ATLANTA -- Who are these guys losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks? Surely it's not the Atlanta Braves, making their 10th straight trip to the playoffs.
No, these are the Bad News Braves.
With a display of glovework more suited to a Little League field, Greg Maddux and the Braves took themselves to the edge of elimination in the NL championship series with a dismal 11-4 loss to the Diamondbacks on Saturday night.
Arizona has a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and can earn its first trip to the World Series on Sunday night -- with Randy Johnson rested and ready to go.
''If you try to look too far ahead, you can get yourself into trouble,'' Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. ''We just want Randy to go out there and pitch the way he has all season.''
The Braves look as if they are ready to begin the offseason. After clinching another NL East championship and sweeping Houston in the first round of the playoffs, this group of postseason veterans suddenly forgot how to play the game.
Their misery began in the first inning, when Craig Counsell reached first on a passed ball after striking out. It lasted until the ninth, when Rey Sanchez's second error gave the Diamondbacks four more unearned runs -- six in all.
Luis Gonzalez finished off the Braves with a three-run homer.
''They're not a team that usually gives you extra outs,'' Arizona's Curt Schilling said. ''You don't have that kind of thing happen when you play against the Atlanta Braves. I've never seen it.''
Maddux, the winner of 11 straight Gold Glove awards, looked more lost than anyone during a four-run third that turned the game in Arizona's favor.
The Braves became the first team in the 33-year history of the NLCS to make three errors in one inning, which included an errant throw by Maddux and a mental gaffe by the four-time Cy Young winner that was even more shocking.
''It's embarrassing,'' Maddux said. ''Nothing I did worked out.''
Maddux was knocked out in the fourth. Arizona started the inning with three straight hits, the last a two-run double by Counsell, Arizona's Mr. October. He finished with four RBIs.
Pitching on three days' rest for the first time this season, the 35-year-old Maddux lasted just three innings -- his shortest start in 29 postseason appearances
Brian Anderson picked up the win, giving up one run in 3 1-3 innings. Byung-Hyun Kim escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and earned his first save of the series.
For the second consecutive night, the Braves were undone by basic fundamentals. In the fifth inning of Game 3, Julio Franco and Marcus Giles both failed to cover first and Javy Lopez let two runs score when he dropped a throw to the plate.
After that batch of miscues, Schilling cruised to a 5-1 victory.
Surely, it couldn't happen again to a team playing its 105th postseason game since 1991. It did, just one night later.
Chipper Jones got the follies started by bobbling Tony Womack's chopper to third. While that error didn't hurt the Braves -- Womack was thrown out trying to steal second -- they were about to unravel.
Counsell followed with a routine grounder to Sanchez, a slick-fielding shortstop acquired by the Braves just before the trade deadline. He sidearmed the throw to first and watched it sail off the screen in front of the Braves dugout for their second straight error.
Counsell sprinted to third on Gonzalez's single, then things really got interesting.
Reggie Sanders hit a grounder back to the mound. Maddux snared it, but instead of wheeling around to start a double play, he appeared distracted by the sight of Counsell caught off third.
Maddux hesitated, waiting for Jones to cover the bag. Even when he got to third, Maddux didn't throw. Then he looked to first -- too late to get Sanders. By that time, Counsell was sliding back into third.
''I got a ball hit back to me and I didn't throw it where I should have,'' Maddux said.
With the bases loaded, Steve Finley hit a liner up the middle. Maddux got a glove on the ball, scrambled off the mound to retrieve it and made an off-balance throw to the plate.
But the ball sailed past catcher Paul Bako, allowing two runs to score. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone was so stunned by Maddux's miscues that he went to the mound with a towel.
''Go figure,'' Brenly said. ''I don't know how to explain that. I've marveled at Greg Maddux as a player, a coach, a broadcaster and now a manager, at his ability to help himself by fielding his position. It was so out of character to see the plays he made tonight.''
Toweling off didn't help, either. Matt Williams and Mark Grace followed with consecutive RBI singles to give the Diamondbacks a 4-2 lead.
Arizona starter Albie Lopez, who dominated the Braves during the regular season, lasted only three innings. He gave up an RBI double to Chipper Jones in the first and a 422-foot homer to Andruw Jones in the second.
It didn't matter as Maddux added another chapter to his postseason misery. He dropped to 4-8 in the NLCS and 10-13 overall in all playoff games.
Going back to the regular season, Maddux has a stretch of 10 starts without a win -- his longest since going 13 starts between victories in 1990. Unless the Braves can force a Game 7, he won't get another chance to end the streak this year.
The last team to rebound from a 3-1 playoff deficit was the Braves, who outscored the St. Louis Cardinals 32-1 to win the final three games of the 1996 NLCS.
Notes: The attendance was 42,291 -- about 8,000 short of a sellout. ... Arizona got two runners on base after strikeouts, the other on a wild pitch. ... Maddux made the 32nd start of his career on three days' rest. ... Lopez went 2-0 against the Braves during the regular season. He gave up just one run in 14 innings. ... Two AL teams have made three errors in an LCS inning, most recently the Angels in 1986.
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