10/08/2002 02:53 am ET
Braves had chances to score
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- The way the Braves' season began made the way their season ended much more difficult to bear.
"It was an incredible (regular) season, with guys giving themselves up, and guys finding ways to win, it was magical. But to end it this way really hurts," said Chipper Jones, who grounded into a double play to end Game 5 of the NLDS and the season for Atlanta. "I know the guys who are going to feel it the most are myself and (Gary) Sheffield because we're the guys on the spot. We're the ones who had the chances tonight.
"We had what we wanted in the ninth inning and we didn't come through. I'm sick about it. For me, personally, this is as low as it gets."
The Braves left 12 runners on base during the game and many of them were in the latter innings. They left the bases loaded in the fifth inning and two on in the first, fourth, sixth and seven innings.
But it was the ninth inning that Braves hitters and Braves fans most likely will never forget.
Down 3-1, Atlanta plotted a raucous rally against Giants closer Robb Nen. Rafael Furcal reached base on a grounder to second and Julio Franco singled to right field. That brought Sheffield, their top offseason hitting acquisition, to the plate with runners on first and third and no one out.
He took a mighty cut at the first pitch he saw.
"I was trying to get the ball in the air, get the run home, not hit into a double play and give Chipper a chance to drive in the tying run," Sheffield said.
Sheffield faced a similar situation in Game 1 and ended up hitting a slider into a game-ending double play, so he cut down his swing a little. But Nen kept feeding him 93-mph sliders pitch after pitch and Sheffield struck out swinging.
"You try to be patient in those situations," Sheffield said. "But when you get a pitch to hit, you try to do something with it."
Sheffield finished the series 1-for-16 with a solo home run and seven walks, including two on Monday night when the Braves really needed him to drive in runs.
Braves manager Bobby Cox said it was simply not Sheffield's fault.
"I'm sure not disappointed in Gary Sheffield, I'll tell you that," Cox said. "He gives you everything he's got. He had a terrific season. They didn't give him much to hit at, to be honest with you. He had a pitch or two tonight that Nen made mistakes on and he missed. They pitched him really tough, I thought. We love Gary Sheffield. He had a tremendous year."
Sheffield, however, could think only of the way it ended.
"It was very frustrating," Sheffield said. "We had opportunities, we just didn't capitalize. We had men on base. I felt like when those two got on in the ninth, I felt like we were going to win. We had everything set up the way we wanted, but we backed ourselves into a corner against their best pitcher."
Jones approached the plate after Sheffield and also knew to look for a nasty slider from Nen.
"I had been in that situation earlier in the year, looked for a slider and drove in two runs," Jones said.
The ball and the game did not take the same path this time for Jones. It rolled down the first base line, where J.T. Snow grabbed it, tagged first and then Franco was caught between first and second base to end the game.
"I don't know how that ball stayed fair," Jones said. "I've hit that ball a thousand times and it always rolled foul."
For Jones, the loss was as tough as he has known.
"This is right up there with 1996 (World Series loss to the Yankees) for me," Jones said. "You can go right on down the line. They're all disappointing right on down the line.
"The toughest part, though, for myself and Shef, is that we will remember our last at-bat as letting down our teammates, as letting down the city of Atlanta and just not getting it done."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.