I feel for the guy. I really do.
Even though he probably cost the Braves a spot in the NLCS. Or beyond. Even though he ruined what might have been one of the Braves’ most memorable wins. Ever. A very special win to extend a very special season, and the very special career of a very special manager.
No, I just can’t summon any anger.
I just feel sorry for Brooks Conrad.
Maybe it’s because I know he feels worse about it than anyone. Maybe it’s because he just tries so doggone hard. Maybe it’s because he’s gotten just about everything possible out of his modest talent and unimposing physique. Maybe we just see an average guy trying real hard to play with the big boys.
But there was just something wickedly cruel Sunday when Buster Posey’s routine ground ball rolled right between Conrad’s legs and continued across the outfield grass, allowing Freddy Sanchez to score the Giants’ winning run.
There stood Conrad, all alone in the center of the diamond, the focus of 53,284 pairs of eyes and almost as many sets of lungs, with no where to run to, no where to hide.
And as much as you tried to absolve him of guilt, every place logic took you, the loss was Conrad’s fault.
No, he didn’t allow the tying run to score. That occurred when rookie Craig Kimbrell attempted to pitch the ninth inning. And that occurred only because closer Billy Wagner sustained an injury late Friday night.
It was Kimbrell who gave up a one-out walk, and then a single to Sanchez when the Giants were down to their final strike. It was Mike Dunn who came in and surrendered the tying single to Aubrey Huff.
And it was Bobby Cox, the Peerless Leader, playing by the book, who brought in Dunn to face Huff in a lefty-lefty move.
Despite the fact that Huff had singled off of lefty Jonny Venters just an inning earlier.
No, logic must take you one step further. Conrad had dropped a simple pop-up by Cody Ross in the second inning, allowing Mike Fontenot to score from third.
It remained the only run of the game until the bottom of the eighth, when Eric Hinske ignited the crowd with a pinch-hit two-run homer.
The Braves sure could have used an extra run of wiggle room in that ninth inning.
They could have used Venters, too. But he had to pitch the eighth, because Tim Hudson was spent. Hudson might have gone eight, but Conrad’s first inning error, on a simple ground ball by Sanchez, cost Hudson about 15 extra pitches.
Or one inning.
So any way you look at it, this loss comes right back to Brooks Conrad.
And that’s too bad. A guy has to go all-out all the time to earn the sobriquet “Raw Dog.”
This is a guy who played at Arizona State from 1999 to 2001, and then spent eight years toiling in the minors. He finally managed to reach The Show on July 21, 2008 with the A’s, where he garnered 19 at bats in six games.
He made it back with the Braves in July, 2009. In his first at bat, he became the first Brave since Chuck Tanner in 1955 to pinch hit a home run in his first at bat with the team. It was a big one, too: a three-run shot that beat the Nats, 9-8.
He wound up appearing in 30 games and getting 54 at bats, mostly in September. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Conrad made the team out of spring training this year.
But he endeared himself to us on May 20, when his walk-off grand slam capped a seven-run ninth inning rally to beat the Reds.
Two months later he did it again, against the Marlins, entering the record book as the fifth player-and only rookie-to pinch-hit two grannies in one season.
He always seemed to come up biggest when the team needed him most. His first eight homers all came after the sixth inning.
So no great fear or trepidation accompanied Conrad’s ascension to the starting lineup when Martin Prado was lost for the season on September 27.
Sadly, it appears that Conrad just isn’t an everyday player. His fielding became so atrocious during the season’s final week that Cox had to flip-flop Conrad and Omar Infante between second and third.
Still, nothing prepared us to see Conrad tie the postseason record of three errors in a single game. Or become the first Brave to commit three errors in one playoff game. Or become only the fourth second baseman to commit three errors in one postseason game.
No, nothing prepared us to be so chagrinned by someone we enjoyed so much all summer. And no one feels worse about that than Brook Conrad.
You gotta feel for the guy.