TORONTO — While friends and family of the Toronto Blue Jays happily mingled in a tunnel underneath the SkyDome Wednesday, Bobby Cox stood in the middle of it all, silent and alone.
Hands on hips, blinking back the frustration, Cox was waiting outside an unmarked door. It was his office. Somebody had locked it.
In that moment, the transformation that has taken place during the four games of this World Series seemed complete.
A hero with three division championships in his last three full managerial seasons, Cox has suddenly become a weary 51-year-old man who seems lost.
Cox, the Atlanta Braves' manager, became the object of subtle criticism in both clubhouses for a second consecutive game Wednesday after his team turned an eighth-inning rally into a bad joke during a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays in Game 4.
Cox responded afterward by criticizing his catcher, Damon Berryhill, into a microphone in front of a roomful of media.
These words led to visible tension among the Braves who, trailing three games to one, could be mercifully eliminated today.
"The mood is not real good in here," Berryhill said. "You can't expect us to be upbeat or fired up."
Cox, considered one of baseball's gentlest men, has yet to demonstrate a late-inning sharpness that would rank him among baseball's best managers.
On Tuesday, he mishandled his bullpen. On Wednesday, it was his bench.
With the Braves trailing, 2-0, Ron Gant started the eighth inning with a double down the left-field line. Brian Hunter then laid down a surprise bunt, not even drawing a throw to first while moving Gant to third.
With none out, the Braves were slowly backing the Blue Jays into a corner. Then they suddenly retreated, falling over each other in the process.
Berryhill, who has not successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt in two years, attempted a surprise bunt for a base hit. Instead, he popped it to catcher Pat Borders in foul territory.
"We were stealing on that play, I have no idea what was going through Damon's mind," Cox said.
One problem. Hunter said he was \o7 not \f7 stealing on the play. "There was no steal sign, no," he said.
Not that Hunter wasn't also surprised.
"I was like, 'Damn, Damon, why did you do that?' " Hunter said.
Berryhill, who showed no reaction to the criticism, said he was just trying to make something happen.
"If I get a halfway decent bunt down, (the run) scores," he said. "It worked for Brian. But the worst possible thing happened for me."
Since hitting his three-run home run that gave the Braves a 3-1 victory in Game 1, Berryhill is hitless in 11 at-bats with just one ball leaving the infield.
But at least he agreed with his teammates on one thing.
"No, I don't believe there was a steal sign on that play," he said.
After Mark Lemke's grounder scored a run and moved Hunter to second base with two out, left-hander Jimmy Key was replaced by right-hander Duane Ward.
He was the perfect pitcher for two left-handed hitters on Cox's bench, Deion Sanders and Sid Bream.
Sanders hit .310 against right-handers this season, while Bream hit nine home runs against them.
But Otis Nixon and Jeff Blauser, hitting .263 and .234, respectively, against right-handers with five home runs \o7 combined \f7 were allowed to bat in the eighth inning.
And Lonnie Smith, hitting .226 against right-handers with three home runs, was allowed to bat against right-hander Tom Henke in the ninth.
"I was expecting to see either Sanders or Bream in there," Ward said. "But you'll have to ask Mr. Cox about that. I can't answer questions about what goes through another manager's head."
Others were not so formal in their criticism.
Hunter shook his head and said: "I don't want to say it would have been better if Deion got up there, but it might have changed the aspects of the game."
Nixon struck out, reaching first only because of a wild pitch. Blauser grounded a ball down the first base line to John Olerud, ending the eighth.
Then with one out in the ninth, Smith hit a ball back to the mound.
When asked about replacing Smith, Cox said: "I'll never bring somebody in to pinch-hit for him. He is too good of a hitter."
When asked about replacing Blauser, which could have been the move that decided the game, Cox said: "It never crossed my mind. Jeff is one of our better hitters, and he hit a bullet. Why Olerud was standing down the line, I'll never know."
Ward was asked that question, and he shrugged. It was as if he couldn't believe it was even a question.
"Isn't that the golden rule, you play down the line in the late innings so they won't get any doubles?" he asked. "Isn't that what everybody does?"