Archive for Monday, October 22, 2001

Braves’ season ends early again

October 22, 2001

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— A 10th straight trip to the postseason ended like nine others. The Braves watched another team celebrate, then tried to figure out why they fell short.

This time, it was the Arizona Diamondbacks who sent the the Atlanta Braves on to the offseason, wrapping up the NL championship series in five games with a 3-2 victory Sunday night at Turner Field.

Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine reacts after walking Arizona's Reggie
Sanders. Arizona defeated the Braves on Sunday at Atlanta.

Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine reacts after walking Arizona's Reggie Sanders. Arizona defeated the Braves on Sunday at Atlanta.

"Anything less than winning the World Series is disappointing," said Tom Glavine, who took the loss in Game 5. "We made mistakes, mental and physical, and every time we made one, they took advantage of it. We made way too many."

While the Diamondbacks moved on to their first World Series, the Braves could at least take solace in putting up more of a battle than the previous two nights.

"I think it was a well-played game," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "There was great pitching, some good defensive plays, some hits, a lot of action. It was a good baseball game, fun to play in."

Unlike Game 3, when Javy Lopez missed a throw home and the Braves failed twice to cover first in a 5-1 loss.

Or Game 4, when the Braves resembled a group of Little Leaguers. They became the first team in the 33-year history of the NLCS to make three errors in one inning. There were four in all, leading to six unearned runs and an 11-4 loss.

The Braves, a team that is built around pitching and defense, were downright embarrassed.

"That's what makes it so easy to forget," Jones said. "You just have to pass it off as being fluky."

After Saturday's abomination, someone wrote a hopeful message on the clubhouse board: "We WILL be traveling to Arizona."

Indeed, the Braves kept it close against Randy Johnson, but another error provided the deciding blow.

Marcus Giles bobbled a grounder leading off the fifth, and pinch-hitter Erubiel Durazo hit a two-out, two-run homer off Tom Glavine, a liner that just stayed fair as it whizzed by the foul pole in left.

That gave Arizona nine unearned runs in the last three games of the series.

Relievers Steve Karsay and John Smoltz shut down the Diamondbacks the rest of the way, and the Braves had their chances to send the series back to the desert.

In the fifth, Julio Franco grounded out with the bases loaded. In the seventh, Franco had an RBI single and the Braves loaded the bases again. Brian Jordan struck out on a slider at his feet, the final pitch thrown by Johnson.

Byung-Hyun Kim stoned the Braves over the final two innings, allowing just a walk.

This is the third time in five seasons that another team has celebrated a league championship at Turner Field. The Florida Marlins beat the Braves in 1997, the San Diego Padres repeated the feat in 1998. Now, Arizona is moving on.

The Marlins and Diamondbacks didn't even exist when Atlanta began its unprecedented run of postseason appearances in 1991.

Even with all those chances, the Braves have managed only one World Series championship, ensuring that their legacy as one of baseball's great teams will always be accompanied by an asterisk.

The Brooklyn Dodgers are the closest parallel, managing only one Series title in seven tries during the 1940s and '50s. They are remembered as one of the sport's most loved and lovable teams, an image that hardly fits the Braves.

"A lot of it is perception," Smoltz said. "With the talent level we've had and the level of pitching that we've had, people expect us to win more championships."

This one was a longshot all the way. The Braves were not a great team, just an aging dynasty hoping for one more chance at a ring.

The starting pitchers aren't as imposing, and the tightening budget of AOL-Time Warner forced the Braves to settle for the 40-year-old (at least) Franco salvaged from the Mexican League instead of trading for someone such as Fred McGriff or Andres Galarraga, both dealt to playoff contenders before the deadline.

There will be some difficult decisions in the days ahead. Smoltz and Lopez are potential free agents. Franco and B.J. Surhoff are unlikely to return.

After a significant drop in attendance this season, it will be more difficult than ever to keep the playoff streak alive.

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