ATLANTA -- "Choptober" banners on light poles along Hank Aaron Way fluttered sadly in a cool breeze Wednesday, hours before what would've been Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Turner Field, had the Braves not blown a late lead Monday night in Los Angeles.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked Wednesday what he might have done differently and specifically about his decision not to bring in closer Craig Kimbrel before David Carpenter gave up a decisive two-run homer to Juan Uribe with none out in the eighth inning.
He would have done "nothing different, really. Other than I wish that ball had gone foul, or that he would have swung and missed," Gonzalez said. "Nothing different at all. You feel good about the decision. ... You don't want to ever end the game like that, but I'm not second-guessing myself all."
Video from the game shows Kimbrel in the bullpen, looking upset and apparently -- according to a lip-reader that website Deadspin had view the video -- saying to bullpen coach Eddie Perez that he told Gonzalez he could pitch the last two innings.
Kimbrel didn't talk to reporters after the game and wasn't at Turner Field when the Braves' clubhouse was open to media Wednesday.
"He came in before the game and said, 'Whatever you want me to do. I can pitch two innings. I can pitch whenever you want,'" Gonzalez said. "I've also had guys who've had tough, tough years come into my office and go, 'Hey, I want to hit fourth.' Or, 'I want to do this,' 'I want to play center field,' you know? 'I want to play shortstop.'
"But I subscribe to the theory that you put guys in situations where they're going to be successful, and you go with it."
That won't assuage the frustrations of fans who preferred to see the team's best pitcher, Kimbrel, in the game to protect that lead in a do-or-die situation for the Braves, who took a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning.
Kimbrel, who led the majors with 50 saves, has three four-out saves in his career, including Game 2 on Friday against the Dodgers. That was the Braves' lone win in the series and his lone appearance.
In three seasons as closer, the only time Kimbrel recorded more than four outs was April 21, 2011, when he blew a save in the ninth inning and pitched two full innings of a 12-inning road loss, also against the Dodgers.
Gonzalez said the Braves intended Monday to bring in Kimbrel after Carpenter got the first two outs. The manager didn't diverge from the plan after Yasiel Puig led off the eighth with an opposite-field double.
Uribe failed in two attempts to lay down a sacrifice bunt, then took two pitches for balls. When Carpenter hung a 2-2 slider over the plate, Uribe hammered it far beyond the left-field fence to send the crowd into a frenzy.
"We did it before, (using Kimbrel for) four outs, and that's what we were going to do," Gonzalez said. "And they were trying to give us an out there with Uribe, and he goes from a bunting situation to a two-run homer." Kimbrel is widely regarded as the best closer in the majors, having taken the baton from Yankees legend Mariano Rivera, who retired after the 2013 season. Rivera's track record of multi-inning saves is fueling some criticism of Gonzalez.
The reasoning goes that if Rivera could do it dozens of times in the regular season and postseason into his late 30s, why not the 25-year-old Kimbrel with the Braves' season on the line? "That's a different animal there," Gonzalez said of Rivera. "That's a guy who has done it from -- I think he came up as a starter, and then I think he pitched multiple innings in the middle of the game." Rivera had 150 saves lasting more than three outs, including 31 in the postseason. He had 14 postseason saves that required at least six outs. Goose Gossage ranks second on the all-time list with six postseason saves of at least six outs.
Gonzalez was asked if he considered the possibility of having Kimbrel start the eighth inning and have someone else ready in the ninth, if necessary.
"That's really thinking outside the box," he said. "I'm not saying that's wrong. It goes back to the point: You put guys in position where they're going to be successful. I don't know if the guy in the ninth inning, whoever that might be -- Woody (rookie Alex Wood) or Carpenter, or whoever we had down there as a starter, or (rookie David) Hale or whoever -- would have been able to handle the ninth inning."
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