BISHER: Not even Cox could stop skidding team

Just as I stepped in the elevator, a man in a rose-colored sports shirt rushed in behind me. It was late in the game and the Braves were on the short end of a 7-0 score with the Phillies.

"I've gotta get down there and stir up some runs," Bobby Cox, the man in the rose-hued shirt, said. "Houston just scored five. I've got to get down there and get some runs."

Bobby Cox, still pushing the Braves just as he did from his corner of the dugout, calling on his pet names for his players.

Beseeching. Harried, but now in street clothes, not the No. 6 uniform, still feeling an urge to awaken a sleeping offense. He knew he had no chance. It was too late, had been for several days, and when Derek Lowe was Fredi Gonzalez's last pitching resort, most of us only came to Turner Field to surrender.

Lowe was pitching on the third year of a four-year contract, into the Braves for another $15 million next season. He has been pitching for pay since 1991, and had won over 160 games, but his tank was running low. So was the patience of the fans in the stands, and they didn't hesitate to let him know. They booed here, and they booed there, everywhere a boo when they realized that theirs was a lost cause. When Gonzalez came in to relieve him of his misery in the fifth inning, they let their displeasure hit a crescendo.

Suffice it to say that Cox wasn't able to exercise any of his old magic, not that he was serious. Houston had scored five runs against the Cardinals, arousing a hope deep in his breast.

In the end, though, Tony LaRussa took whip in hand and the Cardinals made a rout of it in Houston. It's not as if the patrons at Turner Field were in it heart and soul. In fact, it was a rather strange kind of audience that gathered at the ball park.

The stands were slow to fill. Fans kept filing in a clump at a time, and it was 8:15 before most of the "orchestra" section was filled. By that time the Braves had already fallen behind and the boos were beginning to shower down on poor ol' Lowe.

When Jimmy Rollins singled to start the fifth inning, his night was done and Lowe heard his last boo. (Stand by for further developments.)

Lowe is one tough dude. He came from Dearborn, a hard-nosed appendage to the metropolis of Detroit. He has pitched from Bellingham to Pawtucket, from Boston to Los Angeles, and his geographical record looks like a convention police blotter. Now, the question is, what are the Braves to do with the last $15 million owed him next season?

All was rocking along until September, which became the month of defeat. Suddenly, they forgot how to win, and no matter how this crashing tragedy ends, a cloud of mystery hangs over the Braves' heads. Where did it all go? How did they lose it? We stand by now for the denouement.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.