Cox true to form to the end

ATLANTA — Goodbye, second-guessers.

Hello, rocking chair.

Bobby Cox, one of baseball's all-time great managers, pulled the strings of a major league game for the last time on an unusually chaotic Monday for a franchise that has been run with more order than any other over the last two decades.

A day that began with Cox reaching out to Game 3 goat Brooks Conrad ended with the Braves being brushed to the playoff curb for the 14th time in their 15 trips behind Cox.

The 69-year-old manager moved slowly on the outside, as always, but maneuvered like mad. He tried all the tricks — starting Derek Lowe on three days' rest, using every available bench player, including Conrad for a ninth-inning pinch hit — but couldn't keep the favored Giants from their date with the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.

At one point, the ninth-inning drama hinted at a sequel of the classic Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, but Melky Cabrera was no Francisco Cabrera. When the Giants' 3-2 victory ended, with Cabrera grounding to Juan Uribe, the Turner Field crowd of 44,532 let out a collective groan and then chanted "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!"

Cox briefly emerged from the dugout for a curtain call, and before a video board tribute began, he did what you knew he'd do. He tipped his cap toward the victorious Giants. They had interrupted their own celebration to face the first-base dugout and applaud.

Not a bad way to go if you have to go, and Cox had long ago decided this was his time to step away.

When Cox was asked about his feelings afterward, he initially talked instead about the game and his team, his personal priorities straight even after the end.

"We played a really good ballgame," Cox said. "We wanted this game big time, to get back to San Francisco. It just didn't happen. I'm proud of this team. They've come a long way, this team.'

Cox, fourth all time in managerial victories, called the tributes to him "nice" but said he felt no more emotional than he had after the times the Braves were beaten in the World Series. But the longer he sat in front of reporters, the more emotions started to flood him. Still, he talked about his players.

"I can't say enough about Derek Lowe," he said. "He'll be a 20-game winner if they get him enough support."

Cox had started his day with a call to Conrad, telling the 30-year-old rookie to stand down. He was putting him on the bench after his three-error Sunday.

"We talked for a good length," Cox said, "and he was fine."

Before traveling to Turner Field at the usual time Monday, Cox packed for a six-day trip — to San Francisco for Game 5 and then Philadelphia for the NLCS — and arranged time for a Tuesday morning workout. He prepared to face Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner just like he had for the previous 4,649 games he'd managed in the big leagues, including 136 in the posseason.

While the beleaguered Braves were playing without Billy Wagner, Cox couldn't get over how his bullpen unraveled in Game 3: "No bullpen in baseball is perfect. But we've been almost perfect all year long."

Managers aren't perfect, either. Cox's teams didn't win enough in October, and many Atlanta fans began to stay away from the ballpark because they'd become jaded after the run of 14 straight division titles.

Turner Field wasn't full on Cox's final day, but it sure beat the 8,559 at Fulton County Stadium on Oct. 3, 1990, when the Braves finished a season that had begun with Cox as the general manager and Russ Nixon as the manager.

World Series rings aren't the only way to measure a legacy.

progers@tribune.com

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