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Posted: October 12, 2010 7:00 p.m.

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Final Stand

Bobby Cox left his mark on a sport and a city

Dave Martin/AP Images/

Final farewell: Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox waves to the fans one last time after Monday's 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Turner Field.

Seldom does real life have a Hollywood ending. Not in sunny California. Not in Atlanta. The Braves' 3-2 loss in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series Monday could have set one up, had it gone the other way. Instead it was yet another painful playoff series loss. But for baseball fans, this one hurts more.

All around Turner Field the past two games, the theme was 11 for 6. It represented the number of wins the Braves needed to get retiring manager Bobby Cox (who wears No. 6) a second world championship. It was a tall order. Maybe wishful thinking. As it turns out, it wasn't a reality.

The NLDS played out the way everyone thought it would. Both teams had dominate starting pitching. Both teams shut down the other's offense. Sure, Braves fans hoped for a different outcome. And sure, each game could have gone either way. The Braves were a poor fielding team coming into the postseason and never bucked that trend. What if Brooks Conrad fields those balls in Game 3? What happens if Billy Wagner doesn't go down? What happens if…? The law of averages tends to work out. In the end, the Giants were just a better team.

It's almost fitting Cox's career came to and end the way it did — in a gut-wrenching series, with a home loss in an elimination game. With his decision to leave Derek Lowe in to face Pat Burrell in the seventh in he left us all with one last move to scrutinize. Fitting. And that has defined the Braves run under Cox. It's also what made him a manager players wanted to play for.

You can look back at the past two decades of Braves baseball and ask the obvious question. How did they manage to win just one World Series? All those division titles (14). All those playoff appearances (15). Law of averages right?

Cox may not have been the best game manager. He may not always have made the right in-game decisions. Like maybe leaving Lowe in a batter too long Monday or sticking with Conrad in Game 3. Then again, who are we to question anything he did. These are the very decisions that defined him. And in the end, players get paid to play the game at its highest level.

It's easy to think he did a little with a lot. Greg Maddux. Tom Glavine. John Smoltz. Chipper. Dave Justice. All the great players. But only one world championship. But it's obvious he did a lot with very little. The team in this series was a shell of the one that won 91 games. Perhaps only Cox guides them in the playoffs in the first place. Perhaps they make the postseason eight times instead of 16 during his run.

Nobody's mentioned much about who will be the Braves skipper next year. It's almost as if everyone held off on those thoughts in hopes Cox would change his mind. It's understandable. We likely won't see another coach/manager stay in one place for 25 years. The world is different now. So when Cox took his final curtain call Monday, his legacy will never be forgotten in Braves baseball. In Major League Baseball.

Our lasting images of Bobby Cox will be the dugout shots of him sitting next to Leo Mazzone during the postseason while his old pitching coach and friend rocked back-and-forth in angst. Or one of him sitting in his corner of the dugout entrance rooting for his players one moment only to throw an expletive toward home plate after a close pitch went against his pitcher. Or one of the fiery manager defending his players to an umpire en route to an ejection. And for all of Atlanta's successes or failures — whatever way you wish to view them, Bobby Cox was a man who loved his players. He was a man who loved the game. He wore metal spikes. He still had a live arm and threw it around with the guys even at 69. He chattered in the dugout like it was little league. He'd get to the ball park early and leave late.

Of all the wins and losses, Cox will always be remembered for his demeanor and his loyalty to his players. Yes, he was ejected from a record 158 games (161 if you count the postseason). But he wasn't out there to show an umpire up. You never saw him lose his cool like Lou Piniella did. It wasn't his style. And it wasn't about him.

Maybe Cox wasn't the best game manager. Maybe he stuck with his pitchers too long in games or tried to let a player get himself on track when instead he should have benched him. Maybe he wasn't the best at handling a pitching staff. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a better manager of men.

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