“It’s tough to swallow,” Carpenter said. “I wanted the ball. I wanted to be there in the eighth inning and I just didn’t get the job done.”
With the Braves leading 3-2, Yasiel Puig doubled off Carpenter to start the eighth inning, and Uribe drove a hanging slider into the cool night to send a crowd of 54,438 into a state of delirium as the Braves watched, stunned.
“He just hung one pitch, and Uribe didn’t miss it,” catcher Brian McCann said.
“I tried to overthrow a slider,” Carpenter said. “It popped out of my hand on me and it was right there in his wheelhouse.”
It was the latest chapter in what’s become a difficult postseason saga for the Braves, who’ve lost eight of their last 10 playoff games when faced with elimination. They are 10-23 in playoff games since their last postseason series win against Houston in a 2001 division series.
The Dodgers brought back baseball’s premier starting pitcher on short rest for Game 4, figuring Clayton Kershaw was a good bet to put away the Braves.
What they probably didn’t expect were Garcia, Elliot Johnson and Jose Constanza stepping forward for Atlanta. Garcia, a 37-year-old who was cast off by the Padres and Orioles this year, went pitch-for-pitch with Kershaw for six innings and Constanza’s pinch-hit single in the seventh drove in Johnson with the go-ahead run and a 3-2 lead for the Braves.
At that point, the Braves felt good about their chances of forcing a Game 5 in Atlanta, where they had baseball’s best home record this season.
“You could almost see the wheels going up on the airplane, and they (Dodgers) were going to have to go with us,” Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird said. “Carp just made one mistake.”
The Braves had major league saves leader Craig Kimbrel ready to go for his second four-out save of the postseason and fourth of the year, but Gonzalez said they never considered having him try to get all six outs in the eighth and ninth innings. Kimbrel hasn’t recorded more than four outs in a relief appearance since early in the 2011 season.
Carpenter was sent in to get two outs and get the lead to Kimbrel. But the lead didn’t get to baseball’s dominant closer, who pitched one time in the four-game series.
“David Carpenter’s been unbelievable all year,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We wouldn’t be here without him and our whole bullpen.”
What could have been a momentum-establishing, come-from-behind win to take them into a winner-take-all Game 5 at Turner Field, instead turned into a brutal loss that abruptly ended a season that saw the Braves win 96 games and their first NL East title since 2005, but once again fall short in the postseason.
“We were feeling it, and we got close to it,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “Unfortunately they scored two runs late in the game, and we ran out of opportunities to score more runs…. We didn’t play bad (in the series), I thought. But we could have done better. Their offense was on fire. They made us pay for every pitch that stayed down the middle, pretty much.”
Trailing 2-0 after Carl Crawford home runs in the first and third innings, the Braves tied it up in the fourth by taking advantage of sloppy Dodgers defense. Chris Johnson drove in first run with a single, the second of his three hits, and Simmons’ fielder’s choice grounder drove in the tying run after the Dodgers blew a potential double play.
The Braves then took the lead in the seventh after Elliot Johnson tripled with one out on a ball that right fielder Yasiel Puig failed to field cleanly in the right-field corner. Constanza followed with a single to center in the second plate appearance of his postseason career. (His other was a triple in last year’s Wild Card game loss against St. Louis.)
Garcia left with a 3-2 lead and was in line for what would’ve been his seventh win in 11 postseason starts — nine came before 2006 — by allowing eight hits and two runs in six innings, with two walks and six strikeouts.
“He was outstanding, he really was,” Gonzalez said. “He matched pitch-for-pitch with Kershaw.”
Kershaw, who had 12 strikeouts and threw 124 pitches in seven innings of his Game 1 win, was charged with three hits and two unearned runs in six innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.
When Garcia was Kershaw’s age (25), he’d won 16 or more games more times (three) than has Kershaw (two), the overwhelming favorite to win his second Cy Young Award in the past three years.
But Garcia was Kershaw’s age more than a decade ago and no one would’ve believed as recently as a month ago that Garcia would pitch for the Braves in a playoff game, much less an elimination game against the Dodgers left-hander.
Yet there he was, not just pitching but holding his own against Kershaw, who pitched on short rest for the first time in his career, after the Dodgers announced earlier Monday that their ace would replace scheduled starter Ricky Nolasco.
“I’m really happy for myself but it doesn’t matter because we lost,” said Garcia, whose 37th birthday was Saturday. “We win as a team. We lose as a team. So it doesn’t matter what I did. In the end, we lost. From here I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ll keep working and see what happens next year.”
For most of the night, it looked like the Braves’ decade-plus of playoff failure would be cast aside by the cast-off Garcia.
Crawford homered in the first and third innings, giving the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter three homers in two nights. This came after he hit just one home run in 87 regular-season games (328 at-bats) after May 6.
Both homers off Garcia came with two strikes, as did Crawford’s game-changing homer off Julio Teheran in the second inning of Game 3 Sunday, which put the Dodgers ahead 4-2 after the Braves had jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
He led off the first inning Monday with a homer on an 80-mph splitter.
Crawford had led off another game with a home run against Garcia back in July 2005, when Garcia was still a hard-throwing member of the White Sox rotation and would go on to pitch seven scoreless innings in their World Series-clinching win that year against the Astros.
Garcia had begun to settle into a groove Monday and struck out three of the last four batters he faced – using a 74-90 mph array of curveballs, sliders, splitters sinkers and change-ups — before Crawford came up again with one out in the third inning. This time Garcia had him at a 2-2 count before Crawford fouled off a change-up and drove a sinker to the seats beyond the right-field corner for a 2-0 lead.
When the next batter, Mark Ellis, reached on a pop-up that turned into a double when it bounced off second baseman Elliot Johnson’s glove as he nearly collided with Justin Upton near the right-field line, the crowd erupted. But Garcia appeared unfazed by the development.
He then struck out Hanley Ramirez – whose six extra-base hits in the first three games tied a Dodgers franchise record for a postseason series — and induced a groundout by Adrian Gonzalez to get out of the inning without further damage.
That’s when Braves hitters finally put something together against Kershaw, who had limited them to three hits and one run in seven innings of the Dodgers’ 6-1 win in the series opener. Freddie Freeman led off the fourth inning with a single, and Evan Gattis hit a fielder’s choice grounder to first baseman Gonzalez, whose throw to second base was wide for his second error of the game.
With two on and none out, Kershaw threw a wild pitch and the Braves had two runners in scoring position. McCann struck out looking for the second time in as many at-bats, and would end up striking out all four times he came to the plate in what might have been the pending free agent’s last game as a Brave, and going 0-for-13 in the series.
But Chris Johnson hit the next pitch through the left side of the infield to cut the lead to 2-1. Andrelton Simmons followed with a potential inning-ending double-play grounder, and again the Dodgers misplayed it. Third baseman Uribe fielded and threw to second baseman Mark Ellis, who fired an off-target throw to first base as Simmons slid hands-first across the base and Gattis scored the tying run.
“I tip my cap to that (Braves) team,” Kershaw said. “I have a ton of respect for that team. They play the game the right way, and there are so many guys over there that I just have a tremendous amount of respect for. They were not going to go down easy.”
The Braves were charged up at that point, and even more so after Constanza’s go-ahead single in the seventh. The Dodger Stadium crowd, which had mocked the Braves’ tomahawk chop the night before, was now subdued.
But it wouldn’t last. Not the mood, not the lead, and not the Braves’ hopes of ending their postseason drought.