Rick Ankiel, with one glorious swing of the bat and a magical flight of the ball deep into the San Francisco night, and into the ocean, earned the Braves a gutsy and fearless win. No one better symbolizes courage and resilience than Ankiel, who has bounced back from an utter meltdown as a pitcher to become an unlikely offensive hero, a moment he described as the pinnacle of his career to date. Roy Hobbs has nothing on Ankiel, and the rest of the Braves have a huge emotional win to build around.
The Braves were held scoreless through the first 15 innings of the NLDS yet did not blink when they were looking down the barrel of a 4-0 Giants Game 2 lead. The first sign of the heroism to come came in the 8th inning when the Braves jumped all over the best arms in the SF pen, the supposedly intimidating black bearded Segio Romo and Brian Wilson. Alex Gonzalez crushed a huge double against the closer Wilson that plated two and breathed new life into the Braves, tying the game at 4-4. This moment was set up by an error by Pablo Sandoval that extended the inning, and was the first sign that the Braves had more emotion, more resilience and more toughness than the Giants on this night.
The next hero for Atlanta was the reliever Craig Kimbrel, who looked awesome in completely stifling the Giants chances for a comeback with two shutdown innings in the 8th and 9th innings. Kimbrel’s great moments included a vicious tailing fastball to strike out Aubrey Huff, and getting Juan Uribe to chase the high heat for another K.
Billy Wagner came in in the 10th and tweaked his oblique and suddenly was staggering off the field in pain, his career perhaps over (he announced his retirement earlier this year). But the Braves did not allow themselves to get bogged down by this emotional letdown. Even after Kyle Fransworth came in an walked a batter and hit another to load the bases with one out, Troy Glaus alertly saved the day by starting a game-saving double play, as the slow footed Buster Posey would not be able to beat the throw to first.
That tremendous nail biting double play tipped the emotional scale fully over to the Braves side and set the stage of Ankiel’s fireworks.
So from facing oblivion the Braves suddenly find themselves heading home to Atlanta with their ace Tim Hudson ready to start Game 3. I questioned Bobby Cox’s decision to hold Hudson for game 3, especially as Matt Cain clearly outpitched a less-than-sharp Tommy Hanson over the first six plus innings. How brilliant does that decision look now as the Braves have all the momentum and a clear pitching advantage at home with Hudson.
Partly lost in the glory of victory was a very poor performance in the series by Jason Heyward, who suddenly has looked like an overmatched rookie in the first two games of the series.
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Written by Mark Reichman