What Miserable Braves Playoff Loss are YOU? #1: The Gut-Shot, Open Thread (by W.C.G.)

Ed. note: This is the fourth in a series of posts by W.C.G. that is predicated on something Mac used to say: “I’ve mentioned before that I have a low opinion of hope, which normally plays you false.” Or, as W.C.G. noted in his introductory post: “Braves fandom has mostly been a series of pleasant, sometimes even inspiring, regular seasons spoiled by some giant turd of a playoff series. As the data set is fairly rich at this point, I have attempted to organize the turds into five different subcategories, which I have named and ranked. The series will begin with the least aggravating type of Miserable Braves Playoff Loss and work its way up to the most aggravating. I’ve also set odds for the likelihood of the 2013 Braves to join each category.”


These are the worst of the worst, and there are two of them.

The 2005 Braves were the tipping point of the cut-costs-and-let-the-coaching-staff-coach-’em-up philosophy that put the final nails in the Braves’ dynasty period. Jorge Sosa, cast off from an awful Rays team, cut a deal with the devil and wound up being the Braves’ #3 postseason starter before returning to awfulness the next year. A pack of rookies, including Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, and Kyle Davies, helped the team recover from signing nothing but past-their-prime placeholder veterans that off-season. They drafted Joey Devine and called him up not two months later.

Speaking of the need to rush Devine: John Schuerholz was a legendary GM, but perhaps his greatest weakness was putting a bullpen together. The ‘05 bullpen was the nadir of this phenomenon; the top 5 innings-pitchers out of the bullpen (Dan Kolb, Chris Reitsma, Adam Bernero, Blaine Boyer, and John Foster) combined for a-0.9 WAR season, which actually seems to understate the number of games the Braves lost that year because they could not hold a lead.

They traded for Kyle Farnsworth at the deadline to shore this pen up, and for the most part it worked. Farnsworth pitched 26 games down the stretch for the Braves, saved 10, struck out over a batter an inning, and had a nasty 0.80 WHIP. So when Tim Hudson got into trouble in the eighth inning of a must-win NLDS Game 4 in Houston, the only logical move was to bring in Farnsworth to get the last six outs.

He got one before Luke Scott walked to load the bases and Lance Berkman cut the Braves’ lead to 6-5 with a grand slam. Farnsworth recovered to get the final two outs that inning, the Braves didn’t score in their frame, and who else were you considering for the bottom of the ninth? Farnsworth was his own set-up man by that point. He got the first two Astros in the bottom of the ninth, but hung a pitch to Brad Ausmus that Ausmus poked just over the fence line in left center.

Ausmus’ homer was the gut-shot that made the rest seem inevitable; the teams traded scoreless frames for nine more innings, but you had to figure the Braves’ suspect bullpen would wilt before Roger Clemens did. And in the 18th, Chris Burke homered off of Devine to finish it.

Realistically, even a win would have just sent the Braves home with a short-rested Sosa as the probable Game 5 starter (John Smoltz’s arm was just about falling off that postseason), but the manner of loss is what sticks. Up 6-1 with six outs to go, a grand slam off the only trustworthy reliever; up 6-5 with three outs to go, tying homer off the same reliever; then almost nine innings of somewhat ironic clutch relief pitching until the final shot. I discovered Braves Journal thanks to Stu after this game. It helped.

If 2005’s gut-shot was the final nail in the Braves’ dynasty, 1996’s was the first. The defending world champions came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the NLCS to get back to the World Series, then won the first two games at Yankee Stadium. They lost Game 3 at home, but jumped all over the Yankees for a 6-0 lead in Game 4.

Instead of bringing in usual setup men Greg McMichael and Brad Clontz, who had been shaky the night before, Bobby Cox (it’s a theme here) felt like he only had one guy in his bullpen he could really trust to nail it down, so he opted for a six-out Mark Wohlers save. The Braves were up 6-3 in the eighth when Wohlers gave up two singles and then lost one to Jim Leyritz. Leyritz’s homer was the gut-shot that did the Braves in; they scored no more runs that night, lost that game in the 10th, and then scored but two runs over the next two games as the Yankees ran off four straight wins to come back and win the series.

