row to the Yankees.
2002 thru 2005 and 2010 and 2012 - The Giants in 5. The Cubs in 5. The Astros in 5. The Astros in 4. The Giants in 4. The Cardinals in 1. There were memorable home runs by Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Rick Ankiel and Eric Hinske. There was that game where the Braves drilled Roger Clemens while Smoltz shut down the Astros. It’s hard to find a lot of positives.
Looking back, it really is true that being a baseball fan teaches you to deal with disappointment.