Braves off to shaky start with slew of slip-ups
Defensive duds, baserunning blunder turn cheers to jeers at Turner Field
ATLANTA -- Thousands of folks with foam tomahawks Thursday night at Turner Field went from chopping and chanting after the singing of the national anthem to hissing and booing before the playing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Who could blame them? During most of an otherwise pleasant October evening, their Braves spent the first game of their Division Series against the Dodgers looking absolutely clueless.
No, worse than that.
In a best-of-five series, when every loss is Armageddon, you're not allowed to play as ghastly as the Braves just did throughout much of their 6-1 collapse against the Dodgers. Well, not if you're trying to break a streak of spending your last six trips vanishing in the first round. And get this: After doing much in the field, at the plate and on the bases to help the Dodgers' modern-day Sandy Koufax (Clayton Kershaw ) win the opener, the Braves must discover ways to defeat the Dodgers' modern-day Don Drysdale (Zack Greinke ) to even the series Friday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS.
"We like our odds winning any game, not just a postseason game, so it's back at them [when we play Friday]," said Braves rookie Evan Gattis, who admitted after Thursday's loss that he was "excited" and "nervous" in his first playoff game. He showed as much, and he wasn't alone, as the Braves' roster is loaded with players under the age of 25 with no experience of playing in October.
Still, this was ridiculous. You could tell the spirited crowd of 43,021 wanted to hug the Braves, but courtesy of their frowns, you could read their minds near the end: Who were those guys with tomahawks across their chest, and why did they make a bunch of unofficial errors? They weren't the guys who spent much of the season with baseball's best record. They also weren't the guys who went 12-1 after Spring Training and comprised a 14-game winning streak during one stretch with dominant pitching, a slew of home runs and acceptable defense.
The Braves' relievers were fine in the opener, but normally efficient starter Kris Medlen was rocked for nine hits and five earned runs in four innings. There were no home runs for the Braves, just strikeouts -- and lots of them (15), which they are prone to produce as they led the NL in that category.
Defense for the Braves? Don't ask. The same goes for the strangest of trips on the basepaths for Gattis.
Little things become big things for teams along the way to victory or defeat during the playoffs. So, bit by bit, the Braves began doing enough negative stuff to give them zero chance of winning this one, especially with Kershaw mostly looking like Kershaw.
Take the top of the second inning ... please -- well, if you were among the choppers and chanters. The Dodgers did exactly what you need to do in playoff games: They manufactured a run. After Yasiel Puig managed a one-out single, he hustled from first to third on a single to center by Juan Uribe, and then Puig scored on a sacrifice fly. It's just that, from a Braves perspective, center fielder Jason Heyward missed the cutoff man on the sacrifice fly, and Uribe happily moved to second.
Little things. That Heyward miscue was a bad one for the Braves. Then came another one moments later, when the Dodgers' A.J. Ellis sent a fly to left field, where Gattis showed why he was a third-string catcher playing out of position in left. He turned what would have been a catch for an average left fielder into a double for Ellis, diving and missing.
"Yeah, it was a play I didn't make," Gattis said, referring to a play that led to the Dodgers taking a 2-0 lead. With Kershaw owning a 1.83 ERA during the regular season, that lead was more like 20-0 for the Dodgers.
Speaking of Gattis, he took his battle with little things from the field to the plate in the bottom of the inning. First, he singled. Later, with one out, he kept trotting toward second base after Brian McCann sent a shot to right that everybody knew Puig would catch.
Well, everybody but Gattis.
He was nailed at first with the greatest of ease. "Just a misread," said Gattis, adding that he was tricked by Puig acting as if he wasn't going to catch the ball, even though everybody knew, well, you know.
Then there was that grounder by Carl Crawford that Braves second baseman Elliot Johnson couldn't handle to start the third. It had some tricky hops, but Major Leaguers make that play. For instance: Dan Uggla makes that play -- the same Dan Uggla who was left off the Braves' Division Series roster for his sub-Mendoza-line batting average. Two outs later, the Dodgers were ahead, 4-0, on a homer by Adrian Gonzalez.
There also was the little thing involving Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez in the bottom of the third. With one out and the Braves needing runs, and with Andrelton Simmons at second after a walk and a wild pitch, Medlen strolled to the plate after his less-than-stellar three innings on the mound. Gonzalez didn't pinch-hit for his pitcher, who struck out. Heyward followed with a groundout.
For the most part, so was the game.