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Braves backup gives it away

ATLANTA — Brooks Conrad stood near second base, all alone. He didn't dare go near Braves manager Bobby Cox, standing on the mound making a pitching change. Finally, teammate Derrek Lee wandered over, giving Conrad a pat on the back.

Nothing helped. All Conrad could do was bend over in anguish.

"I wish I could just dig a hole," he said, "and sleep in it."

Atlanta was within one out of taking control of the NL division series, but a 30-year-old journeyman infielder who wouldn't have been playing if not for season-ending injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado simply couldn't catch the ball Sunday.

Conrad made three errors, the last on a two-out grounder in the ninth inning that gave the Giants a 3-2 victory over the Braves.

"It was completely embarrassing," said Conrad, who has made eight errors in the past seven games going back to the regular season.

"Once again, I feel like I let everyone down."

He bobbled a grounder in the first, but that one didn't hurt. He dropped a popup the next inning, allowing an unearned run to score. Finally, Buster Posey's hard grounder skidded under Conrad's glove, bringing home the run that capped San Francisco's two-run ninth.

"I thought he would make the play," Posey said. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody."

Brian Wilson shut down the Braves in the ninth to give the Giants a 2-1 lead in a best-of-five series in which all three games have been decided by one run.

San Francisco can close it out tonight.

For Conrad, the memories of this one will linger for a lifetime. He tied a postseason record for errors in a game and became the fourth second baseman to make three, according to STATS LLC.

Those blunders might speed up the retirement of Cox, whose 29-year managing career ends when Atlanta's season is done.

"We had this one won," Cox said. "We can win games, and we can compete against anybody. But we can't afford to make mistakes."

Atlanta did nothing against Jonathan Sanchez, managing two hits in 71/3 innings and trailing 1-0. But when pinch-hitter Eric Hinske, the former Ray, lined a two-run homer off Sergio Romo in the eighth, the Braves suddenly had the lead.

But Atlanta had no Billy Wagner to close it out. He was removed from the roster before the game with a pulled muscle on his left side.

Still, rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel was within one out of a save before the Giants rallied. Former Ray Aubrey Huff tied it with an RBI single off Mike Dunn. Then Posey hit a grounder to just the right man.

"I've never experienced that range of emotions on a baseball field," Atlanta outfielder Matt Diaz said.

Conrad was one of the last guys to make the Braves roster out of spring training and spent his first full year in the majors. He was primarily a backup, though he did provide one of the season's most dramatic moments with a pinch-hit grand slam that capped a seven-run ninth inning and a 10-9 victory over the Reds in May.

Then Jones hurt his knee, and an injury finished off Prado for the season, too. Down the stretch, the Braves were forced to go with Conrad at third base.

His defense was so shaky that Cox swapped him with Omar Infante before the last game of the regular season, moving Conrad to second because he was having trouble making accurate throws from third.

Cox is known for defending his players, but even he might be forced to make a change. The only other middle infielder on the roster is little-used rookie Diory Hernandez.

"I'll have to sleep on it," was all he would say when asked if Conrad would stay in the lineup.

Braves backup gives it away 10/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 11, 2010 12:30am]

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