10/09/05 11:30 PM ET
Notes: LaRoche battles illness
First baseman fights through flu to play eight innings of Game 4
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"It was frustrating," LaRoche said. "I've said it before -- if I knew we were going to lose in the first round, I'd rather not be in the playoffs at all. There's nothing worse than having to go home with a loss."
The Braves were forced to head back to Atlanta on Sunday evening with the reality that they were bounced from the postseason in the first round for the fourth straight season and for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
But for most of Sunday afternoon, it looked like LaRoche's two-out fourth-inning grand slam off Brandon Backe would be enough to keep their postseason hopes alive. It helped build a 6-1 eighth-inning lead that was erased when Kyle Farnsworth surrendered five runs in two innings.
While Farnsworth was being victimized, LaRoche was in the clubhouse watching his team's lead vanish. He exited after the eighth inning because of the stomach problems that were plaguing him.
"That's about as high and low as you can get," said LaRoche, who drilled a game-tying three-run homer in the sixth inning of last year's Game 4 of the NLDS against the Astros.
LaRoche also began a seventh-inning rally on Sunday with a one-out single. One batter later, he was thrown out at the plate attempting to score from first base on a Jeff Francoeur double down the left-field line.
As LaRoche slowed coming into third base, he saw that third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez was waving him home. At that point, he had to turn on the jets. But he slid right into the tag of Houston catcher Brad Ausmus, preventing the Braves from scoring what proved to be a necessary run.
"It was miscommunication," LaRoche said. "It was my fault."
If LaRoche was still in the game one inning later, Farnsworth might not have allowed a Lance Berkman grand slam. Two batters before Berkman's slam, Craig Biggio hit a grounder to third that allowed Chipper Jones to step on third and fire to first base.
With Jones' throw to the right side of first base, right-handed Julio Franco wasn't able to make the catch and keep his foot on the bag. The left-handed LaRoche might have been able to stretch and record the double play.
But Braves manager Bobby Cox defended the decision to lift LaRoche, who hit .500 during the Series, from the lineup.
"His legs gave out going [toward home plate]," Cox said. "He played another [half] inning. He couldn't go any more."
Chipper defends Braves' record: Although the Braves ended up losing their Division Series to the Astros, Chipper Jones looked back on this season as being another special one. Even with an influx of rookies, he was able to be a key figure for an organization that has won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles.
"I think the legacy is what it is," Jones said. "We've won 14 straight [division titles]. We know how special that is. We're going to keep doing our thing whether we win or lose in the postseason. It's not going to change the fact that we've won 14 straight division titles."
If the Braves had forced a decisive fifth game in the best-of-five series, they would have started southpaw Horacio Ramirez.
Quick turnaround: By the time the Braves got back to their Houston hotel after Saturday night's Game 3, it was approximately 11 p.m. local time. With a noon start for Game 4, the first buses left their hotel at 8:15 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Tim Hudson opted to prep for his Game 4 start by taking a cup of coffee with him out to the field for batting practice. But the magnitude of the game was enough for most of the Braves to not worry about the unusually early return to the ballpark.
"It's playoff time, and I think if it were 150 games into the regular season, you'd see some people dragging," Jones said. "But this crowd is electric when they get inside this place, and if you can't get up to play this game, then something's wrong with you."
With their retractable roof closed for Games 3 and 4, the Astros fans were able to generate plenty of noise. Their Saturday night crowd of 43,759 was the largest for any game that has been played at Minute Maid Park.
The Braves have often been criticized for the lack of fan support they get in the postseason. Yet during their past five playoff games that have been played at Turner Field, they've drawn an average of 44,475 fans.
Praise for Cox: While hitting .500 in the first three games of this series, Craig Biggio didn't exactly make things easy on Braves manager Bobby Cox. But the veteran second baseman still found time to deliver some appreciation for the skipper that has led Atlanta to each of its record 14 consecutive division titles.
"Bobby Cox is one of the greatest managers of all time," Biggio said. "I've got tremendous respect for him and everything he's accomplished."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.