Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman puts his arm around catcher Brian McCann late in the regular season. The Braves were eliminated from the playoffs on Monday, and it might have been McCann’s last game in an Atlanta uniform. (Reuters)
LOS ANGELES — All season long Brian McCann has had other things to occupy his thoughts, rather than focusing on whether this was his last season in a Braves uniform.
In that way, Monday night’s division series finale was more of the same, only this time it was mostly frustration.
McCann struck out four times in four trips to the plate to finish the division series 0-for-13 after the Braves got eliminated in a 4-3 loss on Juan Uribe’s two-run homer.
In the aftermath of a quiet visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, after McCann hugged a couple of long-time clubhouse attendants and then headed to his locker to face a pack of media, he wasn’t surprised at the inevitable questions.
Three questions in, McCann, the Duluth High graduate, who was drafted by the Braves in 2002 and spent the full extent of his seven-time All-Star career with the Braves, had just played his last game in a Braves uniform.
“Man, I’m not sure,” McCann said. “It’s kind of hard to think about that right now. I’m just going to try to put it in the back of my mind and whatever happens is going to happen.”
McCann is eligible for free agency. He’s expected to command $15-$18 million annually on the open market and the Braves aren’t likely to pursue him with that kind of financial vigor, with catchers like Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt in the organization.
American League teams figure to lead the pursuit for McCann’s services, given the flexibility they’ll have to both catch him and use him at designated hitter or first base on down the line.
So even as McCann has tried to put the thoughts about a possible end to the back of his mind, he knew.
“There’s definitely a chance,” McCann said. “And I’m just trying not to think about it and whatever happens is going to happen, so I’m just not really thinking about it right now.”
When the sting of the loss and his rough night at the plate wears off, he’s also got a wife and two young kids, including a brand new baby daughter, to keep him busy.
When asked what happens now late Monday night, McCann said: “I don’t know. It’s something I’ve never been through. I’ve got two kids at home, so that’s what I’ll be doing.”
And of the lackluster ending at the plate?
“I didn’t see that coming,” said McCann, who was caught looking for three of his strikeouts, including twice against Clayton Kershaw. “Every pitch I had to hit I fouled off. Every pitch I was looking for, he threw the opposite. It was just one of those nights. I haven’t had too many of these, but it’s frustrating.”
GONZALEZ DEFENDS CARPENTER: The Braves’ season ended Monday night with the major league saves leader still sitting in the bullpen.
David Carpenter served up Uribe’s game-winning two-run home run in the eighth inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers rallied for 4-3 victory in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles won the National League Division Series, advancing to the National League Championship Series to oppose either the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Braves, meanwhile, endured another frustrating finish in October. They have lost seven consecutive postseason series since last winning one in 2001. Atlanta also fell in the inaugural NL wild-card game in 2012.
With Atlanta holding a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning Monday, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he did not give consideration to bringing in Craig Kimbrel, who had 50 saves in the regular season, for a six-out save. Instead, with the season in the balance, Gonzalez went with Carpenter, a right-hander who was 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 56 regular-season games.
Yasiel Puig led off the eighth with a double, and Uribe, after fouling off two bunt attempts, followed with a homer to left field.
“You don’t ever want it to end the way it ended tonight, but we had the right guy out there,” Gonzalez said. “Carp has been good for us. There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Still, it was another disappointing and short playoff run for the Braves following a 96-66 regular season in which they won the NL East by 10 games over the favored Washington Nationals.
“To end the way it did tonight, it’s going to hurt,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to be a long trip back. The sad thing is there are no more games.”