John Bazemore, Associated Press
ATLANTA — Dan Uggla crawled on his knees near second base. Freddie Freeman buckled over down the right-field line, burying his head in his hands.
In the Braves' dugout, everyone else just stared at the field in disbelief.
The unprecedented collapse was complete.
The season was over.
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel surrendered the tying run in the ninth, and Hunter Pence came through with a two-out, run-scoring single in the 13th to give the Philadelphia Phillies a 4-3 victory that ended Atlanta's season Wednesday night without a trip to the playoffs that looked like a certainty just a few weeks ago.
"This is tough," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "This is one of the worst feelings I've ever had coming off a baseball field."
The game ended more than an hour after St. Louis routed Houston 8-0 to claim at least a share of the wild card. The Cardinals got it outright when David Herndon earned his first career save by getting Freeman to hit into a season-ending double play.
For the Braves, this one might hurt as bad as all those postseason losses in the 1990s and early 2000s.
They were 10½ games ahead of St. Louis before play on Aug. 26. They were still up by 8½ games on the morning of Sept. 6. Instead of popping champagne for a second straight trip to the playoffs, they became the first team in major league history to squander a lead of at least eight games for a playoff spot in September.
They had some company a short time later when Boston did the same in the AL, also blowing a ninth-inning lead. But that was of little consolation in Atlanta.
"It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands," Kimbrel said. "And that's the feeling I have now."
The Braves had this one. And they blew it, losing five straight to end the regular season and going 9-18 in the final month.
"I can't fathom it," said Freeman, who was still wearing his No. 5 jersey almost an hour after the game, as if he couldn't believe he'd be taking it off for the final time. "The Cardinals took care of business."
Riding a strong showing by starter Tim Hudson and a two-run homer by Uggla, Atlanta went to the ninth with a 3-2 lead and its record-setting rookie closer on the mound.
But the hard-throwing Kimbrel couldn't get the three outs needed for his 47th save and a trip to St. Louis for a one-game playoff Thursday night. He was all over the place, walking three, and Chase Utley's sacrifice fly tied it. The stocky right-hander couldn't even finish the inning, giving way to Kris Medlen.
"My mind was rushing," Kimbrel said. "Things started moving too fast. My head started moving too fast. My brain. I didn't put it together. It was just too late. ... When you walk guys, nothing good ever happens."
Medlen had pitched only one game in the big leagues all year after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he got the third out in the ninth and breezed through the 10th as well. Unheralded Anthony Varvaro and Cristhian Martinez also pitched scoreless innings, but the Braves' punchless offense just couldn't produce another run in time.
Atlanta scored only seven runs in its last five games.
In the 13th, Scott Linebrink (4-4) got himself in trouble with a one-out walk to Brian Schneider, a .176 hitter. Jimmy Rollins flied out to center, but Utley grounded a 3-2 pitch into right field to keep the inning going. Pence followed with a blooper to right off the fists, the weakly hit ball barely making it to the outfield grass.
But it was in just the right spot. Uggla slid out to get it but had no play anywhere. Schneider raced in with the go-ahead run.
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