The historical significance of Game 4 can’t be overstated. Instead of launching the Braves into full-on, Nebraska-football-of-that-day-style dynasty mode, it kicked off a Yankee run of four world championships in five years. Could that have been us instead? We’ll never know, but we know why we’ll never know.

Chance of the 2013 Braves doing this: 5%. A lot of stars have to align to get kicked in the crotch like this, thankfully.

88 thoughts on “What Miserable Braves Playoff Loss are YOU? #1: The Gut-Shot, Open Thread (by W.C.G.)”

  1. I’ve been waiting for the 2005 write up since you started this series. That is the playoff loss I’ll always associate myself with. We didn’t know it then (maybe we should have) but the glory days were over.

    Tomorrow is a new chapter in a new book. Let’s start it off right.

  2. Realistically, even a win would have just sent the Braves home with a short-rested Sosa as the probable Game 5 starter

    If I remember right, they were actually going to start Horacio Ramirez if it got to Game Five.

  3. I didn’t leave my college dorm for two days. I even posted on here that I was done with baseball.

  4. @last thread
    Yup…thought Utley was a below average defender (evidently got him confused with…I don’t know, someone else). In fact, he’s still above average defensively. Missed that one.

  5. IMO, the ’96 Game 4 loss, which I attended, was exponentially worse than the ’05 game.

    I was sitting upstairs on the 3rd base side. When Leyritz hit the HR, the place got so quiet that you could actually hear the Yankees whooping it up on the field. (Ironically, the only other time I heard something like that was at Yankee Stadium, after Beckett tagged Posada for the last out of the 2003 World Series.)

    The ’05 club was inspirational, but few realistically believed they’d win it all. The ’96 club, despite the season-ending injuries to David Justice & Pedro Borbon, obviously put this franchise on precipice of historical greatness.

    I say it all the time: Losing the ’96 Series completely changed the legacy. We became the Brooklyn Dodgers of the ’50s, instead of the Big Red Machine of the ’70s.

  6. Don’t forget- or, well, forget if you want to- that the Braves eventually had the winning run in ’96 Game 4 on third base, but Pendleton grounded into a DP.

  7. That 2005 loss made me numb for a long time. I loved the “Baby Braves” that year, and to lose to the Astros in the NLDS (a team we had always dominated in the round) in the way that we did…the idea that “at least we won our 14th straight title” did little to cheer me up. I still hate that short porch in left in Houston.

    If we have an 18-inning game against the Dodgers this year, we’re probably going to get to watch at least 10 innings of Janish be a defensive replacement at 3rd base with the way the roster is constructed. The 2005 final game was the exact wrong postseason to remind me of right after I saw this year’s roster construction.

  8. I know it doesn’t matter, and if it does, I suppose the result would in all likelihood be the same given the choices, but Constanza is a worse-than-Lockhartian roster move. I think I’d rather just play 24.

  9. Does a guy like Uggla have to restructure his contract if he wants to play somewhere else? Like, can we say “you can take $26mm and retire, but if you want to be picked up by another MLB team, you have to restructure the contract?”

  10. I agree with most of this thread already.

    @1, 3, 7 vs. @5 – I find all of these perspectives interesting because I think how you feel about the relative severity of these games has a lot to do with where you were in life for them. Being a young teenager in 1996, and not being able to attend the games or watch the series with friends, blunted a bit of the impact of it. Whereas by 2005 I (and I suspect some of these other guys) was a young adult and that loss sticks with you the way every bad loss your college football team took when you were in school sticks with you.

    @6, let’s just agree to forget that.

    @2, I forgot about HoRam. Same idea, I guess.

    @7, while I can see leaving Uggla off in theory, leaving him off so Constanza can be a sixth outfielder is just crazy.

  11. Greetings from LAX. Changing planes and getting out of town before the series starts.
    I told you guys yesterday that leaving Dan off the roster would inevitably lead to him being replaced by a worse player. QED.

  12. Yes…. ’96 was the worst, the most intense, the nastiest all gut punches. And the parallel w/ the 50’s Brooklyn Dodgers is right, too.

