ATLANTA -- After his club collapsed in September two years ago, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez spent most of the next few weeks confined to his basement, where he agonized over what transpired. It is safe to say he has reacted much differently to the painful and abrupt ending to this season.
Less than 48 hours after the Braves were eliminated by the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, Gonzalez returned to Turner Field on Wednesday and expressed no regrets. Sure, he is still feeling the disappointment that has existed since Juan Uribe hit his game-winning, two-run home run off David Carpenter in Game 4 on Monday night.
But given time to think about all that transpired, Gonzalez sticks by his decision to not give closer Craig Kimbrel a chance to record a six-out save or preserve the one-out, eighth-inning lead that Carpenter squandered.
"I feel good about the decision," Gonzalez said. "You don't ever want to end a game like that. But I'm not second-guessing myself with any of those decisions, starting Freddy Garcia or not bringing Kimbrel in for two innings."
Somewhere in the midst of Garcia delivering six solid innings in his matchup against Clayton Kershaw, fans and critics stopped chastising Gonzalez's decision to stick with the 37-year-old veteran in the must-win Game 4.
But like the slider Mark Wohlers hung to Jim Leyritz in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, Gonzalez's decision to stick with Carpenter -- while Kimbrel was ready and willing in the bullpen -- will have a long and lasting place in Atlanta's postseason lore.
During Monday night's ninth inning, television cameras caught an incensed Kimbrel expressing his frustration to bullpen coach Eddie Perez. It appeared the dominant closer said something to the effect that he told Gonzalez he wanted a chance to work two innings if the Braves had a lead after the seventh.
"He came in before the game and said, 'I can do whatever you want me to do,'" Gonzalez said. "He said, 'If you want me to pitch two innings, I can do whatever you want.' I've also had guys who have had tough, tough years come in and tell me, 'I want to hit fourth.' I subscribe to the theory, and I will continue to do so, that you put guys in position where you feel they are going to be successful and you go with it."
Many who have criticized the hesitancy to bring Kimbrel in to start the eighth inning have pointed out that Mariano Rivera worked at least two innings in postseason games after he became the Yankees closer in 1997.
"That is a different animal right there," Gonzalez said. "That is a guy who has done it. He came up as a starter and then he pitched multiple innings in the middle of a game for a lot of years. He's done it."
Kimbrel has also done it, though. In fact, he did it in impressive fashion during what was just his second career postseason appearance back in 2010.
The Braves closer has worked two innings in three of the 237 appearances he has made between the regular season and postseason. The first instance came while he was serving as a middle man early in his career during a lopsided loss to the Rays in 2010. The most recent instance came when he worked a second inning after blowing a ninth-inning lead on April 21, 2011, coincidently at Dodger Stadium.
While working as Billy Wagner's setup man during a memorable Game 2 win against the Giants in the 2010 NLDS, Kimbrel recorded four strikeouts and proved perfect during the eighth and ninth innings.
Still, Gonzalez said there was never a thought about giving Kimbrel a chance to do anything more than record the final four outs of Monday's game. By the time that opportunity arose, it was too late.
While Gonzalez might not have been comfortable allowing Kimbrel to begin the eighth inning, he again had the chance to bring him in after Yasiel Puig greeted Carpenter with a leadoff double. But he opted to allow Carpenter to face Uribe, who bunted two pitches foul before sending a 2-2 slider over the left-field wall to give the Dodgers a lead they would not squander.
Had Uribe bunted Puig over, the Braves were likely going to walk Skip Schumaker and allow Carpenter to face A.J. Ellis before possibly bringing Kimbrel into the game.
"We were going to go for four outs [for Kimbrel], and they were trying to give us an out there with Uribe," Gonzalez said. "It goes from a bunting situation to a two-run homer. That would have been one less out that we would have had to worry about. We were going to go with four outs."