The stage was set up perfectly for the Braves to take game three and seize a 2-1 lead in the NLDS and put the Giants on the verge of elimination. The Braves couldn’t have scripted it any better, really. They had their ace Tim Hudson on the mound for game three and the offense looked like it had awoken in their late game two surge that lifted them to evening up the series.
But, it was apparently not in the cards for the Braves.
The Braves offense struggled for most of the afternoon and despite a great pitching performance from Hudson.
Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants starter, stymied the Braves offense through seven innings and held them scoreless.
The lone run allowed by Tim Hudson was unearned in the second inning. Mike Fontenot led off the inning with a triple that went off Jason Heyward’s glove in right field as he collided with the wall.
The next batter, Cody Ross popped the ball up into shallow right and Brooks Conrad gave chase, but the ball bounced out of his glove allowing Ross to reach first safely and Fontenot to score to give the Giants a 1-0. It was Conrad’s second error in as many innings and it wouldn’t be his last defensive blunder of the game.
Aside from the triple by Fontenot, Hudson was brilliant on the mound. He finished with a line of:
7.0 IP 4 H 1 R 4 BB 5 SO
It was exactly the kind of outing the Braves were hoping for from Hudson. But, up to that point, the Braves offense hadn’t been able to manufacture any runs of support for Huddy and the game was still 1-0 as we headed into the bottom of the 8th inning.
Alex Gonzalez led off the inning with a single off of Jonathan Sanchez, just the second hit the Braves got off of Sanchez with the first happening in the sixth inning with Tim Hudson breaking up the no hitter.
The Gonzalez single signaled the end of the night for Sanchez. Sergio Romo came into the game out of the bullpen for the Giants. That prompted Bobby Cox to send up Eric Hinske to pinch-hit for Rick Ankiel.
Again, the Braves couldn’t have scripted this moment any better. Eric Hinske stepped up just like Rick Ankiel had on Friday night. Hinske hit a line drive home run off of Romo that just got over the right field wall and gave the Braves a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth inning.
Without Billy Wagner, the Braves had to go with Craig Kimbrel to try and close out the game and give the Braves a 2-1 lead in the series.
Kimbrel forced Cody Ross to pop out for the first out, but then issued a walk to Travis Ishikawa. After striking out Andres Torres, Kimbrel had Freddy Sanchez in an 0-2 hole, but gave up a base hit up the middle to put runners on first and second with two outs.
Then, Bobby Cox began to over-manage the ninth inning. He removed Kimbrel in favor or Mike Dunn, the left hander to face lefty Aubrey Huff. I am confident that Kimbrel could have made the last out of the game and Bobby should have been too. He would have never taken out Wagner in that situation and he needed to instill some confidence into the future closer of the team.
Dunn allowed Huff to single into right to bring home Ishikawa and tie the score at 2. That prompted Bobby to come back out and remove Dunn in favor of Peter Moylan. With two outs, Moylan got the ground ball he wanted from Buster Posey, but Brooks Conrad channeled his inner Bill Buckner and the ball went right under his legs allowing Freddy Sanchez to score and give the Giants a 3-2 lead.
Kyle Farnsworth came on and got the last out of the inning, sending the game into the bottom of the ninth.
Brian Wilson came on to try and shut the door on the Braves. He got Jason Heyward and Derrek Lee out to start the inning, but Brian McCann kept the game alive with an infield single. That prolonged the game for just a second though as Nate McLouth grounded out to second to end the game.
The 3-2 loss for the Braves was a bitter pill to swallow. The range of emotions from Hinske’s go-ahead home run in the eighth to Conrad’s third error in the ninth inning is hard to describe.
Conrad’s defensive lapses killed the Braves. He’s not an everyday player, but Bobby has had to play the hand he has been dealt with Chipper Jones and Martin Prado being lost for the season.
But, Bobby is making the right move by benching Conrad for game four. The errors are now in his head more than they are in his glove right now. Bobby has moved Omar Infante to second base and Troy Glaus will be starting at third base. Glaus isn’t a great defensive upgrade, but it can’t get any worse than three errors in a playoff game.
The lineup has been shaken up for the Braves tonight with Jason Heyward moving from 2nd to 6th in the order. Matt Diaz will hit 2nd against the left hander Madison Bumgarner.
The Braves will send out Derek Lowe on three days of rest as he looks to extend the Braves postseason lives as they face elimination in game four against the Giants. The game is tonight at 7:37 ET and it could be the last of Bobby Cox’s managerial career.
Let’s hope not. Here’s to at least one more game as the Braves send the series back to San Francisco with a game four win.