Atlanta Braves fans gave a collective sigh of relief last Friday night when the Phillies’ Chris Coste popped up in the ninth inning with two outs and two men on base. The Braves, who have not done well in one-run games this season, were up by one.
The simple pop fly landed in the palm of second baseman Kelly Johnson’s glove — and then popped out onto the ground.
Things came unglued and the home team lost.
It is a play the sure-handed second baseman could make 5,000 times in a row. But not this time.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Kelly (though clearly disappointed) didn’t hide from reporters. In the locker room, he took his medicine after the game and tried to explain the unexplainable.
Major Leaguers don’t drop pop-ups. But, on this crucial occasion, Kelly had done so.
Kelly Johnson is a favorite at our house. He is a class act — a hustling player with a sweet left-handed swing.
He has always been very nice to my daughters at the ballpark — from the time he came up as an outfielder with a linebacker’s number on his back through his starting role as a second baseman who hits second and wears number two. (In baseball parlance, when “the deuces are wild.”)
But last Friday was surely a humiliating experience for one of the more humble players in a game full of inflated egos.
The next day, however, Braves manager Bobby Cox — who hates to lose more than anybody — tried to put things in perspective.
During a pre-game radio show, the skipper said: “In this game, you have to have a short memory.”
Of course, he was explaining that letting something negative like this burden you down can lead to other mistakes. He is right.
But the idea of a “short memory” can be applied more widely than a ballgame.
All of us have said or done something unthinkingly and regretted it. We would have done anything to take it back, but the damage was done.
The episode replays in our minds again and again, each time bringing fresh regret and pain.
Whether it be our errors or the errors of others, indeed, we need the gift of short memory in order to move on. But it is hard to the keep the mental recording from playing again and again.
(Excuse the repetitive theme of baseball-related blogs. But that’s what I enjoy this time of year.)