    I also think of the Milwaukee Braves in ’57 & ’58.
    ’57 the Magic Year (Something about ’57: a great year for Chevys and Les Pauls as well).

    A team some people think is on the short list for one of the best teams ever, the ’57 Braves never get enough credit. The ’58 defeat (to the f*#@$in’ Yankees, after being up 2 games to 0) changed the way they are remembered, and that’s what ’96 did to our guys.

  13. @11, nope. if we release him, he’s released, and gets his dough. Now what you CAN do, I think, is offer consideration – say I’ll give you 20m right now instead of 26 over two years in exchange for your release. But since the period is so short, I can’t see Uggla doing anything of the sort.

  14. Seriously: 7 outfielders and 5 infielders? This is a truly baffling decision. Janish, who couldn’t hit in AAA and has compiled a -1.1 fWAR over the past three seasons, is the backup for the entire infield. Plus, they already have BJ Upton and Jordan Schafer on the bench, two guys who are considerably better baserunners than Constanza.

    I know the team will win or lose based on the play of Heyward, JUpton, and Freeman, but this roster seems… insane.*

    *I’ll get to the decision to use Ayala over Downs later.

  15. 1996 – Leyritz and that wink on tv after he hit the dinger off of Wohlers. God, that still sticks in my craw. I lost a lunch bet to a friend of mine who still bet me when the Yanks were down 3-1!

    Constanza has the pictures. I agree with y’all in that I don’t see his value but I’m ok with Uggla being left off. I sure hope this series doesn’t come down to bench play.

  16. I’m mostly ok with the roster. My take on Uggla is that the staff went for guys on the roster with a skill and Uggla at the moment is not good at baseball and doesn’t have a discernible baseball skill. Before he could hit a ball out but now he can’t even do that so what’s the point of having him? Throw him up there as a pinch hitter and hope he runs into one? The odds are against this. Constanza at least runs hard and Freddi will no doubt send him up as a pinch bunter at some point (another argument altogether but come on, we know he’s going to sac bunt… at least Constanza can get a sac bunt down).

    I’m still convinced this team can win the World Series but not because they have a fantastic roster. Mostly I watched Barry Zito pitch 2 elimination games for the Giants last year and they won the title so really anything is possible and all those years when we had the best pitchers which you *need* to win in the post season and we lost to guys like Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Ortiz we’re due for one year where some rag tag team of bullshit wins right? Right???

  17. Looking back at the ’97 NLCS, I remember vividly understanding for the first time in my young adult life what a “Narrative” was. The Narrative going into that game had a lot of elements to it:

    • Isn’t it exciting this upstart expansion team is in contention?
    • Wouldn’t it be amazing if this Cuban kid that just floated over on a raft won it all?
    • The Braves are kinda boring us now, aren’t they?

    The preferred answers to all these questions together formed “the Narrative”, and Eric Gregg’s strike zone and his enthusiasm for punching out Braves hitters sealed the deal on it. Marlins win, Livan Hernandez is a superstar, and the Braves were yesterday’s news. Watching that video clip reminds me that as the strikeouts were mounting, even the Braves knew how futile it was to try and shout against the Narrative.

  18. Uggla reported at mid-season that, in Spring Training, all he could see of the ball was a big white blur coming at him. So, you know what? Screw him. Braves are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

  19. #14
    That late-’50s Milwaukee Braves outfit was another club that was a tick or 2 away from historical greatness.

    After 2 consecutive pennants, the ’59 Milwaukee Braves finished the 154-game regular season tied with the LA Dodgers, then lost a best-of-3 playoff/play-in to them. (The games counted as a part of the regular season, but they were essentially part of a mini-NLCS.)

    They lost Game 1 by 3-2, then in Game 2 blew a 3-run lead in the bottom of the 9th, eventually losing in 12.

    From Henry Aaron’s books, it was apparent that he remained really chapped about that one.

  20. @120 in the previous thread

    It’s my understanding that the Marlins lineup that day was predominantly right-handed, so Maddux couldn’t try to get that strike call in the right-handed batters box because then he might’ve actually plunked those hitters.

