Seventh-inning sequence sums up NLDS
Narrowly missed chances, shaky Braves 'D' prove costly
ATLANTA -- It had all been nearly effortless for Derek Lowe as he picked the ball up off the Turner Field mound to begin the seventh.One hit -- albeit a game-tying solo homer -- was all that had marred his 85-pitch outing to that point. Holding a 2-1 lead, his club stood nine outs away from a four-hour flight to California, a trip that would have ensured manager Bobby Cox of at least one more opportunity to piece together a lineup. The first out came easy for Lowe. Then the Giants did what they do best. They clawed their way back in, hushing thousands of tomahawk-chopping fans in the process. As rookie catcher Buster Posey succinctly put it: "We've come to expect it." They've come to expect come-from-behind wins, having claimed 13 of their 92 regular-season victories when trailing after six innings. They've come to expect narrow victories, having seen 115 of their games decided by three or fewer runs. Aubrey Huff provided the initial spark, drawing a five-pitch one-out walk. Posey followed a slow roller down the third-base line that Troy Glaus -- limited in mobility but thrust into a starting role because of Atlanta's lack of other options -- had no play on.
That brought Cox to the mound. He asked his starter how he was feeling, if he wanted to pitch on. Lowe's offered no hesitation, prompting Cox to turn his back and jog back to the Atlanta dugout."[Lowe] has been our best pitcher down the stretch in September and into the playoffs," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He wanted the ball. Bobby wanted to see if he wanted it. I liked it. I liked it that [he] wanted the ball." Five pitches later, Lowe had walked the bases loaded. Cox shuffled back out to the mound, this time taking the ball from the 37-year-old right-hander. "You can always look back and say, 'If I come out of that game right there and we get a double play, we win,'" Lowe said. "But I think, as a competitor, you always want to stay out there as long as you can, because you always think you're going to find a way to get out of it." In came Peter Moylan, hoping to induce an inning-ending double play. Juan Uribe took a two-strike slider and guided it toward short. Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez gloved it to his right as he fell to his knees, but his forceout attempt at second pulled Omar Infante off the bag.
San Francisco tied the game. The bases remained loaded."We got some breaks on some ground balls," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're seeing ground balls that [they] couldn't quite get a double play on. But you take them. And in games like this, that's what it takes." Jonny Venters relieved and retired Aaron Rowand with a strikeout, bringing up outfielder Cody Ross, who had earlier contributed a solo homer. The two had faced each other twice previously, with Venters striking out Ross both times. "I had faced him a couple of times previously and knew that his ball really gets on you," Ross said. "I was just trying to get a pitch I could handle out over the plate. I was just making sure I got my foot down early and wasn't late. If you're late against that guy, you have no chance. Fortunately, I did and got a ground ball that found the hole and ended up being a big run for us." His grounder bounced past a helpless Gonzalez, bringing home the go-ahead run. A stellar throw from left fielder Matt Diaz to McCann prevented another from scoring, though the play turned out to be inconsequential when Atlanta's offense couldn't push across a run in the final three innings. A series that had been defined largely by inches and errors was capped by a seventh inning highlighting both. "We got the ground balls," Cox said. "They just were out of reach." And yet, there was something fitting about the way that seventh inning transpired for the Giants. A team that hardly overpowered opponents during the season took the lead with patient at-bats and timely hitting. The Giants relied on their starting pitching to keep the offense within striking distance, and they found a way to nullify the .212 batting average the team had this season with two outs and runners in scoring position. This club -- one that chiseled away a six-game deficit in its final 32 games before capturing the National League West crown on the season's final day -- found a way the best way it knew how. "Just like [Sunday], we never quit," Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "Our season has been that way the whole time. We have 27 outs, and we're going to fight for every single one. Cody was unbelievable. It was a total team effort." "We battled, never gave up and played hard," added Andres Torres. "That was it. We are always together."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.