Giants take 2-1 series lead over Braves

Brooks Conrad stood near second base, all alone. He didn’t dare
go near Braves manager Bobby Cox, standing on the mound making a
pitching change. Finally, teammate Derrek Lee wandered over, giving
Conrad a pat on the back.

Nothing helped. All Conrad could do was bend over in
anguish.

“I wish I could just dig a hole,” he said, “and sleep in
it.”

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 and Martin Prado simply couldn’t catch the ball
Sunday.

Conrad made three errors, the last of them on a two-out grounder
in the ninth inning that gave the San Francisco Giants a 3-2
victory over Atlanta.

“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.”

He bobbled a grounder in the first, but that one didn’t hurt. He
dropped a popup the next inning, allowing an unearned run to score.
Finally, Buster Posey’s hard grounder skidded under Conrad’s glove,
bringing home the run that capped San Francisco’s two-run
ninth.

“I thought he would make the play,” Posey said. “I wouldn’t wish
that on anybody.”

Brian Wilson 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.

Those blunders might just speed up the retirement of Cox, whose
long managing career ends as soon as Atlanta’s season is done.

“We had this one won,” Cox said. “We can win games and we can
compete against anybody. But we can’t afford to make mistakes.”

Atlanta did nothing against Jonathan Sanchez, managing only two
hits in 7 1-3 innings and trailing 1-0. But when pinch-hitter Eric
Hinske lined a two-run homer off Sergio Romo in the eighth, the
Braves suddenly had the lead.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, there was no Billy Wagner to close it
out. He was removed from the roster before the game with a pulled
muscle on his left side.

Rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel was within one out of a save
before the Giants rallied. Aubrey Huff tied it with a run-scoring
single off Mike Dunn. Then, Posey hit a grounder to just the right
man.

“I’ve never experienced that range of emotions on a baseball
field,” Atlanta outfielder Matt Diaz said.

The wild finish overshadowed 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 gaffes 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
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.

Freddy Sanchez provided a key hit for the Giants, smacking a
two-strike single to center to keep them alive in the ninth.
Kimbrel was replaced by Dunn, another rookie, who threw a slider
that Huff yanked into right field to bring home Travis
Ishikawa.

Peter Moylan took over for Dunn and got what he’s known for: a
ground ball from Posey. It went right through Conrad.

Sanchez and Atlanta starter Tim Hudson had quite a pitchers’
duel. The lone run off Hudson came after Mike Fontenot led off the
second with a triple to right. Jason Heyward raced back to the wall
and had the ball in his glove, but it popped out when he slammed
hard into the padding.

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
charging that 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 as Tim Lincecum 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.

Then, after Alex Gonzalez started the eighth with a single and
Conrad — in yet another blunder — popped up a bunt,
Hinske connected.

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 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 standing-room crowd of 53,284 into a frenzy.

The next inning, there was nothing but stunned silence except
for those who mustered the energy to boo Conrad.

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. The only other middle infielder on the roster is
little-used rookie Diory Hernandez.

“I’ll have to sleep on it,” was all Cox 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, wearing Atlanta caps. … 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 with the Dodgers in
Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS.

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