While the odds are still great, the Braves have at least kept hope alive with a fighting spirit that was on display throughout what proved to be the most successful homestand of the season. Unfortunately, it was also the final homestand of the year, and when it's all said and done, this successful run might prove to have simply come too late.
With that being said, there was still a sense of excitement Sunday afternoon after the Braves said good-bye to their fans with a thrilling 7-4 win over the dejected Brewers. This regular-season home finale was highlighted by a four-run seventh-inning that included Mark Teixeira's hustle, Milwaukee manager Ned Yost's furor and the introduction of Martin Prado's reliable bat.
"We just have to keep playing the way that we're playing," Andruw Jones said after the Braves took three of four from the Brewers to complete a 6-1 homestand. "Anything can happen. Baseball is weird."
During what might have been his final home game in Atlanta, Jones set the tone early by diving into first base with an infield single that led to a second-inning run. Six innings later, with the Braves facing a 4-1 deficit, it was Teixeira's hustle that resulted in a two-out infield single that prolonged the seventh inning long enough for second-base umpire Chris Gucccione to become a beloved figure in Chicago.
While the Braves have pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the lead in the congested National League Wild Card race, their postseason chances aren't as promising as those previously possessed by the Brewers, who now find themselves trailing the front-running Cubs by 3 1/2 games in the NL Central.
Thus, it's understandable why the Cubs fans at Wrigley Field roared and started doing the Tomahawk Chop on Sunday afternoon when the out-of-town scoreboard displayed the Braves had just taken the lead with a four-run seventh inning that was capped by Prado's pinch-hit RBI single off Ray King.
"We're not giving up," said Prado, a talented infielder who finished second in the International League batting race this year. "We're giving all [the other] teams a hard time. I'm glad to come through for the team. I feel happy that I helped them win the game."
It was Prado who delivered this decisive blow with his mother, Irma, watching him play in the Majors for the first time. But it was Teixeira's hustle that truly gave Jones, Matt Diaz and Prado the opportunity to register three consecutive two-out RBI singles.
And, of course, from Yost's perspective, this latest win for the Braves also came with an assist from the umpires. He wasn't happy about Jones being ruled safe during the second inning and he thought first-base umpire Jerry Layne missed the call on Teixeira's two-out single. But what truly incensed the former Braves coach was Guccione's decision to rule that Jeff Francoeur had successfully maneuvered himself back to the bag after rounding second on Jones' single.
"Two times we were out of that inning with the lead, and that changes the game completely," Yost said. "There's got to be some accountability somewhere in the ranks there. That was unbelievable right there."
Once Guccione ruled that Francoeur had maneuvered his right hand around second baseman Rickie Weeks' tag, Yost rushed the field and lividly protested the call. The rant earned him an ejection and a trip toward the clubhouse, where he watched as Diaz chassed Claudio Vargas with a game-tying single that was followed by Prado's game-winner to left field.
"We played good baseball,"said Chipper Jones, who leads the NL with a .341 batting average. "We played the kind of baseball that people are used to us playing around here. It's just a shame. Here we are, the final two weeks of the season and we're just realizing what we can do when we're right and playing well."
It's not that the Braves haven't displayed the sort of hustle shown by Teixeira and Andruw Jones. But when they've done so, they've often been undone by a pitching staff that certainly provided reason for optimism during this final homestand.
After Jo-Jo Reyes tired and surrendered two runs in the sixth inning to give the Brewers a 4-1 lead, the Braves' bullpen proved to be rock solid. Octavio Dotel registered three strikeouts in a scoreless eighth inning and Rafael Soriano struck out the side in the ninth to record his fourth save of this homestand and ninth of the season.
When Dotel returned Saturday from a right shoulder injury that had sidelined him since Aug. 7, he struck out the only batter that he faced. While recording each of his four outs this weekend via strikeouts, the veteran right-hander has only created reason to wonder how things might have been different if he didn't get hurt just five appearances after he was obtained at the trade deadline.
"We just gave it all we got," said Andruw Jones, who wouldn't acknowledge if he felt this was his final game in Atlanta. "If things keep going the way we're playing, we're going to make it pretty hard on those guys who are more in the race than we are."
With three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race, the Braves face a tough task. They need the front-running Padres to keep stumbling and the Rockies to cool off a little bit. As for the Phillies, they have a chance to take care of them during a three-game series that begins in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
"We're having fun," Teixeira said. "We're enjoying playing right now. You hate to look back and see the other games we could've won to be in a better position."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.