Resilient Braves ushered out by Giants
Injury-plagued club gave its all for Cox, but NLDS run ends
ATLANTA -- Tears filled the Braves' clubhouse at Turner Field as players said goodbye to a beloved manager and a promising season on Monday night.
With Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and, finally, closer Billy Wagner relegated to bystander roles, these resilient Braves, who overcame adversity all season, tried gamely to send out manager Bobby Cox with one more trip to the World Series. But the wounded Braves didn't have enough to recover from a decisive two-run seventh inning that gave the Giants a 3-2 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series and a chance to celebrate a 3-1 series win.
Derek Lowe's desire to remain out on the mound in the seventh after allowing just one hit through the first six frames -- a Cody Ross sixth-inning solo shot -- was the beginning of the Braves' unraveling, as he proceeded to load the bases with a walk with one out. Upon his departure, an inexperienced bullpen took over with no room for error.
But this was the kind of determination that led Cox to say that this club was the hardest-working and grittiest club he managed during a legendary 29-season managerial career that came to an end with the Braves' third one-run loss suffered during the best-of-five series.
"It couldn't have been a better series, only if we had won," said Cox, who was fully adorned in his uniform more than 30 minutes after watching what was left of his club get eliminated from this postseason.
Brian McCann gave the Braves hope with a go-ahead leadoff homer in the sixth. But in the top of the seventh, the Giants took advantage of two walks issued by Lowe and then found fortune when Alex Gonzalez had to stretch to field Juan Uribe's game-tying grounder and then made a high throw to second base that prevented the Braves from recording an out.
"It's my job to get a ground ball and you get it, but it's two feet to the right," said Peter Moylan, who surrendered the Uribe grounder that was too far to the right for Gonzalez to turn an inning-ending double play. "That's part of being a ground-ball pitcher."
Gonzalez's high throw proved more detrimental when Jonny Venters recorded what would have been an inning-ending strikeout to Aaron Rowand before allowing Ross to deliver his game-winning RBI single to left field. Diaz kept the deficit at one run with a strong throw to nail Pat Burrell at the plate.
But the sufficient damage had already been done. Still, in fitting fashion, this same club that recorded a Major League-best 25 last-at-bat wins, drew consecutive one-out walks in the ninth before Giants closer Brian Wilson retired Omar Infante and Melky Cabrera to end the game, the series and Cox's career.
With a crowd of 44,532 chanting "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby," Cox came out to acknowledge the fans with a tip of the cap. He then went into the clubhouse and tearfully said goodbye to his club.
"I'm proud of this team," Cox said. "They played their hearts out and I'll miss them."
"There's so much emotion going into where we are right now," said Lowe, who allowed three runs -- two earned -- and two hits in 6 1/3 innings. "We're obviously frustrated about the way things went and ultimately understanding this is Bobby's last game."
Showing some of that undying loyalty that never went unnoticed by the players who were part of his journey, Cox opted to allow Lowe to remain in the game with a one-run lead after a walk and infield single gave the Giants runners at first and second base with one out in the seventh.
Lowe had faced the minimum through the first five innings. The only thing separating him from perfection was a tough error charged to Gonzalez after he ranged to his right to attempt to backhand a fourth-inning grounder off the speedy Andres Torres' bat.
The decision was left to be second-guessed when the veteran sinkerballer loaded the bases with a five-pitch walk to Burrell. Lowe exited the mound with a 101-pitch gem, but the bullpen that consisted of five rookies blew a lead for the second time in less than 24 hours just moments later.
"I think that's the beauty of baseball. You can always look back and say, 'If I come out of that game right there and we get a double play, we win,'" Lowe said. "But I think as a competitor, you always want to stay out there as long as you can, because you always think you're going to find a way to get out of it."
"We worked all season long, and injuries bit us late," said McCann who also victimized Madison Bumgarner with a second-inning sacrifice fly. "I can't speak enough about how hard we played all year. We showed up for 162 games. I'm honored to play with everybody in this clubhouse and for Bobby. I'm going to miss him a ton."
The Braves were determined to overcome the season-ending knee injury that Jones suffered on Aug. 10 and motivated to persevere when Prado went down late in September. But while scoring two runs or fewer in each of the losses they suffered during the NLDS, the club found that, with a wounded offense, it couldn't overcome the excellence of the Giants' pitching.
"I think we were better than the Giants," Jones said. "At full strength, I think we were better than the Giants. Unfortunately, we couldn't prove that. They went out there and beat us on the field, and that's all that matters. But in our heart of hearts, we can feel like we were a little short-handed and not able to play up to our potential."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.