  21. @22- The Marlins’ starting lineup that day featured one lefty (Counsell) and two switch-hitters I’m assuming batted lefty (Devo and Bobby Bo). My guess is that Maddux didn’t try to get that call because *those pitches were sh*t*, and I don’t think Maddux wanted to screw his game up by intentionally missing far outside the zone.

    Gah, what a putz Gregg was.

  22. There are numerous losses that hurt more than Game 4 in ’05, ’96 being chief among them. There are numerous losses that irritate me more looking back on them now (I mentioned Game 5 of ’02 several times, and there are several others). In the end, I never really thought the ’05 Braves had much of a chance to win the World Series (though I suppose they could have, as I was never too impressed with that year’s Astros team, but they made the World Series after beating us).

    Nevertheless, Game 4 of the 2005 Division Series remains, for me, the most excruciating Braves playoff game to watch while it was happening that there has ever been. For three hours, the Braves had already blown the game and were just waiting to lose, but the bullpen delivered its best performance of the year (notwithstanding Farnsworth) and refused to let us do so until the 18th inning. While that was happening, the offense had what seemed like at least five opportunities to score a freaking run and give us the lead during extra innings, but they always found some way to blow the rally. Then, after three hours of figuratively getting a needle repeatedly jabbed into our collective eyeballs, we lost anyway. The Astros successfully tortured us like a cat does a mouse.

    I was over the loss by the end of the day, as opposed to it taking all weekend last year and the rest of the week in ’96, but at the very moment Chris Burke hit that home run, I wanted to crawl into a dark cellar, get into the fetal position, and slowly rock back-and-forth weeping for an hour.

  23. David Hale has 2 major league appearances and made the roster? LOL. That’s Joey Devine-like.

  24. Wait…David Hale made the roster and Anthony Varvaro didn’t? WTF? I mean, Varvaro isn’t anything special, but at least he’s proven to be a serviceable reliever at the major league level. Though, I can understand leaving Downs off since he hasn’t been right since his finger injury.

  25. @28

    All four series could potentially be playing, but one of the games will be on MLB Network. Also, since we’ll be on the West Coast, they can’t start earlier than 3 or 4 Eastern time, and the latest they appear willing to start a game is 9 Eastern. So given their standard time slots, I would guess it’ll start somewhere between 4 and 9 Eastern.

  26. For Game 4, ATL @ LA would be the western-most game on that Monday, so I’d guess we’d be the very latest game on the slate.

  27. Ugh, the 2005 playoffs made me sick. I had an awful feeling we’d end up losing but not to Houston. I’ve hated Houston ever since.

    @4 do you think the reason he’s so good defensively is because he play so deep? I’ve been to four Phillies games this season and Utley plays on the outfield grass for a majority of hitters. My friend and I went to a game in Chicago and counted that Utley was on the outfield grass for 75% of hitters in the first 5 innings.

  28. I’ve hated Houston ever since.

    Well, after these last two seasons, you can feel a little bit better. It must suck to be out of it in May.

  29. I’ve watched 16 postseasons end with a defeat in my lifetime, but Game 4 in 2005 is the only season-ender that left me with tears in my eyes. I knew in my heart that was the end of the dynasty, because you can only piece a pitching staff together with duct tape, spackle and baling wire so long before it bites you. Of course, that’s an approach we’ve never completely abandoned since, sometimes by necessity (see Garcia, Freddy).

  30. @34, that said, their player development appears to be headed in the right direction, and they’ll have another billion picks in the draft next year. It’s certainly possible to screw up a loaded farm system — see Kansas City — but even still, the Royals managed to win 86 games for the first time in over two decades, largely thanks to farm products and to trading away their best product.

    By 2015, I think the Astros will be better than anyone thinks, and by 2016, I think they could be legitimately tough. The Pirates lost 105 games in 2010. This year they won 94 games. Turnarounds can really come quick.

  31. So Fredi has a cast of pinch runners and 1 spare infielder.
    Who can he pinch hit for?

    CJ, but only once.
    BJ is a defensive sub for Gattis.
    McCann? But then you have to use laird, backup catcher that can only play if injury in long extras.

