ATLANTA (AP) — With the season on the line, the Atlanta Braves couldn’t get the final three outs.
Now, they’ll have the whole winter to ponder an unprecedented collapse.
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel surrendered the tying run in the ninth, and Hunter Pence came through with a two-out, run-scoring single in the 13th to give the Philadelphia Phillies a 4-3 victory that ended Atlanta’s season Wednesday night without a trip to the playoffs that looked like a certainty just a few weeks ago.
The game ended more than an hour after St. Louis routed Houston 8-0 to claim at least a share of the wild card. The Cardinals earned it outright when David Herndon earned his first career save by getting Freddie Freeman to hit into a season-ending double play.
This one might hurt as bad as all those postseason losses in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The Braves were 10½ games ahead of St. Louis before play on Aug. 26. They were still up by 8½ games on the morning of Sept. 6. Instead of popping champagne for a second straight trip to the playoffs, they became the first team in major league history to blow a lead of at least eight games for a playoff spot in September.
They might have company if Boston does the same in the AL.
But that would be of little consolation in Atlanta.
The Braves had this one. And they blew it, losing five straight to end the regular season and going 9-18 in the final month.
Riding a strong showing by starter Tim Hudson and a two-run homer by Dan Uggla, Atlanta went to the ninth with a 3-2 lead and its record-setting rookie closer on the mound.
But the hard-throwing Kimbrel couldn’t get the three outs needed for his 47th save and a trip to St. Louis for a one-game playoff Thursday night. He was all over the place, walking three, and Chase Utley’s sacrifice fly tied it. The closer couldn’t even finish the inning, giving way to Kris Medlen.
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 Anthony Varvaro and Cristhian Martinez also pitched scoreless innings, but the Braves’ punchless offense 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 off the fists, the weakly hit ball 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.
Chipper Jones started the 13th by striking out, but Uggla gave the Braves a glimmer of hope by drawing a walk off 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.
Uggla struggled to get up at second base. Freeman kneeled down the right-field line, looking as though he couldn’t believe the collapse was complete.
Justin De Fratus (1-0) earned his first career win with a scoreless 12th.