Chronicling My Braves Elimination Futility

I told my son Ben that we were going to NLDS Game 4 against the Brewers if the Braves won Game 2 today. He said:

“I think every Braves postseason game I go to, the Braves win.”

He’s not wrong—the only Braves postseason game he has attended was the Acuña slam game against the Dodgers in 2018. It is also the only Braves elimination-game win I have attended…in many more tries. This is my most complete attempt to date to chronicle the futility of all the postseason and/or elimination games I have attended.

1. 2000 NLDS Game 3: Facing elimination against the Cardinals, Kevin Millwood gave up homers to Fernando Viña and Jim Edmonds (Mark McGwire also pinch hit in the game), and the Braves lost 7–1. Current Brewers reliever Aaron Ashby’s uncle Andy pitched two scoreless innings for the Braves in this one. (0–1 record)

2. 2010 NLDS Game 3: Tied in the series against the eventual World Series–winning Giants, Tim Hudson outdueled Jonathan Sanchez, who was having a career-best season for the Giants, but everyone remembers this game as the Brooks Conrad game, because the Braves 2B tied the record with three errors in a postseason game. Eric Hinske had a huge pinch hit homer to give the Braves the lead going into the 9th, but rookie Craig Kimbrel allowed a couple baserunners before Peter Moylan gave up the grounder through Conrad’s legs to give the Giants the lead. (0–2 record, 0–1 facing elimination)

3. 2010 NLDS Game 4: Now on the brink of elimination against rookie Madison Bumgarner, Derek Lowe actually had a decent start for the Braves, who were up 1–0 heading into the sixth when Cody Ross (who had seen a lot of the Braves previously as a Marlin) homered to tie the game. Brian McCann got the lead back (all he does is win) with a homer of his own, but Moylan was present for some more defensive trouble in the 7th, when Alex Gonzalez couldn’t make the throw to start a double play on a ball hit by future Brave Juan Uribe. Ross drove in the eventual game-winner against Jonny Venters. This would be Bobby Cox’s last game as manager of the Braves, and the Giants made a nice gesture to pause their celebration and recognize that. (0–3 record, 0–2 facing elimination)

4. 2011 Game 162 against the Phillies: Not a postseason game, but the Braves needed a win to force another game against the Cardinals for a wild card spot. The Phillies had wrapped up the division and used both Joe Blanton and Braves legend Cole Hamels in short outings, with both allowing runs to give the Braves an early lead. Craig Kimbrel’s control escaped him in the ninth with three walks. A sac fly by Chase Utley scored former Brave Pete Orr, and it took 13 innings for Hunter Pence to drive in the game-winner off Scott Linebrink. Freddie Freeman hit into a DP after a Chipper Jones walk to end the game and the season. I’m not going to count this as a postseason loss, but please know that I consider it one in my heart.

5. 2012 NL Wild Card Game. In 2012, MLB decided to add a second wild card team and force a single play-in game for the final postseason spot. Objectively it was a great decision from a competitive standpoint, emphasizing the importance of winning your division, which the Braves did not do, although under the old format they would have won the fourth playoff spot outright, having finished six games better than the Cardinals with 94 wins. What happened next was both a “first of its kind” game (the NL game started a few hours before the AL that year) and an “only in the postseason in Atlanta” game with the still-controversial Sam Holbrook infield fly call on what should have been a single by Andrelton Simmons against Dalton, GA native Mitchell Boggs. In 2014, MLB implemented the current replay system, although judgment calls like infield flies remain unreviewable to this day.

Anyway, the Braves were already down after homers by Allen Craig and Matt Holliday, but it felt like there was still some life in the game until the unfortunate call, which delayed the game because of the also-unfortunate collective fan response to trash the field. The Cardinals won the game, but at least they haven’t won the World Series since, and at the time they were the defending champs. This was unfortunately Chipper Jones’ last game (he went 1-for-5). The 2012 World Series MVP was future Braves mascot Pablo Sandoval. (0–4 record, 0–3 facing elimination)

6. 2013 NLDS Game 2: The Braves were the higher seed against the Dodgers in this series, as the Dodgers started a streak of 8 straight NL West wins that year, a streak that was broken only last week. Mike Minor, in his best Braves season, outlasted Zack Greinke, and Jason Heyward had a key 2-run single in the 7th, but the bullpen made this one interesting at the end. Craig Kimbrel closed out a Braves win, walking two in the ninth after having to come on in the 8th to prevent David Carpenter from losing the game. When the series finally did end in Los Angeles, then-manager Fredi Gonzalez notably left Kimbrel warming up in the bullpen while Carpenter lost Game 4. Just use your best reliever in the most key situation—it’s not that hard. (1–4 record, still 0–3 facing elimination)

The Braves faltered in 2014, finishing 79–83, firing GM Frank Wren on the day after they were eliminated from playoff contention. They installed John Hart as president of baseball operations, and with not-yet-disgraced John Coppolella (who was named GM after the 2015 season) pulling the strings, they embarked on a rebuild of a roster that I would argue still had a contending core of players, had they chosen to retain them. But they were put in charge and decided to do their thing, which meant trading Evan Gattis to Houston and the Upton brothers and Craig Kimbrel to the Padres, with the Upton deal yielding Max Fried, who shut down the Brewers in today’s game. Jason Heyward was shipped to St. Louis for Shelby Miller, who later yielded Dansby Swanson in a deal with the Diamondbacks. Nick Markakis began his tenure with the Braves that offseason. They signed reliever Josh Outman for nearly $1m—he did not appear for the major league team and thus recorded no outs. I say all of this to say that the Braves didn’t make the playoffs again until their second season in the new ballpark, so that NLDS game in 2013 ended up being the last one at Turner Field.

