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Bullpen woes lead to Braves' first-round exit

10/9/2005

HOUSTON -- With their season on the line, the Atlanta Braves
turned to a kid who was in college when the season started.

The Braves tried everything possible this season to fix a
bullpen that has too often failed in October.

They never could.

Another postseason ended early for the Braves, ruined again by a
bullpen that couldn't help Atlanta hold a five-run cushion.

The Braves took a 6-1 lead into the eighth inning behind Tim
Hudson, who was working on only three days' rest, but ended up with
a 7-6 loss in 18 innings and their fourth straight first-round
exit.

"It was a great game today," closer Kyle Farnsworth said. "It
was just a matter of whoever got the best break to win it in the
end."

Farnsworth was acquired in July to be the closer the Braves had
searched all season for after returning John Smoltz to the
rotation. Farnsworth gave up two homers, including Brad Ausmus'
tying drive in the ninth inning that left veteran Braves stunned.

"That was really the point in the game that you look in the
dugout and say, `Somebody pinch me,"' Chipper Jones said. "It was
hard to believe at that point."

Jones should not have been so surprised. Bad bullpen work is one
of the biggest reasons Atlanta has just one World Series
championship to show for its 14 straight division titles.

Atlanta tried to address that problem in recent years by making
Smoltz its closer. But realizing his value as a starter, the Braves
put him back in the rotation this year and watched as Dan Kolb and
Chris Reitsma couldn't hold the job, forcing the acquisition of
Farnsworth.

Farnsworth replaced Hudson in the eighth. After a fielder's
choice, he walked pinch-hitter Luke Scott to load the bases and
gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman that made it 6-5. He got two
outs in the ninth before allowing Ausmus' homer.

"You've got to give them credit," said Farnsworth, who
appeared to be choked up as he spoke after the game. "They kept
battling and battling. It's just one of those things that happens.

"I told Bobby (Cox) I could go two innings today and I felt
fine. This is just a game of inches. That Ausmus home run barely
cleared the line."

Reitsma -- who had allowed four runs in one-third of an inning in
the first game and two runs while facing just two batters in Game 3
-- normal starter John Thomson and Jim Brower pitched eight shutout
innings.

But the Braves then had to turn to Joey Devine, the rookie whose
main claim to fame before this was that he was the first player in
major league history to allow a grand slam in each of his first two
career appearances.

Atlanta's first-round draft pick this year, Devine was called up
late in the season as another possible solution to the bullpen
woes. But he followed his arrival by allowing the homers on Aug. 20
against San Diego and Aug. 22 against Chicago.

Chris Burke sent Devine's 2-0 pitch into the left-field Crawford
boxes for the game-winner -- and another early ending for the
Braves.

"My first thought process was just keep it in the yard,"
Devine said. "Eighteen innings of baseball. That's unbelievable
for two teams to go at it like that. It's the best game I've ever
been a part of. I just want to keep learning and learning."

Nobody in the Braves' clubhouse was blaming Devine.

"It should have been over three or four hours before that,"
pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "You're sitting there with a 6-1
lead after Hudson had done such a great job and you can't believe
what's happening.

"Then Reitsma and Brower had to suck it up and they did. By the
time we got to Devine, you figure it can't go on forever. You just
keep going and going and going and now it's almost six hours.
Somebody's bound to make a mistake."

Catcher Brian McCann agreed.

"(Devine) is going to be a great pitcher in this league
someday," McCann said. "I can see why he was our No. 1 pick. He
has a great sense of how to pitch.

"Pressure wasn't the problem. Everyone has pressure on them at
this level. He threw really well. If we had it to do over, we'd do
the same thing."