It’s been exactly five years since Brooks Conrad Game. Crazy, right? In that span, the Reds qualified for the postseason more times (three) than they did in the previous 30 years (twice). (A few labor strikes and no Wild Card for much of that time makes that fact look a lot worse than it really is.)

On May 20, 2010, the Reds and Braves engaged a thrilling Thursday afternoon tilt at Turner Field. Over the course of the climactic ninth inning, the game went from being a walk-in-the-park blowout to a nail-biter, as a great comeback was fueled (in part) by a massive Reds meltdown.

All quotes via MLB.com.

Before the game

“We’ve had our backs against the wall quite a bit over the last couple of years. These guys have learned to play from behind. One thing about this club, we haven’t played well at times, we haven’t played consistently at times, [but] we’re not giving up. We play it to the bitter end.” — Braves third baseman Chipper Jones

The Braves won the first installment of the two-game series 5-4 thanks to Jason Heyward, their rookie outfielder. Heyward ripped a two-out, walk-off double off of Nick Masset to end the game. Before Heyward’s game-winner, the Reds had rallied with three runs in the eighth and tied the game in the ninth on the heels of Chris Heisey’s solo home run off Billy Wagner.

Prior to heading to Atlanta, the Reds enjoyed their own 5-4 walk-off victory over the Brewers. Down 4-2 in the ninth, Scott Rolen homered in Paul Janish, who had led off the frame with a single. After a double by Heisey and a walk to Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto smacked a rocket off the base of the right field wall for the game-winner. It was Cincinnati’s 23rd win of the season, the 10th for the club in its last at-bat.

Before the ninth inning

“(Tommy) Hanson was light-headed when he took the mound in the first inning for whatever reason and he could never get it going. We were trying to get him through at least three or four innings so we could go to the bullpen, but I had to go get him in the second inning.” — Braves manager Bobby Cox

After pitching around a two-on and one-out predicament in the first inning, Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson wouldn’t be so lucky in the top of the second — even if the frame started off relatively harmlessly.

Ramon Hernandez led off with a single, but Laynce Nix and Drew Stubbs followed with a strikeout and a pop-out, respectively.

But then Mike Leake singled, Orlando Cabrera walked, and Miguel Cairo singled to plate Hernandez. Up came Votto. Hanson attempted to fire a 95 mph heater past Votto, but the Reds first baseman was more than ready for it and propelled the pitch over the left-center field wall for a grand slam and a 5-0 Cincinnati advantage.

Hanson’s nightmare inning would only worsen. Phillips singled. Jay Bruce walked. Hernandez singled to score Phillips. Finally, Nix doubled to score Bruce and Hernandez, which marked the end of the line for Hanson after allowing two walks, eight hits, and eight earned runs in 1.2 innings of work. The inning would end with Cincinnati leading 8-0.

(Depending on your point of view, this outing wasn’t even Hanson’s worst start of the season. A month later, Hanson yielded 13 hits and nine runs (all earned) with zero strikeouts and a walk in 3.2 innings during the Braves’ 9-6 loss to the White Sox on June 22.)

Atlanta got a run back in the fourth after Heyward doubled with two outs and eventually scored on an error by Leake. However, Nix smacked a solo home run in the fifth to push the Reds’ advantage back to eight at 9-1.

The Braves picked up two more runs in the fifth. Nate McLouth walked, and Melky Cabrera and Martin Prado followed with singles to load the bases. Heyward then grounded into a fielder’s choice to bring in a run, and an error by Cabrera at short allowed a second run to come across. But, Leake fanned Chipper Jones and got Brian McCann to ground into a double play to silence the threat.

The Collapse

“The ball hit my glove, it just didn’t stick. It was a play I could have made. Off the bat, I thought it was just a deep fly ball. I didn’t think it would carry that far. But I still had a bead on it and got there. It’s unfortunate that the game got to that point. But the Braves hung in there and gave themselves a chance at a miracle.” — Reds outfielder Laynce Nix

Mike Lincoln had taken over for Leake in the home half of the seventh and twirled two 1-2-3 innings. The right-hander would be sent out for the ninth, and it went poorly. Very poorly.

Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske, and Yunel Escobar led off the ninth with consecutive singles. McLouth made it four singles in a row by slamming a hanging breaking ball into right field to score Glaus and Hinske.

Masset entered for Lincoln and promptly walked David Ross on five pitches to re-load the bases. The right-hander actually did his job against Prado, the next hitter. Prado sent a hard ground ball to Cairo — who was manning third base for a hobbled Rolen — for what could’ve been a double play but at the very least should’ve been a force out somewhere. Only Cairo bobbled the ball, Escobar scored from third, and the Reds’ lead was trimmed to 9-6. There was still no one out, and the bases were still jammed full of Braves.

Arthur Rhodes was summoned for Masset, and the southpaw struck out Heyward on a 3-2 pitch. Francisco Cordero entered for Rhodes, and Brooks Conrad stepped up to the plate to pinch hit.

On a 2-2 pitch, Conrad flicked a 97 mph Cordero fastball to deep left field. Nix, the left fielder, looked as if he had the ball sized up and leapt off the ground. The ball bounced off of Nix’s glove and, well, you know the rest.

The Aftermath

“We need to just get over this as fast as possible.” — Reds starter Mike Leake

*Conrad’s slam was just the second pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam in MLB history and was the 23rd walk-off grand slam of all-time. Prior to Conrad, the last walk-off slam was Adam Dunn‘s game-ending four-bagger vs. the Indians on June 30, 2006. (Votto hit a walk-off grand slam — on Mother’s Day, no less, and the walk-off was his third homer of the game — vs. the Nationals on May 13, 2012.)

*Craig Kimbrel earned his first major-league win in the Conrad Game for being the last of four Brave relievers who limited the Reds to one run over the game’s final 7.1 innings.

*The Reds and Braves each finished 2010 with 91-71 records.

*Phillips, Rhodes, Rolen, and Votto were named to the National League All-Star team. Votto went on to be named the NL MVP after slashing .324/.424/.600 and leading the league in WAR, wOBA, and wRC+.

*Conrad would appear in 103 games for Atlanta in 2010, a career-high for him. Conrad would go on to spend parts of the 2011 (Braves), 2012 (Brewers, Rays), and 2014 (Padres) seasons in the majors. The 35-year-old Conrad currently plays for the Las Vegas 51s, the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.

*The Reds were so broken up over their tragic loss in Atlanta…that they won the next day in Cleveland. In fact, Cincinnati went on to win seven of its next nine after the Conrad Game. Of course, the Reds would go on to win their first division title in 15 years, clinching the National League Central with a dramatic home run of their own. The Phillies swept the Reds 3-0 in the National League Division Series, however.

*The Braves — who would win 11 of their next 13 after the Conrad Game, including nine in a row at one juncture — also reached the postseason, inching by the Padres by a single game to claim the NL Wild Card for the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2005. (Atlanta made the postseason each year from 1991-2005.) In the NLDS, the Braves fell 3-1 to the eventual World Series champion Giants.

How much of a lasting effect did the Conrad Game really have on each team?

The Conrad Game was an iconic representation of baseball’s inherent duality. The contest itself was downright exhilarating…but it was only one game out of 162 contests the two teams played during the regular season. Depending on your point of view and your adherence to baseball axioms, the games played by the Reds and Braves after the Conrad Game either reinforced or disproved your belief system.

The Reds went on a hot streak after their stunning defeat. Were they galvanized and brought together by the loss? The more likely explanation is the players and coaches began to forget about the Conrad Game with each passing day. On the other hand, the Braves remained hotter than Yuma in July after their amazing comeback, so perhaps it was the Braves who were galvanized and brought together by their astonishing victory.

The truth, like most things in life, is in the eye of the beholder and is located somewhere in the middle. I think we can all agree on this: the Conrad Game was just an awesome baseball game, and certainly one I’ll never forget.

12 Responses

  1. Steve Mancuso

    I still “remember where I was when” that happened. Those are called flashbulb memories. The point about the winning streak after the loss is interesting. Last year, when the Reds lost that game to Toronto after being ahead by 9 runs, I think they went on to win their next 8 of 9, including 11-1 the next day.

