ATLANTA -- Burdened by the pain and frustration created after the Braves endured the most significant final-month collapse in National League history, manager Fredi Gonzalez spent most of last October within the confines of his suburban Atlanta home.
Along with wondering how things might have been different had Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson not suddenly become liabilities after the All-Star break, Gonzalez expressed concern for the fans and stadium workers who were looking forward to the emotional and financial benefits that would have come with playoff games at Turner Field.
But once Spring Training arrived, it was obvious Gonzalez was not interested in detailing how his team lost the 9 1/2-game Wild Card lead it carried into September last year. His belief was that this could only increase the odds of his players' psyches being adversely affected.
"He does a great job with communication, and he's not afraid to put the hammer down when he needs to," former Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's got a lot of light-heartedness about him, too, but he's all business. I think the players have fun when you're playing for a manager like that. I think we absolutely got the right guy in there."
As soon as Gonzalez was relieved of his duties as the Marlins' manager in June 2010, it was assumed he would become Cox's successor when the legendary skipper retired at the end of that same year. Unknown was the fact that the baseball gods were ready to make his initiation to the Atlanta job a cruel one.
Along with drawing the unenviable assignment of following in the footsteps of Cox, Gonzalez was forced to endure what transpired last September. Having experienced an alarmingly high number of one-run and extra-inning games, he found his top relievers taxed during the season's final month. The strain on the bullpen was enhanced by the fact that Gonzalez's injury-depleted starting rotation consisted of three rookies -- Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado -- and a decaying Derek Lowe.
It was a painful turn of events that provided some lessons for Gonzalez, who vowed that he would not be as patient if he found himself in a similar situation again. One year later, he has proven he is willing to make changes or take risks by thinking outside of the box.
When Dan Uggla's struggles extended into September, Gonzalez removed him from the lineup for three days. When Atlanta needed a big eighth-inning out in a Sept. 5 win over Colorado, Gonzalez gave All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel a chance to convert his first multiinning save opportunity. Four days later, Gonzalez once again went against convention by putting Kimbrel in to pitch the ninth inning of a tie game on the road.
Kimbrel kept the Mets scoreless in the ninth, and the Braves celebrated a fifth consecutive win when Peter Moylan converted a save one inning later.
"If those moves work, they're thought of as great moves," Gonzalez said. "If they don't work, they're saying they are signs of panic. That's just the way it goes."
Offensive struggles were on display as the Braves were swept by the Brewers this week in Milwaukee. But entering this weekend's series against the Nationals, they will still carry a lead of at least five games in the NL Wild Card standings.
"This year, I think [Gonzalez] was a little more comfortable than he was last year," Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla said. "That's not an easy thing to replace Bobby Cox. But I think he's done a good job."
These past couple of weeks have been a odd for Gonzalez and Uggla, who have shared a manager-player relationship dating back to when Gonzalez became Florida's manager in 2007. The 48-year-old skipper has said he shares somewhat of a father-son relationship with Uggla, who was acquired by the Braves in a November 2010 trade with the Marlins.
This makes it easier to understand how hard it was from an emotional standpoint for Gonzalez to call Uggla in his office on Sept. 2 to inform him that he did not know how much playing time he would get down the stretch. The veteran second baseman put himself in this position while hitting .152 in his previous 73 games.
Uggla's anger turned to outrage a few hours later when he was pulled back from a potential pinch-hit appearance when the Phillies brought right-handed closer Jonathan Papelbon in with one out, two on and Atlanta trailing by five runs in the ninth inning.
When Uggla was called back from the on-deck circle, he avoided any contact with Gonzalez by walking to the middle portion of the dugout before taking his place on the bench.
"If I would have walked in the first entrance [of the dugout] and he would have slapped me on the [behind], there's a good chance we would have fought," Uggla said.
This revelation certainly did not surprise Gonzalez, who has a strong understanding of what makes Uggla tick.
"I think he took it the right way," Gonzalez said. "Obviously it's uncomfortable and it's hard, especially with the relationship I have with him. You want your players to be upset if they are not in there."
After being kept out of the lineup for three days, Uggla regained his starting role and has not relinquished it. This episode did not destroy the respect he has for Gonzalez, a man with whom he has shared a close relationship.
"I think it was more like father and son the first four years we were together," Uggla said. "Now I think it's more like brothers, an older brother and younger brother kind of thing. No matter how mad I get at him, I still love him at the end of the day. When you're with somebody for a long time, you're going to have your ups and downs. But when it's all said and done, you're always going to be there for each other at the end of the day."
That is really all that Cox, Gonzalez or anybody else who has ever served as a Major League manager could seek.
"At the end of the day, you're just trying to make the best decisions for your team," Gonzalez said. "If one of your players says something like that, that's a heck of a compliment."