Baseball’s law of averages catches up with the Braves

Atlanta Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad dives for a single hit by San Francisco Giants' Aubrey Huff during the eighth inning in Game 3 of the MLB National League Division Series baseball playoff series in Atlanta, Georgia October 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Like any red-blooded sports fan, there are players I root against. I’m supposed to be somewhat objective with in my job so I won’t list those players’ names, but I’m like most fans: I don’t mind seeing certain players fail.

Brooks Conrad isn’t one of those players.

I love self-made guys because they never have the best talent, they’re not flashy and they usually appreciate what they have. Conrad, the 30-year-old journeyman who was forced into regularly playing time because of injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, is a self-made player. He was a nobody until May 20, when hit his first career major league grand slam by helping the Braves beat the Reds, 10-9.

But because of his three errors in the Giants’ 3-2 come-from-behind win on Sunday in the NLDS, now Conrad is somebody. And unfortunately for him, he’s somebody for all the wrong reasons.

Conrad’s three errors tied a record for most errors in a single divisional series playoff game. Two of his errors led to Giants’ runs, including the eventual winning run when a Buster Posey routine ground ball traveled through his legs to score Aubrey Huff in the top of the ninth.

Of course, had Billy Wagner not gotten hurt in Game 2 of this series, Craig Kimbrel would have never pitched the top of the ninth on Sunday. And had Kimbrel gotten one more strike on Freddy Sanchez, the Giants’ second baseman wouldn’t have reached on a base-hit and Atlanta would be up 2-1 in the series.

But Kimbrel didn’t get him out and manager Bobby Cox went to his bullpen. He wanted a lefty-on-lefty matchup, so he called upon Mike Dunn to get Aubrey Huff out, but he couldn’t. Huff lined a pitch into right field to score Travis Ishikawa (who Kimbrel had walked earlier in the inning), and then Conrad’s blunder led to the Giants’ second run of the inning. Closer Brian Wilson then retired the Braves in the bottom of the ninth and now San Fran holds a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five series.

It was the Braves that had drove a stake through the Giants’ hearts on Friday night by coming from four runs down in the eighth to eventually beat San Fran on a Rick Ankiel 11th-inning home run. It appears as though the law of averages caught up with the Braves and now both of these teams have pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in this series.

But back to Conrad. When they showed his grand slam against Cincinnati on the big screen in centerfield yesterday in the bottom of the ninth, the Atlanta faithful booed it. While I don’t blame Braves fans for showing their frustration, I can’t help but feel for Conrad. No player wants to be the goat – no player wants to have one travel through the wickets and have it lead to a game-winning run for the other team.

But unfortunately for him, his gaff put a spotlight back onto the Braves’ biggest issue: Their defense. Coming into the playoffs, Atlanta had the worst fielding percentage of any of the eight teams and it was their defense that ultimately doomed them in Game 3.

Damn that law of averages.

We’ll see if Conrad (who may get benched after yesterday’s performance) and the Braves can recover in Game 4 tonight, as Derek Lowe takes on rookie Madison Bumgarner. If Bumgarner can pitch as well as Jonathan Sanchez (whose gem was overshadowed by Eric Hinskie’s 2-run go-ahead homer in the 8th and Conrad’s errors) did on Sunday, then the Giants could be moving on to the NLCS tonight.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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