A series recap: Braves blow Game 1 in agonizing fashion, then win Games 2 and 3; Cardinals blow Game 3 in agonizing fashion, then win Game 4. See any pattern? See any MO-mentum? No, because this is postseason baseball, where none exists.
“I’ve always heard that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Wednesday, speaking ahead of the fifth and final game of the National League Division Series. I have, too. We hear it often in October, and it may be the only true pronouncement we purported savants utter. There’s next to no carry-over, or hangover, between games. Each one — this is me waxing metaphysical — is an entity unto itself.
(“Momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher” is widely but not quite definitely considered to have been spoken first by Earl Weaver, the crusty Baltimore manager. He did, you’ll recall, have a ton of starting pitching.)
Snitker: “I think this generation of players is really good about separating things. I know our guys are. They have been for as long as I’ve been here. They’re really good about turning the page and today is a new day and all those cliches that are out there. But they live it. I mean, they've shown that they can live that, and today's no different. It was a tough loss two days ago. But I'm confident our guys will be ready to go, and we'll lay it out there for 3-1/2 hours, whatever it is, today.”
Go back to the last Game 5 played in Atlanta, in 2004. The Braves had faced elimination on a Sunday in Houston against an excellent band of Astros. Roger Clemens started for the home side. The Braves trailed 5-2. (Craig Biggio hit a three-run homer off Russ Ortiz.) Working on short rest, Clemens was gone after five innings. In the sixth, Adam LaRoche tied the score with a three-jack off Chad Qualls. Then everything went nuts.
John Smoltz, summoned in the eighth, escaped that inning because he was clever enough and fast enough to cover first base on Orlando Palmeiro’s grounder to second baseman Bret Boone. (LaRoche, the first baseman, had tried to field the grounder.) Palmeiro represented a massive risk by Astros manager Phil Garner: He inserted Brad Lidge in the eighth but hadn’t placed him far enough down the batting order to guarantee him two innings. With two on and two out in a tie game, Garner had to pinch-hit for his closer, which is a managerial no-no.
Russ Springer, once a Brave, struck out the first two Braves hitters in the ninth. Then he hit Rafael Furcal with a pitch. Furcal stole second. J.D. Drew laced a single to center to break the tie. (Don’t say J.D. Drew, infamously traded for Adam Wainwright, never did anything for the team he graced for 6-1/2.) Smoltz induced Jeff Kent to hit into a double play to end it.
The Braves fairly danced off the field. They’d saved themselves on a day the great Clemens had been handed a three-run lead. They’d brought the series back to Turner Field. They seemed to have the maximum dose of MO-momentum headed to Game 5, whereupon they …
Jaret Wright started for the Braves. He wasn’t as awful as the score would suggest. He lasted a third of an inning longer than Astros starter Roy Oswalt, though Oswalt’s team led 3-2 after five innings. Carlos Beltran led off the sixth with a home run, his second of the night. Jeff Bagwell’s homer in the seventh made the score 8-2. The rest was the usual visitors-celebrate-at-Turner-Field tableau.
The point being: What just happened in October is a terrible predictor of what will happen next. I’m on record as picking the Braves, but that’s nowhere a scientific conclusion. These are the playoffs. There’s no science to involve. There’s just one game between two teams, one day at a time. Game 5 will be the last between these two teams.
Snitker: “I know this has been about as exciting as anything I've ever been through, and I'm sure today will be no different.”
One thing will be different: Adam Duvall, owner of five RBIs in the series, is starting in left field and batting sixth. Matt Joyce, who’s 1-for-9, will sit.
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