    • Grant Freking

      Something akin to that happened in July 2010. Reds were swept in a four-game series in Philly — how’s that for foreshadowing? — including being walked-off on in the first three games in extra innings. They left Philly, came home and won 4 of 5.

      • Dennis

        That was also the series in which Travis Wood took a perfect game into the 9th, only to settle for a no-decision. Easily the most devastating series I can recall.

        And I also remember where I was during the Brooks Conrad game. It’s the same place I was when I was listening to Buster Posey destroy the 2012 Reds’ dreams: at my desk at work. So that was depressing all the way around.

  2. Scott R

    I was at the game the night before taking a client out. Had a great time regardless of the result. I took an early flight the next morning and remember ‘watching’ the game on some app like MLB.com or Yahoo.com. I was calling the clinet when we were up so much only to have it blow up in my (our) face.

    Thanks for the memories.

  3. wizeman

    Was at the game.behinf the plate. riding my son and his best friend for being braves fans. was acting the fool. needless to say… a long ride home.

  4. Vanessa Galagnara

    If you guys are trying to make me feel like this team has potential it isn’t working. 9 stick figures could out hit and out wit this team.

  5. Austin

    Will never forget that game. Happened on my birthday of all days. Can’t imagine I’ll ever have a worse experience at a sporting event. Living in Alabama, going to ATL was really the only chance I had of seeing the Reds. Walking out of a visitor’s stadium when you’ve been walked off is a truly horrible feeling, especially when you blow a 6-run lead. Got to see the Reds win earlier this year in Milwaukee when they were up 6 going into the bottom of the 9th. Though we won easily, this game kept going through my head until the last out.

  6. yorktownred

    Good, yet painful article. Bad bad memory.

    The Reds actually blew 2 games in 2010 while entering the 9th with a 6 run lead. Also remember the painful loss in Philadelphia on 7/9/10. Mike Leake was also the starting pitcher that evening.

    Please fell free to post “feel good” articles on their anniversary dates. My suggestions:

    1. 7/1/73….the famed Hal King game.
    2. 7/25/74….the Bengals beat the Niners….err….the Reds beat the Giants 14-13 as the BRM plated 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th with Perez hitting the walk-off HR to center field with 2 outs to stun the Giants. God, I miss the BRM.

    • vegastypo

      Those two games never get old. In seasons like this one, I’m kinda glad to have lived through and seen firsthand the Big Red Machine.

      I was at that game in 1974, fortunate enough to have good seats between home and first base at Riverfront. An amazing memory. Amid the hootin’ and hollerin’ just after Perez hit the homer, my brother got my attention and pointed to the press box. Joe Nuxhall was literally jumping up and down like a little kid.

      And it was the first game of a twinbill. Fred Norman pitched a shutout in Game 2.

  7. vegastypo

    Incidentally, On Aug. 25, 2010, roughly three months after the Brooks Conrad game, Homer Bailey and the Reds had a 10-1 lead going to the bottom of the fifth inning in San Francisco. The Reds managed to fall behind, 11-10 after eight innings before tying it in the ninth inning, helped greatly by a Giants’ error, and winning the game in 12 innings. … Big leads shouldn’t be so hard to protect!

  8. SoonerCaniac (@SoonerCaniac)

    Oh Grant, you had to show that clip!? At 1:00, do you see those two Reds fans standing in stunned disbelief? My father on the left and me on the right. One of my coworkers is a Cardinals fan and was quick to point out that I had showed up on Sportscenter that night. Oh goodie. Another coworker had screen captured the shot and e-mailed it around the office and was kind enough to print me off a copy. Every year since, the Braves show that stupid Grand Slam at least once if they are trailing in the ninth when the Reds are in town and I have to relive that agonizing moment and my personal moment of infamy. Yeah, I still hate the Braves (but I have since the 90s, to be honest). Time does NOT heal old wounds. 😉

    • Grant Freking

      Wow, that’s a really sad story.