ATLANTA — Brian McCann did all he could to keep Bobby Cox’s career going. In the end, it wasn’t enough.
The catcher from Duluth batted .429 in the National League Division Series against the Giants, posting the best average among regulars for either team.
McCann gave the Braves their only early lead with a third-inning sacrifice fly on Monday night and put them back ahead with a home run in the sixth inning.
But the Giants broke through for two runs in the seventh inning and eliminated the Braves with a 3-2 victory in Game 4, ending Cox’s long and distinguished managerial career.
“I’m going to miss him a ton,” McCann said. “We’re all going to miss him. … He’s a legend, and I’m lucky to say that I played for him.”
When his final game was over, the crowd at Turner Field let out a loud cheer of “Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!” despite the loss. Cox came out on the field to acknowledge the fans and the Giants interrupted their victory celebration to also salute the fourth-winningest manager of all time.
When he tried to address his team for the last time in the Braves clubhouse later, Cox choked up and had to cut his words short. He also battled back tears in the media interview room shortly afterwards.
“A grown man shouldn’t do this,” the 69-year-old said.
On Tuesday, Cox was back in his office early to clean out some things. There will be a new manager next season, with former Braves third base coach and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez likely to be introduced in the next few days.
Cox will stay with the Braves, but in an advisory role. His presence obviously won’t be the same.
Injuries crippled Cox’s final team, almost costing the Braves a postseason berth and then making the chance of beating the Giants slim. But all four games were decided by a run, with the Braves’ victory coming in extra innings after a four-run comeback.
Cox called this team his “hardest-working, hardest-trying” group ever. Losing Chipper Jones, Kris Medlen, Jair Jurrjens, Martin Prado and Billy Wagner proved too much to overcome, though.
Jones was drafted No. 1 overall by the Braves in 1990 when Cox was general manager and has played under no other manager. For the first time in 20 years, he saw Cox cry after getting only about 10 words out when trying to address the team.
Many crying themselves, the players gave their departing manager a standing ovation. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Jones said.
Cox took 14 consecutive Braves teams to the postseason before four straight misses leading up to this season. The players were determined to make it back this season and at least they did that.
“I really think, out of all the teams, he’s got a soft spot in his heart for this club right here,” Jones said. “This club went above and beyond what was expected once the injury bug hit.”
In many ways, the team displayed the character and worth ethic of its manager.
“This bunch of guys in this clubhouse is amazing,” McCann said. “We had injuries that bit us late, but I can’t say enough about how hard we played. … All season long, we never quit.”
McCann, a four-time All-Star, was a rookie in 2005 when the Braves last made the postseason and he hit a home run in his first at-bat, connecting for a three-run shot off Roger Clemens to spark a 7-1 victory over the Astros in Game 2 that evened the NLDS.
But that was the Braves’ only victory. The Astros closed out the series at home in Game 4, winning 7-6 in 18 innings on a home run by Chris Burke.
That was heartbreaking, but McCann thought the Braves would be back the next year for redemption. Instead, it would be four years sitting home watching the postseason.
Now the offseason has come too soon again and next year the Braves will be without Cox.
“I wish we were headed to San Fran right now,” McCann said late Monday night, disheartened that there wouldn’t be another trip to the West Coast for a Game 5 against the Giants today.
The Braves had T-shirts that read “11 for 6” in recognition of Cox. They wanted 11 postseason victories for their beloved No. 6. Instead, they fell 10 victories short of what was needed to give Cox and Atlanta a second World Series title.