“I can’t fathom it,” Freeman said.
Riding a strong showing by starter Tim Hudson and a two-run homer by Uggla, Atlanta went to the ninth with a 3-2 lead and its record-setting closer on the mound. Kimbrel already had 46 saves, more than any rookie closer in baseball history, and he needed just three more outs to ensure the Braves would head to St. Louis for a one-game playoff Thursday.
But the hard-throwing Kimbrel was all over the place, walking three. He also surrendered a hit and Chase Utley’s sacrifice fly. The stocky right-hander couldn’t even finish the inning, giving way to Kris Medlen.
“My mind was rushing,” Kimbrel said. “Things started moving too fast. My head started moving too fast. My brain. I didn’t put it together. It was just too late.”
Medlen had pitched only one game in the big leagues all year after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he got the third out in the ninth and breezed through the 10th as well. Unheralded relievers Anthony Varvaro and Cristhian Martinez also pitched scoreless innings, but the Braves’ hitters just couldn’t produce another run in time.
Atlanta scored only seven runs in its last five games.
In the 13th, Scott Linebrink (4-4) got himself in trouble with a one-out walk to Brian Schneider, a .176 hitter. Jimmy Rollins flied out to center, but Utley grounded a 3-2 pitch into right field to keep the inning going. Pence followed with a blooper to right off the fists, the weakly hit ball landing between first baseman Freeman and second baseman Uggla, barely making it to the outfield grass.
But it was in just the right spot. Uggla slid out to get it but had no play anywhere. Schneider raced in with the go-ahead run.
“Liney made a great pitch,” Uggla said. “Hunter just fought it off and it landed in no-man’s land. I couldn’t make a play on it. Just one of those things. It kind of describes the whole September.”
Jones started the 13th by striking out, but Uggla gave the Braves a glimmer of hope by drawing a walk off David Herndon. What was left of the raucous crowd of more than 45,000 pleaded for Freeman to come through, but all he could do was hit a grounder to first baseman John Mayberry, who started the 3-6-3 double play that ended the Braves’ season.
Justin De Fratus (1-0) earned his first career win with a scoreless 12th. Herndon picked up his first career save.
“We got our butts kicked for the last couple weeks of the season,” Jones said.
He pointed to the odd loss in Florida as the one that really pushed the Braves into panic mode. They were never able to get out of it.
“When you lose a ground ball in the lights and the next guy hits a two-run homer to beat you, you kind of get a feeling something’s out of your control,” Jones said. “It just seemed like from that point on we were playing more to protect the lead than to go out and extend it.”
The mood in the Atlanta clubhouse was somber before the game. Jones was sprawled out in a recliner watching television. Uggla sat quietly at his locker. Hudson stared straight ahead, focusing on one of the most important starts of his long career.