As someone who spends a good deal of his time writing about baseball and another good deal of it wondering about Why I bother to do so, given that it's, essentially, a game, it seems that I could jump on this NLDS between the Braves and Giants as an opportunity to squeeze some meaning out of all the watching and writing that I do. And yet, as readers of this blog have likely noticed, I've resorted, out of, alternately, frustration and elation, to throwing up my hands and posting a picture that summed up the previous night's proceedings - a regrettable, nonsensical screed against Brooks Conrad excepted. And tonight, after witnessing the end of the Braves' season - and, more importantly, Bobby Cox's managerial career - it was indeed tempting to just post a picture of Bobby Cox's curtain call, or of the Giants tipping their caps to a legend, and call it a night. Sitting here, struggling for words or any kind of cohesive narrative, the temptation becomes all the stronger.
But it just feels like a cop-out to do that on tonight, of all nights. Tonight, when 2 runs again felt like it might be enough to pull out the upset. Tonight, when a ton of Braves fans had already given up on the series - witness the vacant bleachers for proof. Tonight, when Bobby Cox donned his 6 jersey for what could be the last time - and, indeed, was. Tonight, when so much had gone wrong in the previous games, but some faint hope remained that there was some magic left in the team.
Ultimately, though, as Kevin Goldstein tweeted, we're in Atlanta, not Hollywood. It seems odd to reduce such a momentous game to the few characters afforded us by Twitter, but...this is, indeed, Atlanta, home of the almost-boring excellence preceding October nightmares. In Hollywood, the aging pitcher argues to stay in the game and whiffs the next batter for the third out of the inning on a shoulder-high fastball. In Hollywood, the scrappy bench guy comes up the next inning and overcomes the kind of rough night that will go down in the lore of one of the more storied franchises in baseball to launch a fastball, its path silhouetted by a balmy-blue night sky, into seats teeming with red foam tomahawks. In Hollywood, the players storm out onto the field, their exuberance matched only the lusty cheers of the tens of thousands of the faithful; the goat from the night before tosses his helmet into the exuberant atmosphere as he is mobbed at home plate, his redemption validated by the lusty cheers of the crowd that booed him from the bottom of their collective heart not 24 hours ago.
In Atlanta, though, that starter argues to stay in the game and walks the next hitter to load the bases, paving the way for the tying and go-ahead runs to score. In Atlanta, the hometown kid, indispensable in propelling the team this far, strikes out with runners on first and second and denies the crowd their joy. In Atlanta, a team forced to rely on aging veterans and raw rookies does not succeed. In Atlanta, reality sets in.
And this series loss is, in one harsh word, reality. If we're being honest with ourselves, much of the hope the Braves had for postseason success relied upon two things: the fact that anything can happen in a five-game series, and the hope that the guys could come together as one and, somehow, pull off the 11-for-6 slogan they wore over their hearts.
Unfortunately, reality has little tolerance for hope, or for the kind of magic that so often colors the sepia-toned retrospectives of the games that have ingrained themselves in the national consciousness for over a century. Reality dictates that this Braves team, boasting a good pitching staff and a weak lineup that needs to cobble together a few runs in order to win...will be hamstrung by a porous defense. Reality tells us that the Giants were, ultimately, better. The Braves were backed into a corner, their last resort that of hope for some Win It For Bobby miracle, and reality took that away.
The reality, now, is that the season is over. Bobby, clad in street clothes, kissed his wife after the postgame press conference and said, simply, "No more uniform, honey." Those words, manufactured by Hollywood, would be uttered as players doused him in celebratory champagne, the bliss of a championship campaign relieving the bubbly sting in his eyes. In Atlanta, though, no champagne flows to cover the tears brought on by the unhappy conclusion of a lifetime in baseball.
Nevertheless, allow me - and, probably, all of you - to repeat the chorus that has dominated these last few games: Thank you, Bobby, for 25 years at the helm of this team. And thank you to everyone who donned a Braves jersey this season for all the fond memories. I'll be looking forward to 2011, and I'm sure you will be, too.