Baseball

Michael Cunningham: Braves season ends with 26 minutes of misery

The Braves lost their ninth consecutive playoff series, not including the 2012 wild-card game. They lost the NLDS for the seventh consecutive time. For the sixth time in those nine series the Braves watched an opponent celebrate a postseason series victory on their field.

I didn't think the Braves would carry the burden of those past postseason failures. I was right. This is a new Braves era. They collapsed in more spectacular fashion than any of their predecessors. These Braves broke new ground in "Barves" lore.

The Cardinals set an MLB record for runs scored in the first inning of a postseason game. They tied the record for runs scored in any inning of a postseason game. No team had scored that many runs during one inning of a winner-take-all game. The Cardinals are the first team to score 10 runs in a postseason inning without hitting a home run.

It was a sour end to Foltynewicz's comeback campaign. The Braves sent him to the minors in June. Foltynewicz worked on his craft and rejoined the Braves in August. He was good through the end of the season and shut down the Cardinals in Game 2.

That's why it was shocking to see manager Brian Snitker taking the ball from Foltynewicz in Game 2 before he recorded two outs. "Folty" walked leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, and then things got worse. The low point Matt Carpenter walking to score a run, one of six earned by Foltynewicz.

Maybe things go differently if Freeman makes a play on Yadier Molina's sharp ground ball with one out. Marcell Ozuna crossed in front of Freeman just before the ball got to him, but Freeman said he wasn't distracted. Both Ozuna and Molina are slow runners, so a double play was possible if Freeman got the ball in his glove.

Instead, it squirted off the heel. All runners were safe on the error. The bases were loaded. Foltynewicz walked Carpenter before Edman smacked the double to make it 4-0. Max Fried replaced Foltynewicz and immediately walked home another run.

The Cardinals would hit two more run-scoring doubles before Fried struck out Ozuna for the third out. Except it wasn't over because Ozuna reached on Fried's wild pitch. Kolten Wong scored.

The game had become a farce. When Molina grounded out to end the inning for St. Louis – for real this time – Braves fans let out a sarcastic cheer. They'd booed their team plenty before that. It was a stark contrast to October of last year. Then, fans at SunTrust Park sincerely applauded the overachieving Braves after their season ended with an NLDS loss to the Dodgers.

But I can't blame the customers for being upset about this loss. Perhaps later they'll gain some perspective on a successful Braves season. It was hard to do that after witnessing the first-inning wretchedness of the Braves. There was little entertainment beyond gallows humor.

The Cardinals kept adding runs. Paul DeJong hit an RBI double off Fried in the second inning. DeJong and Harrison Bader each had an RBI single against Jackson in the third. The Braves were down 13-0.

The best team doesn't always win a best-of-five baseball series. Randomness comes into play when the sample is that small. Make it one game, winner-take-all and October fortunes can be decided by strange things.

What happened to the Braves in Game 5 was weird, but not in the sense that they had bad luck. They had bad pitching. Their All-Star first baseman botched a key play in the field. The Braves played a terrible game at the worst possible time.

Until this game the Braves had shown they could pitch with the Cardinals, who have the superior staff. They scored just enough to win two games. But in the deciding game the Braves, who are supposedly the better offensive team, couldn't hit. Not that it mattered much because the Braves also labored to get out the Cardinals, who supposedly can't hit.

The Braves proved they were the best team in the NL East over 162 games. They were equal to St. Louis through four games of the NLDS. Then their season ended with a terrible 26 minutes on their home field.

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