Oct. 1, 2011. Baseball's postseason began with the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox sitting at home, both still shell-shocked and wondering what in the world had just happened. There had been historic collapses before -- the Phillies in 1964, the Cubs in '69. But never two simultaneous crashes of such epic proportions.
One month earlier, the Braves had the fourth-best record in baseball, 80-55, and held an 8½-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Their only concerns were getting players healthy for the postseason and deciding who would make the 25-man roster for the first round of the playoffs.
The Red Sox had the second-best record in baseball, 83-52. Their only concern was holding off the New York Yankees in the American League East so they could start the postseason on the road. The Tampa Bay Rays were nine games back.
Fittingly, the Braves and Red Sox were eliminated in eerily similar fashion -- in 4-3 losses on the final day of the season.
But that is where the parallel paths diverged, which has everything to do with where the two teams are today.
The Red Sox reacted by firing manager Terry Francona, who had guided them to two World Series titles. Less than two weeks later, Theo Epstein, the general manager who fired Francona, left the Red Sox for the Chicago Cubs.
Meanwhile, the Braves did something even more remarkable.
They did nothing.
Well, they paid the Cleveland Indians $10 million to take Derek Lowe off their hands. But that was hardly scapegoating, considering that Lowe had finished 9-17 with a 5.05 earned run average, this after a pretty solid April. And even if Lowe had been somewhat dependable, the Braves probably would have moved him anyway to make room for Mike Minor.
Aside from dumping Lowe, general manager Frank Wren and all the brass looked at the roster and still saw championship potential. Just as important, Wren sensed that the players still were solidly behind Fredi Gonzalez, their first-year manager.
The Braves figured Martin Prado would bounce back to being a steady .300 hitter and play nearly flawless defense wherever they plugged him in. And he did.
They figured Jason Heyward's work ethic and sheer talent would overcome his sophomore slump. And they did.
They figured having Michael Bourn for a full season would help energize an offense that too often relied on three-run homers. And it did.
They figured if they did a better job of managing relievers Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrell, they would not be burned out in September. And they did.
They figured having Kris Medlen back for a full season would help. And boy, has it ever.
They hoped -- not that they had much choice -- that Chipper Jones could stay healthy enough to at least contribute and provide a young team much valuable leadership. And Chipper has responded by solidifying his eventual place in the Hall of Fame.
Oct. 1, 2012
The regular season is essentially over for the Braves and the Red Sox. The Braves must sweep the Pirates and have the Phillies sweep the Nationals this week to force a one-game playoff for the division title.
But whereas the Red Sox's mess has reached nuclear proportions, the Braves are headed back to the postseason. The only question left for the Red Sox is whether they will finish last in the AL East. The only question left for the Braves is whether they will face the Cardinals or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the new wild-card game Friday at Turner Field.
Sometimes, the best course of action is to simply stay the course.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.