    Nope EJ doesn’t get the yips a la Conrad, no backup plan except maybe BJ at 2b…

  32. @39, Resisting incredibly hilarious but equally vulgar reply, because I consider myself a civilized gentleman.

    But it is hilarious, trust me. :-)

  33. I have been hoping Hale would make it to the bullpen for the postseason. He can be a force there like Wood.

  34. Not sure if it’s a DirecTV or TBS glitch, but the Indians-Rays game does not have the sound synchronized with the video. Irritating.

  35. I kind of love the Hale addition.

    I also spent my jog this evening getting excited about the possibility that Fredi might use Alex Wood as a true fireman reliever, and bring him in just any time we need a stop. That would be great.

    Other than the Constanza brainfart, I like the postseason roster a lot.

  36. I’ll preface this by saying that I know that in stuffy conservative baseball-men circles I would get laughed out of the room…but regardless…if *I* ran the Braves and we were headed to the postseason then I would feel like it’s my obligation to put the 25 best baseball players (regardless of age or experience) on the playoff roster. That would mean crazy shit like Lucas Sims ready for a relief appearance or two. Maybe a power hitting 1B from AAA on the bench in case we need a pinch hitter. I know that kind of stuff will never happen, but I think it should. We’re trying to win it all, and we should put together the best players we have at our disposal.

    Instead we get a team with Janish and Constanza and Ayala. I’m not saying that it’ll matter much…*but*…if the goal is to win it all then why not create an All-Star team from the Braves entire system? Age and arb-clocks be damned.

  37. @49

    If Lucas Sims and Ernesto Mejia are good enough to be on the postseason roster, I’d better have a damned good explanation as to why they weren’t on the Major League roster in the first place. And if they’re not good enough to be on the Major League roster in the first place, I’d better have a damned good explanation as to why they’re on the postseason roster.

    People aren’t in the minor leagues for the fun of it. If they’re not in the majors, there’s a reason.

  38. It’s sad to think that if Pena hadn’t gotten hurt, leaving Uggla of the playoff roster would be a complete no brainer.

    Also, Bourn does not do well in wild-card games.

  39. Seeing Bourn strike out in a crucial spot (first and third, no one out) gave me flashbacks to the meltdown two years ago. I specifically remember him striking out in Washington against the Nationals in a bases loaded situation, helping to lose another September 2011 game.

  40. I loved Bourn while he was in Atlanta, but he’s absolutely worn out by the end of the regular season.

  41. 50- Scott Van Slyke and Tim Fedorowicz and Dee Gordon and Ronald Belisario. There’s a real juggernaut.

  42. @50

    Mike Devereaux, Dwight Smith, and Mike Mordecai were on the bench of our last World Series-winning team. I wouldn’t sweat the specialized guys a whole lot.

  43. @58 Well, in fairness, it’s not like those guys were immaterial. Mordecai had a game-winning hit in the NLDS, and Devereax of course won the NLCS MVP.

    Speaking of that Rockies-Braves NLDS from ’95, I re-watched Game 1 on YouTube, and we pulled that game out by the skin of our teeth. We were down 3-1 through 5 innings, needed a Chipper home run to take the lead in the top of the 9th, then Wohlers managed to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning – only to narrowly escape. If we drop that first game, it’s probably a very different series – especially considering the Rockies almost won Game 2 and did win Game 3. I guess my point is that the Braves really did come deceptively (and frighteningly) close to losing in the first round of their World Championship season.

  44. Has anyone studied whether the “Bad teams play better in September in order to ruin someone else’s day” cliche is true?

  45. After watching the games in the past three days, I am just happy that the Braves won the division One and done is just mad.

  46. Someone should do a “How much do the Game 1 Starting Lineups cost?” piece. I’d ballpark the Braves at ~$20M and the Dodgers at ~$60M.

  47. @61 I’ll be there with my wife and brother.

    Also, if we’re going to nit-pick the bench spots why isn’t anyone asking for Terdoslavich? He has moderate pop and can “play” the four corners. I’d probably elect him over Reed Johnson.

  48. @69, I think the hurt guy would be forced to miss the next round in that case. Which is why it’s a bit of a risk to only carry five infielders.

