It’s been exactly five years sinceÃ‚Â Brooks Conrad Game. Crazy, right? In that span, the Reds qualified for the postseasonÃ‚Â more times (three) than they did in the previous 30 yearsÃ‚Â (twice). (A few labor strikes and no Wild Card for much of that time makes that fact look a lot worse than it really is.)
On May 20, 2010,Ã‚Â the RedsÃ‚Â and BravesÃ‚Â engaged a thrilling Thursday afternoon tilt at Turner Field. Over the course of theÃ‚Â climactic ninth inning, the game went from being a walk-in-the-park blowout to a nail-biter, as a great comeback was fueled (in part) by a massive Reds meltdown.
All quotes via MLB.com.
Before the game
“We’ve had our backs against the wall quite a bit over the last couple of years. These guys have learned to play from behind. One thing about this club, we haven’t played well at times, we haven’t played consistently at times, [but] we’re not giving up. We play it to the bitter end.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€ Braves third baseman Chipper Jones
The Braves won the first installment of the two-game series 5-4 thanks to Jason Heyward, their rookie outfielder. Heyward ripped aÃ‚Â two-out, walk-off double off of Nick MassetÃ‚Â to end the game.Ã‚Â Before HeywardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game-winner, the Reds had rallied with three runs in the eighth and tied the game in the ninth on the heels ofÃ‚Â Chris HeiseyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s solo home run off Billy Wagner.
Prior to heading to Atlanta, the Reds enjoyed their ownÃ‚Â 5-4 walk-off victory over the Brewers. Down 4-2 in the ninth, Scott Rolen homered in Paul Janish, who had led off the frame with a single. After a double by Heisey and a walk to Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto smacked a rocket off the base of the right field wall for the game-winner. It was CincinnatiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 23rd win of the season, the 10th for the club in its last at-bat.
Before the ninth inning
“(Tommy) Hanson was light-headed when he took the mound in the first inning for whatever reason and he could never get it going. We were trying to get him through at least three or four innings so we could go to the bullpen, but I had to go get him in the second inning.” Ã¢â‚¬â€ Braves manager Bobby Cox
After pitching around a two-on and one-out predicament in the first inning, Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be so lucky in the top of the second — even if the frame started off relatively harmlessly.
Ramon Hernandez led off with a single, but Laynce Nix and Drew Stubbs followed with a strikeout and a pop-out, respectively.
But then Mike Leake singled, Orlando Cabrera walked, and Miguel Cairo singled to plate Hernandez. Up came Votto. Hanson attempted to fire a 95 mph heater past Votto, but the Reds first baseman was more than ready for itÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â propelled the pitch over the left-center field wall for a grand slamÃ‚Â and a 5-0 Cincinnati advantage.
HansonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nightmare inning would onlyÃ‚Â worsen. Phillips singled. Jay Bruce walked. Hernandez singled to score Phillips. Finally, Nix doubled to score Bruce and Hernandez, which marked the end of the line for Hanson after allowing two walks, eight hits, and eight earned runs in 1.2 innings of work.Ã‚Â The inning would endÃ‚Â with Cincinnati leading 8-0.
(Depending on your point of view, this outing wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even HansonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worst start of the season. A month later, Hanson yielded 13 hits and nine runs (all earned) with zero strikeouts and a walk in 3.2 innings during the BravesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 9-6 loss to the White Sox on June 22.)
Atlanta got a run back in the fourth after Heyward doubled with two outs and eventually scored on an error by Leake. However, Nix smacked a solo home run in the fifth to push the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ advantage back to eight at 9-1.
The Braves picked up two more runs in the fifth. Nate McLouth walked, and Melky Cabrera and Martin Prado followed with singles to load the bases. Heyward then grounded into a fielderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s choice to bring in a run, and an error by Cabrera at short allowed a second run to come across. But, Leake fanned Chipper Jones and got Brian McCann to ground into a double play to silence the threat.
“The ball hit my glove, it just didn’t stick. It was a play I could have made. Off the bat, I thought it was just a deep fly ball. I didn’t think it would carry that far. But I still had a bead on it and got there. It’s unfortunate that the game got to that point. But the Braves hung in there and gave themselves a chance at a miracle.” Ã¢â‚¬â€ Reds outfielder Laynce Nix
Mike Lincoln had taken over for Leake in the home half of the seventh and twirled two 1-2-3 innings. The right-hander would be sent out for the ninth, and it went poorly. Very poorly.
Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske, and Yunel Escobar led off the ninth with consecutive singles. McLouth made it four singles in a row by slamming a hanging breaking ball into right field to score Glaus and Hinske.
Masset entered for Lincoln and promptly walked David Ross on five pitches to re-load the bases. The right-hander actually did his job against Prado, the next hitter. Prado sent a hard ground ball to Cairo Ã¢â‚¬â€ who was manning third base for a hobbled Rolen Ã¢â‚¬â€ for what couldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been a double play but at the very least shouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been a force out somewhere.Ã‚Â Only Cairo bobbled the ball, Escobar scored from third, and the Reds’ lead was trimmed to 9-6. There was still no one out, and the bases were still jammed full of Braves.
Arthur Rhodes was summoned for Masset, and the southpaw struck out Heyward on a 3-2 pitch. Francisco Cordero entered for Rhodes, and Brooks Conrad stepped up to the plate to pinch hit.
On a 2-2 pitch, Conrad flicked a 97 mph Cordero fastball to deep left field. Nix, the left fielder, looked as if he had the ball sized up and leapt off the ground. The ball bouncedÃ‚Â off of NixÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s glove and, well, you know the rest.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We need to just get over this as fast as possible.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€ Reds starter Mike Leake
*Conrad’s slam was just the second pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam in MLB history and was the 23rd walk-off grand slam of all-time. Prior to Conrad, the last walk-off slam wasÃ‚Â Adam Dunn‘s game-ending four-baggerÃ‚Â vs. the Indians on June 30, 2006. (VottoÃ‚Â hit a walk-off grand slam — on Mother’s Day, no less, and the walk-off was hisÃ‚Â third homer of the game — vs. the Nationals on May 13, 2012.)
*Craig Kimbrel earned his first major-league win in the Conrad Game for being the last of four Brave relievers who limited the Reds to one run over the game’s final 7.1 innings.
*The Reds and Braves each finished 2010 with 91-71 records.
*Phillips, Rhodes, Rolen, and Votto were named to the National League All-Star team. Votto went on to be named the NL MVP after slashing .324/.424/.600 and leading the league in WAR, wOBA, and wRC+.
*Conrad would appear in 103 games for Atlanta in 2010, a career-high for him. Conrad would go on to spendÃ‚Â parts of the 2011 (Braves), 2012 (Brewers, Rays), and 2014 (Padres) seasons in the majors. The 35-year-old Conrad currently plays for the Las Vegas 51s, the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.
*The Reds were so broken up overÃ‚Â their tragic loss in Atlanta…that they won the next day in Cleveland. In fact, Cincinnati went on to win sevenÃ‚Â of itsÃ‚Â next nine after the Conrad Game. Of course, the Reds would go on to win their first division title in 15 years, clinching the National League Central with aÃ‚Â dramatic home run of their own. The Phillies swept the Reds 3-0 in the National League Division Series, however.
*The Braves — who would win 11 of their next 13 after the Conrad Game, including nine in a row at one juncture — also reached the postseason, inching by the Padres by a single game to claim the NL Wild Card for the franchiseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first playoff berth since 2005. (Atlanta made the postseason each year from 1991-2005.) In the NLDS, the Braves fell 3-1 to the eventual World Series champion Giants.
How much of a lasting effect did the Conrad Game really have on each team?
The Conrad GameÃ‚Â was an iconic representation of baseball’s inherent duality. The contest itselfÃ‚Â was downright exhilarating…but it was only one game out of 162 contests the two teams played during the regular season. Depending on your point of view and your adherence to baseball axioms, the games played by the Reds and Braves after the Conrad Game either reinforced or disproved your belief system.
The Reds went on a hot streak after their stunning defeat. Were they galvanized and brought together by the loss? The more likely explanationÃ‚Â is the players and coaches began to forget about the Conrad Game with each passing day. On the other hand, the Braves remained hotter than Yuma in JulyÃ‚Â after their amazing comeback, so perhaps it wasÃ‚Â the BravesÃ‚Â who were galvanized and brought together by their astonishing victory.
The truth, like most things in life, is in the eye of the beholder and is locatedÃ‚Â somewhere in the middle. I think we can all agree on this: the Conrad Game was just an awesome baseballÃ‚Â game, and certainly one I’ll never forget.