7. 2018 NLDS Game 3: Now six seasons into their NL West streak, the Dodgers were a complete powerhouse by this point, starting ace rookie Walker Buehler in this game after having already shut out the Braves at home in both Games 1 & 2. Having access to only two tickets at the time, I decided to take Ben to this game and Matt to the next, if the Braves won, and I don’t really recall the reasoning for Matt drawing the short straw. Sean Newcomb got the start for Atlanta, and it wasn’t great, unlike his previous start against the Dodgers, a no-hitter that was spoiled with two outs in the 9th by Chris Taylor (yes, I was also at that game).

Home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom plays a part in this one, which is usually never a good thing when talking about the impact of an umpire, but in this case it worked out for the Braves when Ronald Acuña Jr. hit the aforementioned grand slam in the 2nd inning after an egregious strike call that should have been ball four. The Dodgers tied the game in the 5th with homers by (of course) Chris Taylor and Max Muncy, but a Freddie Freeman homer in the 6th was enough to win it. Very mildly interesting fact: Cederstrom was the right field umpire for the 2000 Game 3 loss I attended 18 years earlier. (2–4 record, 1–3 facing elimination)

8. 2018 NLDS Game 4: This was Matt’s game to attend (oops), started by Mike Foltynewicz, but it wasn’t *that* Mike Foltynewicz game—just hold your horses for that one. The Braves pinch hit for Folty in the fourth inning, already trailing by a run against Rich Hill with runners in scoring position, and it paid off, with Kurt Suzuki singling to give them the lead. David Freese still had some leftover Cardinals devil magic, with his own pinch hit single to give the Dodgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and a Manny Machado homer would put it firmly out of reach.

This game had an “old friend,” with Matt Kemp back on the Dodgers after his time with Atlanta, and who knows, maybe Joc Pederson can return the favor this year (he was the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter for this game). Interestingly, Folty was relieved in this game by three other pitchers who have also started playoff games for the Braves, if you want to try to name them before I do in the next few sentences. Max Fried came on in the sixth inning specifically for one out to pitch to his future teammate Pederson. Julio Teheran pitched an inning and two-thirds; he started NLDS Game 3 in 2013, which was his only playoff start in nine Braves seasons. A.J. Minter pitched the ninth, and Minter’s incredible “opener” Game 5 start in last year’s NLDS remains the only start of his professional career, regular or postseason. (2–5 record, 1–4 facing elimination)

10. 2019 NLDS Game 5: Now it’s time for *that* Mike Foltynewicz game, the one that was over before it really started. The Braves battled in this series against the Cardinals and were tied 2–2 heading into this one with two one-run losses. Folty had shut out the Cardinals in Game 2 and was on regular rest to provide these results in the first inning and only the first inning of the game: walk to Dexter Fowler, sacrifice by future Brewer Kolten Wong, single by Paul Goldschmidt, single by a future Brave whose name does not deserve to appear here, error by Freddie Freeman to allow Yadier Molina on base, walk to Matt Carpenter, double by Tommy Edman. When Max Fried came on to relieve Folty after that, it was actually still a game at 4–0 if he managed to escape the bases loaded situation, but he allowed all three runners plus three more to score, and it was 10–0 after the first inning, as fans were still filing into the ballpark. We stuck around to see the 13–1 final score.

This game is also somewhat notable as the only game since the inception of the Tomahawk Chop that it wasn’t emphasized in some way by the team. They abruptly ended the practice of giving away foam tomahawks following criticism during the series from Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, who happens to be a member of the Cherokee nation. This was the last home game of 2019, and no home games were played with fans in 2020. This year, they don’t play the music but do play a beat and put the tomahawk on the scoreboard, clearly signaling an expectation to chop. It’s too bad because this game would have given them a great chance to end a practice that has endured far longer than it ever should have, and you can expect there will be some cringe-inducing chops over the next couple of home playoff games. I’m just ready to move on from the chop and even the team name. Hank Aaron’s passing would have provided plenty of PR cover to rename the team the Hammers in his honor. The Braves have missed both opportunities.

Back on the John-is-cursed front, can you believe that Sam Holbrook was allowed to be the left field umpire *again* in a playoff game in Atlanta between the Braves and Cardinals, and it was in this game? I can’t believe it either, but it happened. In this game, of all games.

Anyway, that’s a 2–6 postseason record for me, 1–5 when facing elimination in those games, plus a bonus loss facing elimination from the postseason on the final day of the regular season. All but the first occurred during a single decade. Maybe the 2020s will be better? If you disagree, I’m accepting bids for my tickets to Tuesday’s Game 4.