Rounding Third: Tale of two Septembers for the Braves

You can either get busy living or get busy dying.

The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves endured two of the worst September collapses in recent memory a year ago. The Red Sox saw a nine-game wild card lead evaporate, while the Braves watched an 8 1/2-game edge for the league's extra playoff spot with 23 games remaining go by the wayside.

Two teams. Two epic collapses.

The Red Sox this season have basically become a punch line and the laughing stock of Major League Baseball. The Braves? Well on Tuesday, they became the latest team to join the National League playoff party, earning themselves the right to at least play in the one-game wild card playoff next Friday.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

While the Red Sox seemed to learn nothing from last year's failures, the Braves wore their collapse as a badge of honor all season.

"You can't really win consistently until you lose," pitcher Kris Medlen said. "You've got to have that heartbreak to know how to react to certain situations and bounce back. It's huge for us to be in this situation."

While an NL East title is still a possibility, the Braves figure to host the first-ever one-game wild card playoff next week. Who they will be facing is still up in the air, but it's likely the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals will be at Turner Field for that contest.

"We can go out now and play a lot more relaxed now that we've got a chance to play a postseason game," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We got a great opportunity to go out and take it a step further. We're not out of the division yet. Until they close us out, we're going to keep fighting for that top spot."

Now here's where it gets tricky for the Braves. They will likely start the phenomenal Medlen in that wild card contest on Friday, probably limiting his availability to just one start in the Division Series should they advance.

Medlen has been absolutely unbelievable for the Braves here down the stretch, and has gone 8-0 with a 1.04 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since moving from the bullpen to the rotation on July 31.

The Braves have won each of the past 22 games started by Medlen, the longest streak since the New York Yankees won 22 games started by Whitey Ford between 1950-53 and the New York Giants' streak in Carl Hubbell starts from 1936-1937.

Atlanta's incredible streak with Medlen started back on May 29, 2010, and he has since overcome Tommy John surgery and a stint in the bullpen to start this campaign.

It looked as if the Braves' streak was going to come to an end on Tuesday, as he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning with his team trailing, 3-2.

"He can't go out there and strike them out every time," Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward said. "That's the name of the game of baseball. It's not going to happen every night for everybody."

But Freddie Freeman saved the day with a two-run game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth to send the Braves back to the playoffs for the second time in three years and putting last year's mess behind them.

"Guys have just played their butts off, and it's gotten me this little streak thing," Medlen said. "I'm just excited. You give up a few runs and the guys battle back for you."

It's hard to pick Atlanta to win an NL pennant since they could be playing an elimination game right out of the chute. Not to mention the Braves are just 8-10 against the Nationals, 1-5 against the Cincinnati Reds and 3-4 against the San Francisco Giants this season.

But there's something about this team. They still have a chip on their shoulder from last year's meltdown. They may have the best pitcher in baseball at the moment on their side.

And then there's the whole "win it for Chipper" scenario.

Get busy living or get busy dying.