Every baseball disaster has its own particular terroir. But, generally, they fall into one of two genres. There is the sudden individual moment: the walk-off, the disastrous error, the grand slam. This draws a clear line in a game of before and after; it is one instance of sensational pain, so that the entire endeavor implodes, and then it is over. There is no space for bargaining or strategizing or rationalizing. It is one play that remakes the game in its likeness. And then there is the slow decline: the frame that holds a thousand deaths, and so, too, a thousand missed chances to live. This one unravels gradually and then suddenly and, always, painfully. This one is the first inning of Game 5 between the Braves and the Cardinals.
It was historic (10 runs, the most ever scored in the first inning in the postseason), a little bizarre (10 runs without one home run!) and, ultimately, the foundation for a contest that was totally anticlimactic (St. Louis went on to win, 13-1). There was no one moment when this got out of hand. There was, maybe, only the moment when it transitioned from ordinary disaster to full-on caricature. So here are all of those moments, presented in chronological order by batter, rated by their misery.
No. 1, Dexter Fowler: Walk
This, on its face, is not so bad. This was but one base-runner. It was unremarkable, neither a four-pitch disaster nor an extended battle. Yet—it was a leadoff walk, in an elimination game, and, well, there’s inherent misery to that. Just a little! It’s irrational, concerned more with the shifty pressure of a bad omen than the particular realities of run expectancy, but, all the same, in however small a sense, it’s miserable.
Misery Rating: 3
No. 2, Kolton Wong: Sac Bunt
It’s not ideal to see the runner advance. But this is... fine. There’s an out on the board. It’s small-ball. It is neither disaster nor the brink of disaster. It’s not great! But it’s fine.
Misery Rating: 1
No. 3, Paul Goldschmidt: Single
Doesn’t the first hit allowed—first frame or not, momentous or not, with a runner aboard or not—always have its own flavor of misery?
Misery Rating: 4
No. 4, Marcell Ozuna: Single (run scores)
And here is the first run, the first moment at which it becomes clear that there will be a cost and this cannot be dismissed simply as early shakiness; this will matter; this will be an act that must be overcome. A corner has been turned. And, of course, there are now two runners on with one out, which is most miserable of all: There are so many corners left to turn.
Misery Rating: 7
No. 5, Yadier Molina: Reaches on Error
This, for an instant, looked fine. It looked good. It looked like it could be a double play—an easy, even routine one. There were a few fractions of a second in which it felt safe to picture this as over. It would proceed to the bottom of the first, 1-0, and any misery would end.
It was not over. There was no chance at a double play. There was only an error for first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Misery Rating: 8
No. 6, Matt Carpenter: Walk (run scores)
A walk is not the worst outcome when the bases are loaded. It’s far less disastrous than a grand slam, or another extra-base hit, or any hit, really. It could be much worse. Remember that. Because it’s so awkward that it can be easy to overlook all that.
Misery Rating: 7
No. 7, Tommy Edman: Double (two runs score)
How, in an elimination game, do you measure the difference between a 2-0 lead and a 4-0 lead? By the stench of desperation? Or the weight of broken dreams?
Misery Rating: 9
No. 8, Paul DeJong: Intentional Walk
This, weirdly, is the least miserable play of the entire frame. No, it’s not great: two runners on, one out, down 4-0. But here is an area of direct control that includes no room for error (all hail the automatic intentional walk!) built around a clear strategy that should end all of this. There’s a sense of order here. This is not a chaos tunnel from hell. This is baseball—walk No. 8, set up the double play, face the pitcher, end the frame. This is normal. Or, at least, it can pass for it.
Misery Rating: 0
No. 9, Jack Flaherty: Walk (run scores)
This was meant to work. This was meant to be easy! The Braves had pulled starter Mike Foltynewicz for Max Fried. All he had to do here was face St. Louis pitcher (and former high school teammate) Jack Flaherty—induce a double play, or strike him out, or something. This was meant to be a corner to turn. Alas: fastball low, fastball low, fastball in the zone (at last!), fastball low, fastball low.
A walk, as already discussed here, is not the worst outcome when the bases are loaded. It really isn’t. But it’s much worse when it’s a) the second bases-loaded walk in the inning, and b) to the pitcher.
Misery Rating: 10.
No. 10, Dexter Fowler: Double (two runs score)
Here, maybe, is the point where it starts to lose meaning. The Braves have yanked their starter. They have issued two walks with the bases loaded. They have suffered a small parade of indignity. There is still only one out in the first. It’s all been so bad. And, now, it’s 7-0.
Misery Rating: 6
No. 11, Kolton Wong: Double (two runs score)
Yes, the same as the previous batter: first as tragedy, then as farce, as they say. (And on the first pitch that he saw here, too!)
Misery Rating: 7
No. 12, Paul Goldschmidt: Lineout
Do you realize just how long it has been since the first out? Since St. Louis willingly made that first out? The Cardinals have batted around. The Braves have seen their dreams of an extended season meet a miserable end; they have come to reckon with the fact that a year of their work and their hearts and their lives will finish here; they have tried and failed to systematize a way to counter disaster. Do you realize how long it has been? To call it a lifetime would be to do a disservice to the fact that it has held so much more death than life. The second out is a reminder of how distant it is from the first. So, yes, here is another out. But, my God, at what cost?
Misery Rating: 9
No. 13, Marcell Ozuna: Strikeout That—And I Cannot Stress This Enough— Scores A Run
Behold! Here, on the 13th batter, is the first strikeout of the frame, which should, of course, end it. Ozuna whiffs on a 1-2 curve...
...that bounces in the dirt, gets away from the catcher and allows another run to score.
Misery Rating: 0. This isn’t miserable. It’s absurd. It’s on its own plane of existence. It does not fit on this scale or in this series or in this world.
No. 14, Yadier Molina: Groundout
And, finally, it’s over.
Misery Rating: 10. Because it isn’t over. Remember? It just started.