Four outs. That’s how many outs the Atlanta Braves needed to record against the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch their first trip to the National League Championship Series since 2001. The Braves fell behind early 2-0 after back-to-back home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. They then battled back, taking the lead 4-3 in the fifth inning on Ozzie Albies’ two-run homer off of St. Louis starter Dakota Hudson. However, St. Louis found a way to tie the game as Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina delivered the game-tying RBI single just out of the reach of 6-foot-5-inch Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs. Molina would then win the game in the 10th inning on a sacrifice fly, forcing a winner-takes-all NLDS Game 5 at SunTrust Park.
This series, the Braves had both games one and four with the lead late, but couldn’t do something Georgia-based teams, for the most part (Atlanta United MLS Cup in 2018 and Georgia Swarm 2017 title), have not been able to do: finish.
Take the Braves. Back in the 2010 NLDS, Atlanta had the San Francisco Giants on the ropes in game three of the NLDS (series tied 1-1) at Turner Field. It was 2-1 Braves in the top of the ninth inning with two outs. Somehow, Atlanta’s bullpen couldn’t record the third outs until two SF runs crossed home plate to make it 3-2 Giants. That would be the final, with the Giants taking a 2-1 series edge. That same trend carried over into the next night, when Atlanta once again saw a 2-1 advantage evaporate, this time in the seventh inning. San Francisco held on for a 3-2 series-clincher. The Giants would not only win the NLDS 3-1, but go all the way and capture the World Series.
Take the Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs had a 20-10 lead entering the fourth quarter of the 2018 National Championship. It looked as though UGA was going to end its 38-year football championship drought (ironically enough, that’s the same number of years in between UGA’s first football national title in 1942 and second in 1980). However, the Alabama Crimson Tide forced a tie at 20-20, then almost won it at the end of regulation, but a missed field goal sent the game to overtime. In OT, Georgia kicked a field goal, but Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw a touchdown pass on second-and-26 to win the game and the title by a score of 26-23.
And finally, for those who follow sports in general, you knew this was coming given the subject. The Atlanta Falcons. It really was the beginning of what has turned into a downward spiral. Up 25 points in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons somehow found a way to be on the wrong side of the biggest sporting spectacle in North America and probably the world for that matter. The events that unfolded in the Falcons’ breakdown have been analyzed, scrutinized and chastised en masse since that February night. Losing in overtime after leading by 25 late in the third quarter is the dictionary definition of not being able to finish games and has, unfortunately, become a symbol Atlanta sports collectively need to shed.
Yes, some examples above were in championship title games for respective leagues, but the idea still holds true. If you want to silence the naysayers, you need to prove it to them by showing you can finish off other teams.
Some of those out there already feel the Braves have lost this series and cannot win game five. To those of you with this attitude, I say hold your horses. This series is not over. The Braves have game five at SunTrust Park, in front of the home fans and this is why you want home-field advantage. Get the crowd behind you as motivation. I fully expect Mike Foltynewicz to get the start and pitch in a tightly-contested do-or-die game. The Braves have shown the ability to win all season. They won the National League East Division when most baseball experts picked against them. Now the question is, can they do it at the most critical juncture of 2019 and accomplish something the franchise has failed to do for 18 seasons. Finish and advance.