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Double-whammy of trouble staggers low-key Braves
ATLANTA (AP) - The day started off tough for the Braves.
It never got any better.
General manager Frank Wren awoke to news Friday that pitcher Derek Lowe had been arrested on drunken-driving charges. In the afternoon, the Braves placed pitching coach Roger McDowell on administrative leave while investigating an ugly altercation with fans last weekend.
As midnight approached, Atlanta gave up two runs in the 11th inning for a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, having squandered a lead in the ninth that would've put a little salve on the wounds.
"Obviously, it was a more melodramatic day than usual," Braves starter Tim Hudson said. "But tomorrow is a new day. We'll come out and try to win that one. We're going to support our teammates, support everything that's going on here. We're a family. That's how it's going to be."
The Braves are a team that usually avoids the spotlight, at least away from the park.
Sure, there have been stumbles along the way. Bobby Cox getting into a fracas with his wife. Rafael Furcal serving jail time after a second drunken-driving conviction. And, of course, John Rocker's infamous rant against homosexuals, immigrants and just about anyone else he didn't agree with.
"We have a long-standing reputation in this community and in Major League Baseball that we're very proud of," Wren said.
That image was tarnished when McDowell, the team's pitching coach since 2005, allegedly made homophobic comments, crude gestures and threatened a fan with a bat before a game in San Francisco last weekend.
Then, on Thursday night, Lowe was arrested by state troopers who said they spotted him racing another car on an Atlanta street. The officer detected an odor of alcohol and administered a field sobriety test, which resulted in Lowe's arrest, according to Gordy Wright, a spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol.
"It's been a rough couple days for this organization and, clearly, I have a lot to do with that," said Lowe, who apologized to his teammates privately. "Any time you do anything, you're putting the Braves in a bad spot. And that's what I did. I let them know that I'm sorry for the situation."
Wren was so concerned by the embarrassing double-whammy that he called a closed-door meeting to put everyone on notice: players, coaches, even the front office.
"Unfortunately, mistakes have been made, and we'll deal with them at the appropriate time," he said. "Everyone is very mindful of the position we have and, going forward, being more diligent in making sure we uphold that reputation we're so proud of."
Lowe will make his next scheduled start on Sunday, and the team is unlikely to impose any additional discipline beyond what the courts decide.
The outcome for McDowell is not as clear, though manager Fredi Gonzalez said he's hopeful the pitching coach will keep his job.
"I'm sure there's some hoops he's going to go through, some apologizing, which he should have to go through," Gonzalez said. "But for a person to lose their job, I wouldn't think so. I hope it doesn't."
The Braves and Major League Baseball are under scrutiny, however, to impose a punishment with some bite if the team's investigation validates the allegations against McDowell.
Activists for the gay community are outraged by the allegations, coming just weeks after NBA star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using a common homophobic slur to express frustration over a referee's call.
"It remains to be seen whether the Atlanta Braves will take real disciplinary action and send a clear message that there is no place for anti-gay remarks or violent threats in baseball," said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Barrios said the Braves and Major League Baseball should follow the lead of the NBA "by speaking out in support of gay and lesbian baseball fans and players around the country, and by taking steps to make the sport a safe place for everyone."
Wren said he hopes to have the investigation wrapped up by end of the weekend, and added that any punishment would be coordinated with commissioner Bud Selig's office. Selig has already called the allegations "very troubling."
Returning from an encouraging West Coast trip, the Braves opened a three-game series against St. Louis, looking to put all the ugliness behind them.
"We're still going to have a good reputation," catcher Brian McCann said. "This organization is top of the line. I'm not worried about that."
Gonzalez found himself in a position that no manager wants, especially a first-year skipper who replaced a future Hall of Famer. Cox retired last season after managing the Braves since 1990, a tenure marked by 15 playoff appearances and little turmoil off the field.
His replacement hopes this will be a defining moment for the new regime. The Braves came into Friday's game having won five of six to get back to .500.
"There's some lessons here to be learned by everybody," Gonzalez said. "You look at how you handle the situations that come at you, and hopefully making a positive outcome out of negative situations."
The Braves brought in their minor league pitching coordinator, Dave Wallace, to oversee the big league staff while McDowell serves his de facto suspension. He has not spoken publicly about his actions other than to issue a brief statement saying he was "deeply sorry."
"Roger's hurting," Gonzalez said. "He really is."
The altercation at AT&T Park in San Francisco took place last Saturday during pregame batting practice. Justin Quinn was in the stands with his wife and 9-year-old twin daughters when he noticed McDowell hectoring three men and asking them, "Are you guys a homo couple or a threesome?"
After the coach made crude sexual gestures with his hips and a bat, Quinn said he shouted, "Hey there are kids out here." According to Quinn, McDowell said kids don't belong at a baseball park, picked up a bat, walked up to Quinn and asked him, "How much are your teeth worth?"
Quinn's attorney, Gloria Allred, said Friday she was "very pleased" by the Braves' action, adding that she spoke with Selig about the incident earlier in the day.
"We are providing all relevant evidence to the commissioner for his investigation," Allred said. "We appreciate the fact that the commissioner has indicated to me that the alleged behavior, if verified, would be completely unacceptable and that appropriate action will be taken at the conclusion of the investigation. We look forward to the results."
McDowell was a star reliever with the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, playing a key role on New York's World Series-winning club in 1986. He has been Atlanta's pitching coach since 2005, earning praise for his work in developing young hurlers such as Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.
"He's the most consistent guy I've ever been around," Gonzalez said. "A solid, solid, solid person."
Just not a very solid day for the Braves.
Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.
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