The Most Painful Braves Gut Punch Losses in October
When Brooks Conrad made his third error Sunday in Game 3 of the NLDS to give the Giants an improbable 3-2 win, it felt like a punch in the gut. Only minutes earlier, the Bravesâ€”largely on the strength of Eric Hinske’s pinch-hit, two-run home run while trailing 1-0; a feat only accomplished twice before in postseason historyâ€” had put themselves in a situation in which 92 percent of all major league teams hold on for victory.
Unfortunately, the Giants cashed in on their 8 percent odds Sunday. That’s baseball for you.
It’s not the first time the Braves have failed to win in the postseason when they had a game all but wrapped up, and Conrad’s error, while memorable, wasn’t even the biggest impact play in a Braves’ “gut-punch” loss.
After a league-mandated cooling-off period and some time spent on Baseball-Reference.com, I’ve come up with a list of the most painful punches to the gut that Braves fans have suffered in October. Some of these you’ll recall instantly with a wince. For others, the pain has faded over time. I’m using WPA (win probability added) and wWE (winner’s win expectancy), as well as my own memories of most of these games, to determine their ranks.
So, if you’ll indulge me a little baseball masochism here …
1. The Ed Sprague Game
1992 World Series, Game 2
The first time in postseason history that someone hit a pinch-hit home run to take his team from a deficit to a lead? Kirk Gibson. (I don’t believe what I just saw, either, Jack.) The second time was Ed Sprague. The Braves were two outs away from taking a 2-0 lead in the Series when Jeff Reardon surrendered this two-run blow. Before Sprague’s homer, the Blue Jays’ probability of winning was 16 percent. After it, their odds jumped to 83 percent. It’s the single biggest momentum-changing hit in any Braves playoff loss.
2. The Chris Burke Game
2005 NLDS, Game 4
A double gut-punch here. The Braves were one out from sending the series back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 against the Astrosâ€”98 percent of teams win with a one-run lead and two outs in the 9thâ€”when Brad Ausmus took Kyle Farnsworth deep in the 9th inning to tie the game at 6-6. The game dragged on for nine more inningsâ€”the Braves failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the 14th and Roger Clemens shut them down for three innings before Chris Burke ended the Braves’ season with a leadoff homer in the 18th off rookie Joey Devine.
3. The Jim Leyritz Game
1996 World Series, Game 4
What had seemed like an insurmountable 6-0 lead evaporated when the Yankees’ backup catcher turned on an ill-advised slider from Mark Wohlers for a three-run homer in the 8th. What’s often forgotten is that the 10th inning was as much of a gut punch for Braves fans: An intentional walk to Bernie Williams with runners on 1B/2B loaded the bases for Wade Boggs, who drew a walk from Steve Avery on a 3-2 count to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead. Then Ryan Klesko misplayed a popup in the lights at first base to give the Yankees an insurance run, and MVP John Wetteland did the rest. The Braves haven’t won a World Series game since.
4. The Brooks Conrad Game
2010 NL Division Series, Game 3
A nightmare game for the journeyman infielder, who was only pressed into the starting lineup after season-ending injuries to All-Stars Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. Conrad tied a major league postseason record with three errors, and each was more harmful to the Braves than the last. The Braves had a 92 percent probability of winning before the Giants rallied in the 9th. Amazingly, Hinske’s pinch-hit homer was the third on that list with Gibson and Sprague. And Conrad was the first player to make an error to allow the winning run to score in the 9th inning or later of a playoff game since … Bill Buckner.
5. The Kirby Puckett Game
1991 World Series, Game 6
“And we’ll see you … tomorrow night!”
6. The Lenny Dykstra Game
1993 NLCS, Game 5
For the second time in the series, Phillies closer Mitch Williams ruined a dominating start by Curt Schilling as the Braves rallied with a 3-run 9th. Francisco Cabrera’s RBI single tied the game at 3-3, but the Braves stranded the go-ahead run on 3rd to send it into extra innings. With one out in the 10th, “Nails” homered off Mark Wohlers to give the Phillies their third one-run win in the series.
7. The Dave Winfield Game
1992 World Series, Game 6
Francisco Cabrera failed to live up to his NLCS heroics in a 9th-inning rally, but Otis Nixon immediately followed with a game-tying single to keep the Braves alive. The winning run, however, was stranded on third to send the game to extra innings. In the 11th, Dave Winfield hit a two-out, two-run double off Charlie Leibrandt to give the Blue Jays a 4-2 lead. With the tying run on third and two outs, Nixon’s drag bunt off Mike Timlin was unsuccessful and Toronto won its first World Series.
8. The Chad Curtis Game
1999 World Series, Game 3
After losing the first two at home to the Yankees, it’s hard to believe the Braves had a solid chance to get back into this disastrous World Series after taking a 5-1 lead midway through Game 3 in the Bronx. About 90 percent of teams in that situation go on to win. But the Yankees rallied in the 8th as Chuck Knoblauch hit a two-run homer off Tom Glavine to tie the game at 5-5. In the 10th, Chad Curtis led off with a solo homer against Mike Remlinger. The Yankees went on to sweep the next day.
9. The Jack Morris Game
1991 World Series, Game 7
This legendary classic isn’t higher only because the Braves had no legitimate probability of winning this game, other than when they loaded the bases in the 8th inning against Morris. Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play to end that threat. Dan Gladden’s “hustle” double to lead off the 10th was the big momentum-shifter, and Gene Larkin’s long fly ball sealed the deal for the Twins.
10. The Robin Ventura Game
1999 NLCS, Game 5
The Mets staved off elimination for the second straight night on Robin Ventura’s “grand slam single” in the 15th inning. In Game 4, John Olerud had shocked the Bravesâ€”who were in line to clinch the series in a sweepâ€”with a two-out, two-run single in the 8th to win it. Two days later, the Braves staged their own memorable rally as Andruw Jones walked off with the pennant.
11. The Ken Oberkfell Game
1982 NLCS, Game 2
Phil Niekro’s superb start in Game 1 against the Cardinals was wasted when rain forced it to be replayed from the beginning. In the replay, Bob Forsch tossed a 3-hit shutout. But Knucksie was worth the wait and held the Cardinals to six hits in Game 2 before he was replaced by Gene Garber, who blew a 3-2 lead in the 8th. With the winning run on second and first base open in the 9th, manager Joe Torre elected not to walk Oberkfell with the Cardinals closer, Bruce Sutter, waiting on deck. (Whitey Herzog would have certainly pinch-hit for the future Hall of Famer.) Oberkfell lined a long single to right-center to win the game for the Cardinals. St. Louis swept the series in three games.
12. The Bob Didier Game
1969 NLCS, Game 1
In the first playoff game in Atlanta history, three Braves lapses helped the “Miracle Mets” rally from a 5-4 deficit with five unearned runs in the 8th. After the Mets had tied the score, catcher Bob Didier threw to the wrong base after Cleon Jones was caught leaning toward third. Jones made it to third on the steal easily and scored on Ed Kranepool’s grounder to first, as Orlando Cepeda bounced his throw home. J.C. Martin then lined a two-run single to seal the win. … All of this came after Hank Aaron’s solo home run in the 7th broke a 4-4 tie to put ace Phil Niekro in line for the win. New York swept the series in three games.
Other notable gut-punch losses:
– 1998 NLCS Game 1 (Ken Caminiti)
– 1996 NLCS Game 4 (Brian Jordan)
– 1995 NLDS Game 3 (Andres Galarraga)
– 1993 NLCS Game 1 (Kim Batiste)
– 1991 WS Game 2 (Scott Leius)
– 1958 WS Game 7 (Elston Howard)