ATLANTA (AP)—Brooks Conrad(notes) bobbled a grounder. Then he dropped a popup. Finally, a hard shot skidded under his glove in the ninth inning for his third error of the game, allowing the San Francisco Giants to rally for a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday.
The Braves were within one out of taking control of the NL division series, but a 30-year-old journeyman infielder who wouldn’t have been playing if not for season-ending injuries to Chipper Jones(notes) and Martin Prado(notes) simply couldn’t catch the ball.
Freddy Sanchez(notes) raced around with the go-ahead run, and Brian Wilson(notes) shut down the Braves in the ninth to give the Giants a 2-1 lead in a tense best-of-five series in which all three games have been decided by one run.
San Francisco can close it out Monday night. For Conrad, the memories of this one will linger for a lifetime. He tied a postseason record for errors in a game and became the fourth second baseman to make three, according to STATS LLC.
“It was completely embarrassing,” said Conrad, who has made eight errors in the last seven games going back to the regular season. “Once again, I feel like I let everyone down. I wish I could just dig a hole and sleep in it.”
Atlanta did nothing against Jonathan Sanchez(notes), managing only two hits in 7 1-3 innings, and the Giants led 1-0 on an unearned run provided by Conrad’s second error, that dropped popup in short right field in the second.
Rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel(notes) was within one out of a save before the Giants rallied. Aubrey Huff(notes) tied it with a run-scoring single off Mike Dunn(notes). Then, Posey hit a grounder to just the right man.
It skidded right through Conrad and into center field.
The wild finish overshadowed Jonathan Sanchez’s brilliant performance—he didn’t allow a hit until the sixth—and Hinske’s dramatic homer, which carried the Braves to within one strike of having a chance to close out the series at Turner Field.
The blunders by Conrad cost them.
He was one of the last guys to make the Braves roster out of spring training and spent his first full year in the majors. Conrad was primarily a backup, though he did provide one of the season’s most dramatic moments with a pinch-hit grand slam that capped a seven-run ninth inning and a 10-9 victory over Cincinnati in May.
Then Jones hurt his knee, and an injury finished off Prado for the season, too. Down the stretch, the Braves were forced to go with Conrad at third base.
His defense was so shaky that Cox swapped him with Omar Infante(notes) before the crucial last game of the regular season with the Braves trying to wrap up the wild card, moving Conrad to second because he was having trouble making accurate throws from third.
His arm wasn’t the problem in Game 3.
Now, the Braves will need to win the final two games to extend Cox’s career to at least the NL championship series. One of baseball’s winningest managers is retiring at the end of a season that is one loss from being over.
In the ninth, Kimbrel retired Cody Ross(notes) on a popout to Conrad—yep, he caught that one—but pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa(notes) drew a walk. Andres Torres(notes) took a called third strike and it was all up to Freddy Sanchez with the standing-room crowd of 53,284 going nuts.
Sanchez was down to his last strike when he smacked a single to center, keeping the Giants alive. That was it for Kimbrel, who was replaced by Dunn, another rookie. The left-hander got ahead on Huff, but the first baseman yanked a slider over the outside corner into right field, the throw from Jason Heyward(notes) not even close to getting Ishikawa as he slid across with the tying run.
“I thought he would make the play,” Posey said. “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Sanchez and Atlanta starter Tim Hudson(notes) had quite a pitchers’ duel. The lone run off Hudson came after Mike Fontenot(notes) led off the second with a triple to right. Heyward raced back to the wall and had the ball in his glove, but it popped out when he slammed hard into the padding.
Heyward fell face-first onto the warning track and was slow getting up. Cox and a trainer raced out to check on the rookie, who was able to stay in the game after a few minutes to catch his breath and sip a drink brought to him from the nearby Atlanta bullpen.
Cody Ross followed with a popup into short right. Heyward might have made an attempt on it, but he got a late break and wasn’t running hard, perhaps still a bit groggy from his collision with the wall. But Conrad, looking back into the setting sun and running hard, got there in time to make the catch—only to have the ball pop out of his glove.
Fontenot, who wasn’t tagging, raced in with the first run while Conrad fumbled for the ball.
Sanchez was nearly as dominant at Tim Lincecum(notes) in a two-hit, 14-strikeout performance that carried San Francisco to a 1-0 victory in the series opener. The left-hander baffled the Braves with a slider, striking out 14 and holding them hitless until Hudson, of all people, singled to right in the sixth.
Nothing came of that.
It was in the eighth when Giants manager Bruce Bochy appeared to make another ill-fated call to a bullpen that coughed up a 4-1 lead in Game 2 at San Francisco. The Braves rallied to tie that one, then won it 5-4 on Rick Ankiel’s(notes) 11th-inning homer into McCovey Cove.
This time, it was Hinske who delivered. He fought back from an 0-2 count before hitting a line drive into the right-field corner that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The next inning, there was nothing but stunned silence except for those who mustered the energy to boo Conrad.
Asked what he could say to Conrad, Cox replied: “Not much. Everybody’s talked to him. We’ve encouraged him as much as we can.”
The Braves had another infielder on the bench, little-used rookie Diory Hernandez(notes), but Cox opted not to make a defensive change going to the ninth. He wanted to hold out Hernandez in case the game went to extra innings.
It never got that far.
“We had this one won,” Cox said. “We’re not the best team in baseball, OK, but we can win games and we can compete against anybody. But we can’t afford to make mistakes.”
Cox is known for defending his players more than perhaps any other manager, but even he might be forced to make a change at second base.
“I’ll have to sleep on it,” was all he would say when asked if Conrad would stay in the lineup.
Bochy made no apologies for the way his team pulled it out.
“To come back like that after a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, I mean, that can take the wind out of your sails,” he said. “And these guys came right back and found a way to get it done. That is a great win.”
Notes: President Jimmy Carter and former Braves owner Ted Turner attended the game, sitting in box seats next to the Braves’ dugout. Both were wearing Atlanta caps, and Turner was waving a foam tomahawk. … Conrad was the first player in franchise history to make three errors in a postseason game. In an interesting twist, the previous player to do it was former Atlanta shortstop Rafael Furcal(notes) with the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS.