The roller-coaster National League Division Series ended with a devastating loss for the Braves on Wednesday, leaving fans sick to their stomachs knowing that the Braves came so close to ending a nearly two-decade drought of playoff series wins.
And the loss Wednesday to the St. Louis Cardinals wasn’t just bad, it was really bad — of historic proportions. The Braves were down 10-0 after the first inning. No team had ever scored that many runs in the first inning in the playoffs. Ever.
The Cardinals scored their 10 runs on only five hits, and the Braves players seemed as shell-shocked as the crowd. An inning of bad baseball produced an insurmountable deficit, especially as the Cardinals continued to score runs on their way to a 13-1 victory.
It was eerily quiet as stunned fans watched the miserable game in disbelief. A collective pain inside the SunTrust Park was palpable. The game essentially was over before fans had time to finish their hot dog or first cold beverage.
“This hurts so bad. I just can’t believe it,” said John Hanna, a 66-year-old fan who has been rooting for the Braves since the 1960s. He remained faithful after moving to Houston in 1990, and made a special trip this week for Game 5.
“This is honestly one of the most painful moments of my life.”
The Braves announced a sellout crowd of 43,122. By the ninth inning, only about a quarter of the fans were still there.
After the fifth inning, and after the Braves failed to capitalize on bases being loaded, fans started leaving in droves. Dejected fans slowly walked out of SunTrust Park. Some cried, and others sighed, feeling deep disappointment over a series where moments of clutch Braves hitting were outnumbered by squandered opportunities to advance to the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2001.
The loss abruptly ended a season of high expectations and many thrilling wins. They won 97 games this season and their second consecutive division title.
The series has been marked by heart-pumping dramatic wins and deflating losses.
On Sunday, Dansby Swanson hit a tying double with two outs in the ninth inning, and Adam Duvall delivered a two-run single for the Braves to rally past the the Cardinals 3-1 and take a 2-1 lead in the NL Division Series.
But for thrilling as the Game 3 win was Sunday, the Game 4 loss deflated the fans’ joyous feeling. The Braves lost a back-and-forth Game 4 on Monday afternoon, 5-4 in 10 innings. And the Braves had their chances - they left the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh.
And then there was Game 5. Tension already was high going in the winner-take-all game. Like many other fans, Randy Sutt of Duluth said he felt excited and nervous before the game started.
Sutt, who is 69 and lives in Duluth, was attending a conference near SunTrust Park when he decided to head to the ballpark and try his luck at a standing-room only ticket. He secured one for $40. Sutt, who suffered a heart attack in July, said while the series was full of intense moments, he tries to stay calm and avoid any sudden upticks in heart rate.
“I try to not to get too emotional, but you know how that goes,” he said.
By the fourth inning, Sutt had walked every level of the stadium, hoping the Braves would turn things around. And with the Braves down 13-1, Sutt was not giving up.
“They need to start the rally earlier than the seventh inning,” he said.
Sutt stayed to the bitter end. He said he felt sad, “sad to end a great season this way.”
Emma and Trey Pfaff, along with their two young children, left after the fifth inning.
“It is an Atlanta tradition to blow it,” Trey Pfaff said. “To have a really great season and cap it off like this hurts.”
But as the family stepped outside the park, the Pfaffs tried to be upbeat.
“We’ll be back next season,” he said.
Even Cardinals fans seemed less-than-thrilled with the game.
“I am more excited about moving onto the next level than the game itself,” said Blue Howard, who is 30 and is from St. Louis, but now lives in Atlanta. “I was expecting a close game, like 3-2. I was not expecting this.”
One thing the Braves did not do Wednesday was distribute foam tomahawks to fans for the game. The team also said it would take measures to reduce the tomahawk chop done by fans.
The team distributed the tomahawks at Games 1 and 2 of the series at SunTrust Park before the playoff moved to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.
The Braves said the decision was based on concerns raised from Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley before Game 2 in which he said the tomahawk chop was “disrespectful” and a “kind of caveman-type” depiction.
The team said it would limit the chant when Helsley is in the game. Helsley, a 25-year-old rookie, is from Tahlequah, Okla. His grandfather was full-blooded Cherokee and the family has deep roots in the heart of Cherokee Nation.
Helsley took offense to the fans’ arm motion and chant, used by Braves fans dating to 1991 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
- Staff writers Chris Vivlamore and David Wellham contributed to this article.