  49. I will be there in spirit since I will be asleep – a 1.37am BST start time makes me a fair weather supporter

    However, the kids and I are staying up for Game 2 – mainly because the wife is away for the weekend and can’t object!

  50. @62, bad teams also tank in September with nothing to play for. goes both ways, heated division rivals may play spoiler but tanking is more common. I think BP Pro did a study once, and tanking was most prevalent among fringe contenders nearing/after elimination. and truly bad teams teams playing mostly AAA guys.

  51. Gosh, if tanking in September is a model for playoff success, just imagine what the 2011 Braves could have done.

  52. I am just returning to Switzerland from Denver today, so my inner clock is on MT. I will be up and watch the game tonight. I have to say… I am SO excited! I have a good feeling about this one. Kershaw is Kershaw but inexplicably I have a better feeling against him than an unknown soft-tossing lefty. Go Braves!

  53. If we can score a run or two in the first inning, I think we’ll be set tonight. Meds can hold that lead (and I can see Kershaw settling in after the first inning). Or if we want to have a repeat of last Friday night where CJ hits one out in the 8th and we win 1-0, I can live with that, too.

  54. There’s gonna have to be a hell of a walk-up for this game to be sold out. If you go to Ticketmaster, there are still tickets available all over the place in the upper deck. If you’re in town and all you’re gonna be doing is sitting around watching the game, for the love of God come down to Turner Field and help out the cause.

    And no, I really don’t give a damn that you wouldn’t get home until 1 a.m. Sack up!

  55. I definitely do not miss Bourn.

    He put up 2.8WAR in CF for 12M (AAV). The braves got -1.6WAR for 13M from his replacement. I sure miss him.

  56. @83

    Yeah, I was about to say something last night and didn’t, but I’d take Michael Bourn back in place of B.J. Upton and take my chances.

  57. No one thinks the Braves are going to win in the media, but we seem pretty optimistic here. I know I am. Why is this? Are we just unfamiliar with how good the Dodgers have been lately? Kershaw is a frickin buzzsaw from all reports, and we’re basically crossing our fingers that Medlen will look as sharp against the Dodgers as he has against the dregs of the NL this past month. Grienke or Ryu would be going for us in Game 1 if they were on our team.

    And when you put the lineups next to eachother, the numbers for the Braves look bad. Even without Kemp, the Dodgers look to have a better group top to bottom. Are we counting on Heyward and JUpton to hit like they’re hot over the next 5 games? ‘Cause both have had some pretty poor streaks this season, too. Gattis is an even bigger questionmark, and we’ve got him penciled in the cleanup hole. Only Freddie Freeman has been consistent this season, and their 1B is arguably as good if not better. Also, let’s not beat around the bush; Hanely Ramirez has been in full MVP mode since this July. And even the bottom of their lineup doesn’t feature anyone as bad as Elliot Johnson.

    And it’s not even clear to me that the Braves have a substantial advantage in the bullpen. Kimbrel is a God, sure, but Jansen isn’t bad, and outside of Avilan, Wood, and Carpenter, there aren’t many setup guys I trust out there. We’re rolling with a bench that long on pinch running and short on pinch hitting….

    I guess what it comes down to for us is that Medlens’ been lights out lately, Heyward has been a star since moving into the leadoff spot, Justin Upton has been locked in, and Gattis seems to have recovered somewhat from his Summer fade. Regression hasn’t regressed much yet, and McCann is McCann so we’ll always believe. But this basically sounds like we’re counting on the lineup outproducing its annual average and some “addition by subtraction” from benching BJ and Uggla.

    Whatever. I don’t care. Let’s knock the snot out of Kershaw.

  58. @85—You bring up some valid concerns, but I decided to spend the last three days in the realm of optimism, even if I had to transcend realism a bit to do so. The best team doesn’t always win in the postseason, so even if we’re not the best team, we still have a legitimate shot, don’t we? If we lose to the Dodgers, I have the entire off season to think about us doing that. So I don’t think me not thinking about it this week will hurt me any…

  59. @82

    I think it’s a problem with my computer, but I can’t even access Ticketmaster right now. It says “Forbidden: You don’t have permission to access/on this server.”

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