They blew it this time by waiting two outs too long. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said afterward that he planned to use Kimbrel in Game 4 the same way he deployed him in Game 2 — for a four-out save — but that he hadn’t considered letting his closer get six outs. That sounded odd: Why four but not six? Still, let’s recall 1996: Bobby Cox summoned Wohlers, whose normal purview was the ninth inning, in the eighth, and the eighth was when Leyritz struck his tying blow.
Come October, the Braves are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Only one team in baseball history ever lost more than eight consecutive postseason series — we’re counting last year’s Wild Card game as a series — and surely you know which one. The Chicago Cubs lost 10 in a row, a drought that ended in 2003 when, sure enough, they beat the Braves.
As for the Falcons: They couldn’t get through Tuesday without more grim tidings. Julio Jones, whose falling one-handed catch galvanized their fourth-quarter comeback, has been diagnosed with an injured foot and could miss the rest of the season. A year after coming within 10 yards of a Super Bowl, are the Falcons about to go 6-10?
Yes, this is wallowing in misery, but for us Atlantans, wallowing is second nature. Atlanta-based teams in the four major North American pro sports — here we count both the Flames and the Thrashers, NHL franchises who left for Canada — have won one championship (the Braves in 1995) in 158 seasons. That’s a batting average of .006, which is way worse than Dan Uggla’s. Even the Dream, who have reached the WNBA finals three times in four years, were swept in their first two tries, and they lost Sunday’s Game 1 to Minnesota by 25 points.
Our frustration has become so nuanced that one must split hairs to categorize the woe. Monday-into-Tuesday was the worst night in Atlanta sports annals, but it wasn’t the worst day. That came on Oct. 9, 2005.
Behind backup quarterback Matt Schaub (playing because Michael Vick was injured), the Falcons rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie New England at the Georgia Dome, whereupon Tom Brady drove the Patriots within sight of Adam Vinatieri’s winning field goal. That same afternoon the Braves played Game 4 of the NLDS in Houston and led 6-1, a lead forfeited when closer Kyle Farnsworth yielded a grand slam to Lance Berkman in the eighth inning and a tying homer to Brad Ausmus in the ninth.
The game would last another nine innings, Chris Burke finally winning the series for the Astros with a home run off Joey Devine in the 18th. (The winning pitcher was Roger Clemens, who appeared in relief in the 16th.) That was the day of all-time Atlanta awfulness, and now we have a matching night. We can only hope that nobody starts scheduling October games in the morning.