Just how mad are the Atlanta Braves? Are they, as Peter Finch roared in the movie, "Network," "mad as hell, and not willing to take it any more?" Or are they simply dazed?
If mad means not finishing the slabs of ham served at a postgame meal, the Braves are furious with their situation. If mad means room-trashing action, the Braves are less than firebrands.
"We're frustrated," said catcher Bruce Benedict, "but I don't think anybody knows what to say."
So they remain quiet -- in the hotel, on the bus, around the batting cage. It stays the same. The Braves, who have lost nine straight games, fell from the lead in the National League's West Division after Tuesday's 3-2 loss to San Francisco. Their reactions disappoint those who love high-speed collisions.
They have greeted their rapid decline with a cold-blooded detachment. The moments of raw emotion seen lately have been so rare that each one has been memorable.
Through all his firefights with the Braves' owner, Ted Turner, third baseman Bob Horner never ducked a question. After Friday's loss in Los Angeles, when poor fielding doomed the Braves, Horner slipped into silence for the first time.
"You saw what happened on the field," he snorted, giving baseball's pat brushoff.
Second baseman Glenn Hubbard lashed out at the highest decibel level reached by a Brave this season. Asked who had the responsibility for communication on the fly ball that first baseman Chris Chambliss dropped when they ran together, Hubbard snarled, "Everybody," to everybody and departed. Later, he apologized and wondered what had come over him.
And after pitching masterfully in a bases-loaded situation, Gene Garber forgot the code of pitchers and openly challenged umpire Terry Tata on his calls.
Manager Joe Torre also tested the umpires, and lost. He was ejected for the first time this season. Later, the door to the manager's ofice stayed closed.
All the doors remained shut after Monday's game in San Francisco as Torre upbraided the Braves' for their lethargic showing.
"We expected it," said first baseman Bob Watson. "There was some life on the bench when we scored (in the first), but not when we weren't scoring."
On the day when they would leave the top for the first time since April 27, the Braves insisted there was no danger, no panic and disaster was just another word for no more games left to lose.
Only Hubbard and catcher Biff Pocoroba appeared for extra batting practice. The others silently rode the bus to Candlestick Park, keeping with the introverted style of the team.
Even the leaders were less than heated. While preparing the lineup card, Torre was overcome by sniffles. Pitching coach Bob Gibson offered some medicine.
"Take some of this," Gibson said. "It'll help you sleep through this stuff."
Torre refused, facing the situation with open eyes. It didn't help.
When the loss ended, the only sign of irritation came from reliever Al Hrabosky, who was also the loser. Hrabosky slammed the rosin bag in disgust when Torre removed him in the eight inning, rattled some objects in the dugout on his way out and stalked the locker room with shaving cream on just one side of his face.
"I think that because everybody makes so much of this, asking us every day what the mood of the team is and how we're taking the pressure, that everybody is afraid to do anything," Hrabosky said. "They think if they do anything, it'll be seen as a sign of weakness.
"You should treat every game the same. If you want to throw something, throw something. If you want to get upset, get upset."
Few did, perhaps preferring pitcher Phil Niekro's philosophy of "throwing things never won a game." But the shaking of heads in disbelief, the Braves' strongest nervous reaction to their predicament, grates upon Niekro.
"People are looking to make excuses here and excuses there," Niekro said. "We're disappointed and looking for answers. Now we have to come out of it."