For long-suf­fer­ing fans, ‘this hurts so bad’

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By He­lena Oliviero ho­[email protected]

The roller-coaster Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries ended with a dev­as­tat­ing loss for the At­lanta Braves on Wed­nes­day, leav­ing fans sick to their stom­achs know­ing that the Braves came so close to end­ing a nearly two-decade drought of play­off se­ries wins.

And the loss Wed­nes­day to the St. Louis Car­di­nals wasn’t just bad, it was re­ally bad — of his­toric pro­por­tions. The Braves were down 10-0 after the first in­ning. No team had ever scored that many runs in the first in­ning in the play­offs. Ever.

The Car­di­nals scored their 10 runs on only five hits, and

the Braves play­ers seemed as shell-shocked as the crowd. An in­ning of bad base­ball pro­duced an in­sur­mount­able deficit, es­pe­cially as the Car­di­nals con­tin­ued to score runs on their way to a 13-1 vic­tory.

It was eerily quiet as stunned fans watched the mis­er­able game in dis­be­lief. A col­lec­tive pain in­side the SunTrust Park was pal­pa­ble. The game es­sen­tially was over be­fore fans had time to fin­ish their hot dog or first cold bev­er­age.

“This hurts so bad. I just can’t be­lieve it,” said John Hanna, a 66-year-old fan who has been root­ing for the Braves since the 1960s. He re­mained faith­ful after mov­ing to Hous­ton in 1990, and made a spe­cial trip this week for Game 5.

“This is hon­estly one of the most painful mo­ments of my life.”

The Braves an­nounced a sell­out crowd of 43,122. By the ninth in­ning, only about a quar­ter of the fans were still there.

After the fifth in­ning, and after the Braves failed to cap­i­tal­ize after load­ing the bases, fans started leav­ing in droves. De­jected fans slowly walked out of SunTrust Park. Some cried, and others sighed, feel­ing deep dis­ap­point­ment over a se­ries where mo­ments of clutch Braves hit­ting were out­num­bered by squan­dered op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­vance to the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries for the first time since 2001.

The loss abruptly ended a sea­son of high ex­pecta- tions and many thrilling wins. They won 97 games this sea­son and their sec­ond con­sec- utive di­vi­sion ti­tle.

The se­ries was marked by heart-pump­ing dra­matic wins and de­flat­ing losses.

On Sun­day, Dansby Swan­son hit a ty­ing dou­ble with two outs in the ninth in­ning, and Adam Du­vall de­liv­ered a

‘It is an At­lanta tra­di­tion to blow it. To have a re­ally great sea­son and cap it off like this hurts ... We’ll be back next sea­son.’ Trey Pfaff Braves fans

two-run sin­gle for the Braves to rally past the Car­di­nals 3-1 and take a 2-1 lead in the NL Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

But as thrilling as the Game 3 win was Sun­day, the Game 4 loss de­flated the fans’ joy­ous feel­ing. The Braves lost a back-and-forth game on Mon­day af­ter­noon, 5-4 in 10 in­nings. And the Braves had their chances — they left the bases loaded in the sixth and sev­enth.

And then there was Game 5. Ten­sion al­ready was high go­ing into the win­ner-takeall game. Like many other fans, Randy Sutt of Du­luth said he felt ex­cited and ner- vous be­fore the game started.

Sutt, who is 69 and lives in Du­luth, was at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence near SunTrust Park when he de­cided to head to the ball­park and try his luck at a stand­ing-room- only ticket. He se­cured one for $40.

Sutt, who suf­fered a heart at­tack in July, said while the se­ries was full of in­tense mo­ments, he tries to stay calm and avoid any sud­den upticks in heart rate.

“I try to not to get too emo­tional, but you know how that goes,” he said.

By the fourth in­ning, Sutt had walked ev­ery level of the sta­dium, hop­ing the Braves would turn things around. And with the Braves down 13-1, Sutt was not giv­ing up.

“They need to start the rally ear­lier than the sev­enth in­ning,” he said.

Sutt stayed to the bit­ter end. He said he felt sad, “sad to end a great sea­son this way.”

Emma and Trey Pfaff, along with their two young chil­dren, left after the fifth in­ning.

“It is an At­lanta tra­di­tion to blow it,” Trey Pfaff said. “To have a re­ally great sea­son and cap it off like this hurts.”

But as the fam­ily stepped out­side the park, the Pfaffs tried to be up­beat.

“We’ll be back next sea­son,” he said.

Even Car­di­nals fans seemed less-than-thrilled with the game.

“I am more ex­cited about mov­ing onto the next level than the game it­self,” said Blue Howard, who is 30 and is from St. Louis, but now lives in At­lanta. “I was ex­pect­ing a close game, like 3-2. I was not ex­pect­ing this.”

One thing the Braves did not do Wed­nes­day was dis­trib­ute foam tom­a­hawks to fans for the game. The team also said it would take mea­sures to re­duce the tom­a­hawk chop done by fans.

The team dis­trib­uted the tom­a­hawks at Games 1 and 2 of the se­ries at SunTrust Park be­fore the play­off moved to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.

The Braves said the de­ci­sion was based on con­cerns raised from Car­di­nals pitcher Ryan Hel­s­ley be­fore Game 2 in which he said the tom­a­hawk chop was “dis­re­spect­ful” and a “kind of cave­man-type” de­pic­tion.

The team said it would limit the chant when Hel­s­ley was in the game. Hel­s­ley, a 25-year-old rookie, is from Tahle­quah, Okla. His grand­fa­ther was full-blooded Chero­kee and the fam­ily has deep roots in the heart of Chero­kee Na­tion.

Hel­s­ley took of­fense to the fans’ arm mo­tion and chant, used by Braves fans dat­ing to 1991 at At­lanta-Ful­ton County Sta­dium.

PHO­TOS BY CUR­TIS COMP­TON / CCOMP­[email protected]

Braves mas­cot Blooper hugs a fan at SunTrust Park after the Braves al­lowed 10 runs in the first in­ning against the Car­di­nals in Game 5 of the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries. It never got much bet­ter as the Braves were ousted from the play­offs.

For Braves fans, Wed­nes­day’s game was an es­pe­cially tough play­off loss to sit through, but as al­ways, some ex­pressed hope for next sea­son. The Braves have not ad­vanced in a post­sea­son se­ries since 2001.

CUR­TIS COMP­TON / CCOMP­[email protected]

Some fans were yelling while others were more muted at SunTrust Park after the Braves were stunned by a 10-run first in­ning to put St. Louis in com­mand early in the de­cid­ing Game 5 of the play­off se­ries.

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