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We'll never forget the Braves' spectacular Game 5 collapse

theScore logo theScore 5 days ago Jonah Birenbaum
a group of baseball players standing on top of a field © Icon Sportswire / Getty

Disaster tends to live in the collective consciousness an exceeding while. The lurid details of calamity linger in our minds. More than three decades later, the horrors of Chernobyl make for a viable prestige drama. Everybody knows it was Bill Buckner who let the 1986 World Series slip between his legs. Triumph is often far less memorable. Do you remember who won the 1987 World Series? I don't.

As such, we won't soon forget the Atlanta Braves' stupefying collapse Wednesday in their win-or-go-home National League Division Series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals, a 13-1 shellacking that saw the Braves facing insurmountable odds before many fans had found their seats at SunTrust Park. Long after casual fans have forgotten Ronald Acuna Jr.'s season-long assault on the history books or, say, the Braves' epic comeback in Game 3, this utter catastrophe of a game will endure in their memories.

No matter how long the Braves' stretch of October futility persists - they've now failed to advance beyond the NLDS in each of their last nine trips to the postseason, stretching back to 2002 - this will forever be remembered as the great failure. You know, that game. The one Braves fans only dare talk about after two beers.

First and foremost, they were the better team by record, run differential, and talent. The Braves had Acuna and Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and Josh Donaldson. The Cardinals had Paul Goldschmidt and a bunch of guys you might recognize in public but not confidently enough to approach. Atlanta had home-field advantage, too, and St. Louis barely eked out a .500 record on the road this year, going 41-40.

Jack Flaherty, the burgeoning ace tabbed to start for the Cardinals, presented a formidable challenge, to be sure. However, the Braves were countering with Mike Foltynewicz, a comparably gifted right-hander who hucked seven shutout innings in Game 2 and had been virtually unhittable since rejoining the club in August following a brief sojourn to Triple-A. At the very least, this should've been a game. Instead, it was a public execution.

Ironically, St. Louis was playing small ball out of the gate. After a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler, who juuuuust nicked a 1-2 slider from Foltynewicz to avoid a game-opening strikeout before taking three straight balls, Kolten Wong dropped down a sacrifice bunt, epitomizing perhaps the Cardinals' biggest deficiency: they can't hit. After adjusting for park effects, St. Louis fielded a worse offense this year than the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, and the former was deliberately terrible in 2019. Foltynewicz needed no help against this lineup, and yet the Cardinals voluntarily ceded an out. The Braves were fine. But then the next six batters reached base. Soft contact, a rare defensive miscue from Freeman, and a lack of command from Foltynewicz conspired to put Atlanta in a 4-0 hole. The desperation mounted.

As such, Braves manager Brian Snitker summoned left-hander Max Fried from the bullpen, saddling the youngster with a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. Fried walked the first batter he saw on five pitches. It was the opposing pitcher. Then Fowler doubled. Then Wong doubled. By the time Yadier Molina grounded out to third base to end the inning three batters later, Atlanta trailed by ten runs, its win expectancy whittled down to 2.1% before its first at-bats, according to FanGraphs.

And that was it, because of course it was. There was no comeback to mount, only dubious distinctions to swallow. Not since 1925 had the Braves - who were then based in Boston - allowed double-digit runs in the first inning. And never before had any team coughed up a 10 spot in the first inning of a postseason game. (Flaherty, incidentally, only allowed 10 earned runs throughout the entire second half.)

A loss this lopsided in such a crucial game confers a unique brand of shame upon the defeated and its fans. The players involved will wear it like a brand. Any future postseason success or failures will be viewed through the lens of this particular game. Opposing fans will wield the words "Game 5" like a weapon until the Braves' next World Series championship. Because even in the division series, people don't forget disasters.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

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