Ed. note: This is the third in a series of posts by W.C.G. that is predicated on something Mac used to say: “I’ve mentioned before that I have a low opinion of hope, which normally plays you false.” Or, as W.C.G. noted in his introductory post: “Braves fandom has mostly been a series of pleasant, sometimes even inspiring, regular seasons spoiled by some giant turd of a playoff series. As the data set is fairly rich at this point, I have attempted to organize the turds into five different subcategories, which I have named and ranked. The series will begin with the least aggravating type of Miserable Braves Playoff Loss and work its way up to the most aggravating. I’ve also set odds for the likelihood of the 2013 Braves to join each category.”
#3: The Clincher
This was a very specific malady of Braves teams from 2002-2004; they would win the NL East, play some Western or Central schlump in the Division Series, split the first four, and then honk the do-or-die Game 5.
The 2002 Braves were finished off by the Giants’ Russ Ortiz, who would go on to redeem himself with a couple of pretty good years with the Braves. But the series had only come to that because effing Livan Hernandez, who probably deserves his own classification in this taxonomy, had of course held the Braves down for eight-plus innings in Game 4, another missed Clincher opportunity. Livan continued to kill the Braves for years by being unnaturally good against them until the Braves gave up and signed him in 2012, at which point he worked to kill them by being unnaturally bad for them. But anyway, Game 5 was Ortiz’s, and he and a bunch of crappy relievers held the Braves to one run and that was that.
In 2003, Ortiz had been traded to Atlanta and made up for his prior misdeeds by keeping the Cubs from clinching the NLDS in Game 4. But the Cubs scratched a run here and a run there off of Mike Hampton in Game 5, the offense shut down, and the season ended.
By 2004, the Braves’ organization had convinced itself that it could still win by shedding payroll and trusting Leo Mazzone to fix some questionable arms. And it almost worked, until Game 5, in which Jaret Wright, Kevin Gryboski, Chris Reitsma, Tom Martin, Juan Cruz, and Paul Byrd all pitched in to give up 12 runs. Carlos Beltran hit two of his like 49 postseason home runs that year in that game alone.
I actually won a $5 bet with my friend Craig on Game 5 of the 2004 NLDS. He thought the Braves would pull it off. “We’re going to lose Game 5 because it’s what we do,” I said. I had graduated from college by then. I was getting wiser to the world.
Chance of the 2013 Braves doing this: 10%. I see it as possible, but less likely than an Ambush because of how hot and cold the offense runs.