Last weekend was full of promise as a sports fan in the State of Georgia.
On Friday the Braves, back in the postseason for the first time since 2010, were ready to go against the team that had unceremoniously knocked them out last season. Equipped with a lights out bullpen (anchored by Craig Kimbrel), a retiring, yet productive icon in Chipper Jones, and 94 regular season victories that, in just about any other division would have meant they were waiting at home until Sunday instead of being in the first “do-or-die” Wild Card game in Major League Baseball’s new playoff format.
The University of Georgia Bulldogs were riding a regular-season winning streak and were sitting pretty in the top-5 of the AP polls. They were set to face their (now) bitter rival to the North the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and that “Old Ball Coach” who tormented them when he was just the “Head Ball Coach” down at the University of Florida. The Bulldogs had more weapons, more “stars” on defense and no excuses as they were at full strength even without super stud receiver Michael Bennett. This was a chance to rectify not just the two consecutive losses to the Gamecocks, or the perception that Georgia can’t win when the lights are brightest (ESPN’s College Gameday was in Columbia, South Carolina for the SEC showdown), or even (FINALLY) quiet the cries for Head Coach Mark Richt to be fired.
This was a chance, on a Saturday that saw the number 3 and 4 teams in front of you lose, to make a statement against a formidable opponent and possibly vault into the top-3 and maybe, just maybe, take over that number two spot going into the bye week.
Alas everything, and I do mean every, single, solitary thing that could have gone wrong for both of those teams with so much on the line went wrong. Nay. Horribly wrong.
On Friday October 5th, 2012 at 5:07 pm as the state of Georgia buckled in for what was supposed to be their moment in the sports universe sun all they got was a meltdown of their states most beloved teams.
David Ross made Fredi Gonzalez look like a genius for doing what sabremetricians and purist alike (I happen to be a mix of both) thought he should do starting David Ross at catcher. Is he superior than Brian McCann? No. He will admit that. But he was the best option given McCann’s injury, season long struggles at the plate, and being less adept at defense. When Ross hit that two-run homer off of Kyle Lohse I couldn’t help but wonder if this was finally the year Peachtree celebrated a run to the World Series to remember.
But then Chipper Jones, the icon, the man simply known as “number 10” around these parts channeled his best Brooks Conrad in what could be one of the most stunning turn of events I’d ever seen in 22-years affiliated with this great game.
Well. To that point.
That error led to three runs and with the Braves trying to rally late, down 6-3 an even more inexplicable thing happened. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma drifted back on an Andrelton Simmons fly ball (Simmons of the inexcusable “safety bunt” his manager covered for) and got crossed up with left fielder Matt Holliday on the call. It dropped, the state erupted. Bases loaded, one out, and Brian McCann with bum shoulder and all coming to the plate. You had to like the chances. You had to like the fact that these Braves had a shot. The same Braves who twice stunned the Phillies, who came back from 9-0 down against this years NL East Champion Nationals have a shot.
Through the commotion however I hadn’t noticed Fredi Gonzalez had already made a B-Line towards left field umpire Sam Holbrook who inexplicably had called it an infield fly. Forget it was in left field, forget it would have been the longest infield fly rule called all season (by over 50 feet) and try to remember the rule itself wasn’t necessary. The call didn’t happen until Kozma was sprinting back to the infield to make way for Holliday. Where was the ordinary effort?
From there you know the rest. The Braves continued pressing, reaching, and being downright overpowered by the Cardinals bullpen. Bourn, McCann, Chipper and Heyward couldn’t figure it out in time and the Braves (and their fans) watched as another celebration took place in Atlanta in the postseason that didn’t involve their team.
Braves fans were deflated, confused and dejected. But remained hopeful that their Bulldogs could make up for it the next night.
They picked themselves up, moved on, and hope sprang eternal in the Fall air once again.