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Conrad commits three errors in Game 3
At the age of 30, in his 10th professional baseball season and with only 139 big-league games on his resume, Brooks Litchfield Conrad had not had the kind of career that would make him a common reference in hot stove league conversations this winter, much less decades down the road.
And it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Conrad has become to the postseason of 2010 what Mike Andrews was 37 years earlier.
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He’s become the symbol of what’s gone wrong for his team, the Atlanta Braves, in the bid to send manager Bobby Cox into retirement with a championship ending to his record-setting 16th career managerial appearance in the postseason.
He committed three errors in the Braves 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the NL Division Series on Sunday, including being unable to come up with the ground ball that allowed the game-deciding run to score with two out in the Giants’ two-run ninth.
"It’s totally embarrassing," Conrad said. "I try to do my best. I feel absolutely terrible."
The problems started early. There was a botched double play grounder in the first, which extended Tim Hudson’s first inning of work by 14 pitches.
And there was a pop up that Conrad couldn’t handle in the second that not only added 11 pitches to Hudson’s work load that inning, but also allowed the first Giants runner to score.
"There is not much anybody can talk to him about," Cox said. "We’ve encouraged him as much as we can."
It all harkens back to Andrews, who in Game 2 of Oakland’s 1973 World Series against the Mets committed back-to-back errors that keyed a four-run 11th inning for the Mets, and prompted the late Charlie Finley, who owned the A’s, to coerce Andrews into signing a statement after that game that he was injured and couldn’t play, which allowed Finley to put Manny Trillo on the roster.
The uproar from Andrews teammates — including manager Dick Williams who promptly announced he resigned effective the end of the World Series — prompted Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to order Andrews reinstated to the roster for Game 4.
Andrew pinch-hit in that game, and was given a standing ovation by sympathetic Mets fan. Andrews grounded out in what became his final big-league at-bat.
Conrad can only wonder what the future holds for him.
He doesn’t know if he will be in the lineup for Game 4 on Monday, although Cox’s options are limited in light of the fact regular second baseman Omar Infante is playing third base because Chipper Jones is on the disabled list, and Infante’s normal back up at second, Martin Prado, is also on the disabled list.
And Cox thought he had troubles with the a pitching staff in which two of five starters (Jair Jurrjens and Kris Medlen), closer Billy Wagner, and left-handed bullpen specialist Eric O’Flaherty are sidelined with injuries, too.
With the rotation, he can bring Game 1 starter Derek Lowe back on three days of rest to start a Game 4, and rationalize it because Lowe had a low pitch count and only worked 5 1/3 innings on Thursday
But at second base?
If Cox decides to sit down Conrad, who was a big-time clutch bat for the Braves in recent weeks, he could try and force another nine innings or so out of the achy knees of Troy Glaus, once a star but not just trying to survive, and put him at third, returning Infante to second. Glaus did play in the 10th inning at San Francisco in Game 2 on Friday, and did start a double play that got the Braves out of a bases-loaded jam.
He, however, admitted that it was a challenge, and Jones said when Glaus came to the dugout he said he felt like "throwing up" when he came up with that double-play grounder.
Cox’s only alternative is Diory Hernandez, who appeared in 20 regular-season games, had 10 plate appearances, nine at-bats and one hit.
It’s not like he can bring back Braves defensive starts of the past such as first base coach Glenn Hubbard, who has had 7,833 days of rest since he retired with Oakland in 1989, or broadcaster Mark Lemke, who has had 4,653 days of rest since he retired with Boston in 1998.
Asked if his team starts to wonder if it’s good fortune is running out, Cox took a deep breath.
"Well, we had this one won," he said. "We gave up a walk, a base hit and a base hit (for the game-tying run). 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.’’
Nobody knows that better than Conrad, a role player whose role was limited enough before the injuries mounted that he had only 170 plate appearances, in 103 games, despite being with the Braves the entire 162-game regular season.
And he had some impact appearances. Seven of his eight regular-season home runs came in the seventh inning or later, and he had three pinch-hit home runs, and became the first player in Braves history to have two pinch-hit grand slams in a season.
Those moments seem so long ago right now.
"(Teammates) have said some nice things, but the bottom line is I didn’t do my job," said Conrad. "I’m embarrassed."
It’s a challenge for Conrad and it’s a challenge for the Braves, particularly staff members like third base coach Brian Snitker, who has been in the organization for 34 years as a player, minor-league manager and coach, and special assistant Bobby Dews, who has spent the last 37 years of his 51-year pro career in the Braves organization as an instructor, coach and manager.
"We’ve told him earlier, we need him," Snitker said. "He’s been a big part of why we are here. He has to fight through this. There’s not much else to tell him. He’s a good kid."
These aren’t good times.
These aren’t times that can be soothed by kind words.
Dews said the best thing he could tell Conrad is to think about the past, and look forward to the future.
"You’ve got the courage to comeback," Dews said of what he’d tell Conrad.
"This is your mountain to climb and you have to climb it. We’re with you. We’ve been with you all the way."
The way, however, has become rugged.
The Braves are in a hole.
And Conrad blames himself for digging it so deep.
"For some reason it has been rough,’’ he said. "I’m embarrassed about it. That’s all."