The Principality

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Uribe Ends Braves Season In One Swing

The Braves knew they faced an uphill task when Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly named Clayton Kershaw as his starter for Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series.  However, things looked a lot more promising as the game entered the bottom of the eighth inning with the Braves leading 3-2 and Kershaw done for the night.  But twenty minutes later the Braves season was over, 4-3 losers thanks to a two-run home run from Juan Uribe.

The Braves needed a victory over a highly fancied Los Angeles outfit to keep the series alive and force a deciding game in Atlanta on Wednesday night.  To try and achieve this they tabbed veteran Freddy Garcia as their starter.  Since joining Atlanta in August, Garcia had impressed, going 1-2 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts.  The 37-year-old was picked up from the Baltimore Orioles after going 3-5 with a 5.77 ERA for the Birds.  Whilst not the most reassuring credentials, Garcia more than held his own against the likely Cy Young Award winner.


Nonetheless, the game started in the worst possible fashion for Atlanta.  Buzzing with confidence from his home run in Game 3, speedy outfielder Carl Crawford led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run to put Los Angeles ahead.  Two innings later it was a case of déjà vu as Crawford doubled the Dodgers’ lead with a solo shot to right field.  "It's fun to be able to smile again and play good," Crawford said.  "Just to be able to play the game that you grew up loving and not have to worry about so much other stuff. It feels good to just be able to play baseball and smile."


A 2-0 lead would have been plenty for Kershaw in Game 1, where he pitched seven strong innings and struck out 12, but the Braves were better prepared to face him this time around and immediately rallied against him in the top of the fourth.  Freddie Freeman led off with a hit up the middle and moved into scoring position when Adrian Gonzalez threw Evan Gattis’ grounder away.  Feeling some pressure, Kershaw then threw a wild pitch to put Freeman at third and Gattis at second, before striking out Brian McCann.  As the Dodgers’ fans started to believe Kershaw might get out of trouble, Chris Johnson pulled a single into left field, scoring Freeman and cutting the deficit to one.  Gattis then scored to tie the game on a ground ball out from Andrelton Simmons.


With the scores level, Garcia proved his worth, shutting down the Dodgers offense and looking the more assured of the two starters.  Whenever he got into any trouble he pitched his way out of it, catching Yasiel Puig stealing (with the help of McCann) in the fourth and inducing a double play in the sixth from the same player, sending a clear message to his doubters.  "I like people to think that way so I can prove them wrong," Garcia said. "I've faced a lot of great guys in my career and I've been here before. That wasn't any different today. I went out there and did my job like I always try to do."


It was a strong six-inning effort from Garcia.  He gave up no further runs and struck out six batters in total on eight hits and two walks.  Pitching on short rest and clearly a little fatigued, Kershaw too was pulled after six innings and the Braves immediately capitalised.  Elliot Johnson’s first hit of the series was a big one, a one-out triple to the right field corner.  Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez then lifted Garcia to allow Jose Constanza to pinch-hit and his base hit gave the Braves the lead.  "They said this guy puts the ball in play, and in the postseason, you need somebody to put the ball in play” Gonzalez said.  "You know, it took us about five, six days to settle on our roster for the series.  Constanza was in consideration and our coaching staff really wanted him on the roster.”


It was almost a masterstroke from the Braves skipper.  With a one-run lead and nine outs to get, Gonzalez turned the ball over to his reliable bullpen knowing that closer, Craig Kimbrel, was fresh and able to pitch some of the eighth inning if need be.  Yet it was the eighth inning that provided the night’s drama.  David Carpenter was called on to pitch for the Braves.  Carpenter had been stellar during the regular season, going 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 56 games, but immediately gave up a lead-off double to Puig.  With the tying run in scoring position, Gonzalez opted to show faith in Carpenter and not call on Kimbrel.  It proved to be costly. 


Next up was Juan Uribe.  Mattingly would have the portly third baseman attempt to bunt Puig to third base, but after two fouled attempts, Uribe was given the green light to swing away and he launched a homer into the left field seats, sending Dodger Stadium into raptures and breaking Braves hearts.  "It was a good moment for me," Uribe said. "It was a good moment, too, for doing my job. This is what I tell my teammates. A lot of people want to be in the moment that we have right now. And this moment we'll never forget."


The result could have been so different had Uribe been successful in his bunt attempt.  "Why am I bunting him? That's what I thought at first," joked Mattingly. "But really, I'm thinking of shooting the ball to the right side, moving a runner over, driving him in and the next thing you know, as soon as he hit it, I knew it was gone. I'm thinking, playoffs are so stupid, aren't they? Just crazy. That's what I'm thinking about."  Dodgers closer, Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the ninth to complete a memorable comeback win for the Dodgers.


It was harder for the Braves to stomach though.  "We thought we were right there," Freeman said. "It's tough to swallow when you're given as great a performance as Freddy (Garcia) gave us tonight."  Naturally Carpenter blamed himself.  "I'm the reason we're not going back to Atlanta," he said. "I'll take the responsibility for it every time. I let the guys down. It kills me to have to say that."


Yet Carpenter could hardly be blamed for a series loss in which, in all honesty, the Braves were outplayed in every department.  The team’s famed offense never really got going, hitting just one home run the entire series.  Starters Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran struggled, putting the team in early holes in Games 1 and 3, respectively.  The bullpen looked frail and defense was sloppy at times.  "We haven't been able to finish the job," general manager Frank Wren said. "We play good baseball. We get in a position to win, but ..."


And so goes the same old story.  This loss marks the eighth consecutive postseason series lost.  For all the team’s regular season dominance down the years, there is nothing to show for it.  The 1995 World Series win was 18 long years ago and unless this team can figure out how to win games in October, it could be a long time until the next.


Andrew Bracegirdle

7 October 2013