The Braves were within one out of taking control of the NL division series, but a 30-year-old journeyman infielder who wouldn’t have been playing if not for season-ending injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado simply couldn’t catch the ball.
Buster Posey’s grounder went right under Conrad’s glove, his worst miscue yet in a performance that might speed up the retirement of Braves manager Bobby Cox.
Freddy Sanchez raced around with the go-ahead run, and Brian Wilson shut down the Braves in the ninth to give the Giants a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
San Francisco can close it out Monday night. For Conrad, the memories of this game will linger for a lifetime. He tied a postseason record for errors in a game and became the fourth second baseman to make three, according to STATS LLC.
Atlanta did nothing against Jonathan Sanchez, managing only two hits in 7 1-3 innings, and the Giants led 1-0 on an unearned run provided by Conrad’s second error, that dropped popup in short right field in the second.
But when pinch-hitter Eric Hinske lined a two-run homer off Sergio Romo in the eighth, the Braves took a 2-1 lead.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, there was no Billy Wagner to close it out. He was removed from the roster before the game with a pulled muscle on his left side.
Rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel was within one out of a save before the Giants rallied. Aubrey Huff tied it with a run-scoring single off Mike Dunn. Then, Posey hit a grounder to just the right man.
It skidded right through Conrad and into center field.
The wild finish overshadowed Jonathan Sanchez’s brilliant performance — he didn’t allow a hit until the sixth — and Hinske’s dramatic homer, which carried the Braves to within one strike of having a chance to close out the series at Turner Field.
Conrad’s blunders cost them.
He was one of the last guys to make the Braves roster out of spring training and spent his first full year in the big leagues. Conrad was primarily a backup, though he did provide one of the season’s most dramatic moments with a pinch-hit grand slam that capped a seven-run ninth inning and a 10-9 victory over Cincinnati in May.
Then Jones hurt his knee, and an injury finished off Prado for the season, too. Down the stretch, the Braves were forced to go with Conrad at third base.
His defense was so shaky that Cox swapped him with Omar Infante before the crucial last game of the regular season with the Braves trying to wrap up the wild card, moving Conrad to second because he was having trouble making accurate throws from third.
His arm wasn’t the problem in Game 3.
Now, the Braves will need to win the final two games to extend Cox’s career to at least the NL championship series. One of baseball’s winningest managers is retiring at the end of a season that is one loss from being over.
In the ninth, Kimbrel retired Cody Ross on a popout to Conrad — yep, he caught that one — but pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa drew a walk. Andres Torres took a called third strike and it was all up to Freddy Sanchez with the standing-room crowd of 53,284 going nuts.
Sanchez was down to his last strike when he smacked a single to center, keeping the Giants alive. That was it for Kimbrel, who was replaced by another rookie, the left-hander Dunn. He got ahead on Huff, but the first baseman yanked a slider over the outside corner into right field, the throw from Jason Heyward not even close to getting Ishikawa as he slid across with the tying run.
Peter Moylan took over for Dunn and got what he’s known for: a ground ball from Posey. Unfortunately for the Braves, it was to Conrad.
Sanchez and Atlanta starter Tim Hudson had quite a pitcher’s duel. The lone run off Hudson came after Mike Fontenot led off the second with a triple to right. Heyward raced back to the wall and had the ball in his glove, but it popped out when he slammed hard into the padding.
Heyward fell face-first onto the warning track and was slow getting up. Cox and a trainer raced out to check on the rookie, who was able to stay in the game after a few minutes to catch his breath and sip a drink brought to him from the nearby Atlanta bullpen.
Cody Ross followed with a popup into short right. Heyward might have made an attempt on it, but he got a late break and wasn’t running hard, perhaps still a bit groggy from his collision with the wall. But Conrad, looking back into the setting sun and running hard, got there in time to make the catch — only to have the ball pop out of his glove.
Fontenot, who wasn’t tagging, raced in with the first run while Conrad fumbled for the ball.
Sanchez was nearly as dominant at Tim Lincecum in a two-hit, 14-strikeout performance that carried San Francisco to a 1-0 victory in the series opener. The left-hander baffled the Braves with a slider, striking out 14 and not giving up a hit until Hudson, of all people, singled to right in the sixth.
Nothing came of that.
Then, after Alex Gonzalez started the eighth with a single and Conrad — in yet another blunder — popped up a bunt, Hinske connected.
It was in the eighth when Giants manager Bruce Bochy appeared to make another ill-fated call to a bullpen that coughed up a 4-1 lead in Game 2 at San Francisco. The Braves rallied to tie that one, then won it 5-4 on Rick Ankiel’s 11th-inning homer into McCovey Cove.
Bochy made the move after the Braves sent up right-handed Troy Glaus as a pinch-hitter. When the right-handed Romo trotted in from the bullpen, Cox countered with the switch-hitting Hinske.
Good choice. The guy who has played in the last three World Series with three different teams — Boston, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees — fell behind 0-2 in the count and fouled off several pitches just to stay alive. Finally, after working the count to 2-2, Hinske lined one into the right-field corner and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The next inning, there was nothing but stunned silence except for those who mustered the energy to boo Conrad.