ATLANTA – How do the Atlanta Braves bounce back from this?
How does Brooks Conrad get over this?
Three errors by the 30-year-old second baseman – a bobbled grounder, a dropped pop fly, a grounder right through the legs in the ninth inning that allowed in the winning run – left the Braves on the verge of elimination in the N.L. Division Series.
San Francisco, on the ropes itself after giving up Eric Hinske’s two-run homer in the eighth, bounced back in its final at-bat with two runs for a 3-2 victory Sunday, the most gut-wrenching game yet in a series that has been tight and tense all the way.
“I’ve never experienced that range of emotions on a baseball field,” the Braves’ Matt Diaz said.
The Giants went up 2-1 in the best-of-5 series.
“I wish I could just dig a hole,” Conrad said, “and sleep in it.”
Everyone felt for Conrad, even the team that benefited from all his miscues.
Just listen to Buster Posey, who hit the hard grounder that resulted in Conrad’s third error: “I thought he would make the play. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
While the Giants celebrated in the visiting clubhouse, senior adviser for baseball operations Tony Siegle worried about the guy on the home side.
“How is Conrad?” Siegle asked a reporter. “I feel so bad for him over here.”
Conrad’s teammates tried to console him, remembering that he was a valuable contributor off the bench this season, his first full year in the big leagues. His biggest hit came in May, when he hit a pinch-hit grand slam that capped a seven-run ninth and gave the Braves a 10-9 victory over Cincinnati.
“We love him more now than we ever have,” said Tim Hudson, who pitched seven innings in a duel with San Francisco’s Jonathan Sanchez. “We wouldn’t be here without him.”
As a result of Conrad’s errors, he was benched for Monday night’s game.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy left himself open to criticism by going to the bullpen after Sanchez had allowed only two hits in 7 1/3 innings and led 1-0. Sergio Romo served up the pinch-hit homer to Hinske, giving the Braves a 2-1 lead and needing only three outs to gain the upper hand in the series.
“To come back like that after a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, I mean, that can take the wind out of your sails,” Bochy said. “And these guys came right back and found a way to get it done. That is a great win.”
And a horrendous loss for the Braves, ranking right up there with Game 4 of the 1996 World Series when Jim Leyritz hit a three-run homer that helped the Yankees pull out an 8-6 victory in a game Atlanta led 6-0.
It also brings Cox within one loss of retirement. He announced more than a year ago this would be his final season, and the Braves rewarded him by making the postseason for the first time since 2005.
But Atlanta has a number of key players on the DL, leaving a depleted lineup that is batting just .165 against the Giants. In fact, Conrad is starting only because Chipper Jones and Martin Prado have season-ending injuries.
That didn’t lessen the sting of Game 3.
“We had this one won,” Cox said. “We’re not the best team in baseball, OK, but we can win games and we can compete against anybody. But we can’t afford to make mistakes.”
Nail-biters, one-run games – the first three were all decided by one run – are nothing new to the Giants. Bochy and his players are used to it.
“They call it Giants baseball torture,” the manager joked.
“It’s the way we play,” he said. “A lot of tight games. If we play enough of them, guys get accustomed to it.”