David Carpenter was left to wonder how much different things might have been had he not hung the slider that Juan Uribe drilled over the left-field wall for a two-run eighth-inning home run that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 win in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
"I'm the reason we're not going back to Atlanta [with the series tied]," Carpenter said. "I'll take the responsibility for it every time. I let the guys down. It kills me to have to say that."
While the Dodgers celebrated on the field and prepared for the NL Championship Series, the Braves dealt with yet another abrupt exit from the postseason. They have lost each of their past eight postseason series and have not advanced past the NLDS since 2001.
"To end the way it did tonight, it's going to hurt," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's going to be a long way back [home]. You know the sad thing is there are no more games."
On the way to winning 96 games and their first division title since 2005, the Braves were bolstered by the strength of their bullpen, which set a franchise record with a 2.46 ERA. Though he began the year in the Minors, Carpenter played a significant role as he posted 1.78 ERA in 56 appearances.
But as he and his teammates made the long cross-country flight back to Atlanta, Carpenter was left to deal with the pain created by his last appearance. After allowing Yasiel Puig to lace an opposite-field double past Freddie Freeman, who was not guarding the first-base line, the right-handed reliever got Uribe to bunt two balls foul to create an 0-2 count.
Uribe then worked the count to 2-2 before he took advantage of Carpenter's attempt to overthrow his slider.
"It's tough to swallow, but I wanted the ball," Carpenter said. "I wanted to be in the eighth inning and I just didn't get the job done. The idea there is to come in, get three quick outs and then hand the ball to Craig."
Six outs away from pushing this series to a decisive Game 5, Gonzalez said he was prepared to bring Kimbrel in to record his second four-out save of the series. But it was evident that Kimbrel was upset about the fact that he did not begin the eighth or at least get the call to preserve a one-run lead after Puig's double.
"We double-switched and put our best defense out there," Gonzalez said. "We had it set up to bring him in for four outs. I think six outs was something that we weren't even talking about in the dugout."
Whether Kimbrel would have been able to preserve the lead will never be known. Instead the Braves will be left to deal with the fact that they squandered the opportunity they gained after Freddy Garcia went toe to toe with Clayton Kershaw in a pitching matchup that he seemed destined to lose.
While he might have been the obvious underdog in this pitching matchup against Kershaw, Garcia did more than simply prove his doubters wrong as he dazzled in his 11th career postseason start. The 37-year-old right-hander displayed his veteran poise as he scattered eight hits and surrendered two runs, both of which came courtesy of solo homers hit by Carl Crawford.
"I like people to think that way so I can prove them wrong," Garcia said. "I've faced a lot of great guys in my career and I've been here before. That wasn't any different today. I went out there and did my job like I always try to do."
Kershaw was not nearly as dominant as he was when he allowed one run and recorded 12 strikeouts during a 124-pitch, seven-inning outing in Game 1. But while making his first career start on short rest, the top NL Cy Young Award candidate delivered six strong innings that were simply marred by a pair of unearned runs that tied the game in the fourth.
"We thought we were right there," Freeman said. "It's tough to swallow when you're given as great a performance as Freddy gave us tonight."
With Kershaw and Garcia gone after six innings, Elliot Johnson sparked Atlanta's seventh-inning rally by lacing a one-out triple into the right-field corner against Ronald Belisario. This set the stage for Jose Constanza to come off the bench and line his go-ahead single into shallow center fielder.
Constanza's single came in his first career postseason at-bat and Johnson's triple accounted for the only hit he recorded in 14 at-bats during this series. It appeared it was going to be that kind of night for the Braves right up until Uribe hit his homer.
After Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen sealed the win with three strikeouts in the ninth, the Braves returned to the clubhouse and began dealing with the pain and frustration created by yet another abrupt postseason exit.
"I don't even know where to start now," Freeman said. "We'll talk about that in a month or two when the pain from all of that is gone."