Game 2 victory over Dodgers shows same grit Atlanta used all season
ATLANTA -- According to Braves catcher Gerald Laird, speaking for everybody who knows the difference between Tommy Lasorda and Bobby Cox, "We had to win this one." So the Braves did. Boy, did they, with the majority among a wired crowd of 48,966 Friday night at Turner Field screaming "Beat L.A." at the top of their lungs between chopping and chanting like crazy down the stretch.
The Braves won, all right. Their fans wouldn't let them lose, and neither would the players themselves.
Resiliency is the word. Then again, for those who have been paying attention to these guys all season, it wasn't much of a surprise that they kept discovering ways throughout the evening to go from their ghastly 6-1 home loss to the Dodgers in Thursday's opener of this National League Division Series to Friday night's gutsy 4-3 victory.
"I just think we have guys who know how to win games, and it's hard to teach that," said Laird, who was among the slew of architects who built the foundation for one of the most impressive Braves performances in their lengthy history of playoff baseball.
They were clutch at the plate with two-out hits to tie the game and ultimately to win it. They turned an impossible double play. In fact, if you go by common sense, they shouldn't even have attempted the thing. With the tension of the game at its highest, they threw out one of the fastest runners in the game, and they did so twice, to hear one of them tell it. They also pitched well at the start, in the middle and at the end, with brilliant closer Craig Kimbrel throwing so hard that you thought he might zip one of his 100-plus mph fastballs through Laird's glove, the backstop and the other side of the ballpark toward one of the parking lots.
A midsummer conversation comes to mind. It happened in the home dugout at Turner Field, where Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told an MLB.com columnist about the essence of his team, and it involved the ability to overcome everything.
Injuries. Deficits. Youth.
Whatever you name.
"They never give up. Never," said Gonzalez, easing into a smile over a team that led the National League for most come-from-behind victories (44). "No matter what the score of the game or the situation they face, they always give 100 percent. With the attitude they have, you never feel like you're out of a game."
Well, a game or a series, for that matter. The Braves were a mess Thursday night in every aspect of the game, and then came the top of the first inning in this one, when the Dodgers quickly scored after Hanley Ramirez sent Mark Ellis racing from first to home on a double off Braves starter Mike Minor. Among those resisting the urge to roll their eyes was Braves third baseman Chris Johnson.
"Just trying to stay calm," he said, recalling his mood at the time. "If you ask Mikey, he wants to get out of the first inning. He hates that first inning. When he gave up that one run, I was like, "All right. He's going to get it dialed in right here."
Minor shut out the Dodgers the rest of the way before leaving with one out in the seventh.
Did I mention resiliency for these Braves? This is the same Minor who started two days after his team lost pitching ace Tim Hudson for the season in late July to a gruesome ankle injury. No worries. Courtesy of seven innings of crafty work on the mound, Minor outdueled the esteemed Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals that day for a 4-1 victory, and it triggered a 14-game winning streak for the Braves.
Hudson was one of six Braves players lost to a season-ending injury, and that included ace relievers Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, but guess what? The Braves still led the Major Leagues in ERA, including a bullpen ERA that was the lowest in the game in decades.
Pitchers weren't the only Braves aching. At one point, their entire starting outfield was on the disabled list, and so were the bats of several of their hitters. For instance: Center fielder B.J. Upton joined second baseman Dan Uggla with a sub-.200 batting average for the entire season, and right fielder Jason Heyward joined them below the Mendoza Line for parts of it. But even resiliency surfaced along these lines, when Uggla still ripped 22 home runs and Heyward had a renaissance at the plate in late summer when he was moved to the leadoff spot.
Heyward later was smacked in the jaw by a fastball in late August, and he didn't return until the last few days of the regular season. He ignored the wires holding his jaw together behind a special flap on his batting helmet to rip a two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded in the seventh Friday to push the Braves' lead from 2-1 to 4-1.
That hit was the margin of victory, of course.
Long before that, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons tied the game in the second at 1 with a two-out double. And Johnson's two-out single in the fourth gave them the lead. But the key to the Braves' victory came on defense in the top of the seventh, when their 2-1 advantage was threatened by Dodgers standing at first and third with one out.
Braves reliever Luis Avilan came in to face Carl Crawford, who blasted a grounder toward the pitcher's mound.
"I was hoping [Avilan] was going home," Simmons said. "I knew Crawford was running, and I saw [Avilan] catch it a little weird, so I was like, 'Ah, he's going to make a bad throw if he throws to second,' but when he turned my way, it was like, 'Oh. Let's do this.' He made a good throw."
Simmons made an even better one to Freddie Freeman at first to complete the double play. Dramatic, but simple. Just like in the top of the ninth, when speedy Dodgers pinch-runner Dee Gordon tried to steal second, and Simmons took the rifle throw from Laird to nail Gordon. Added Simmons, "I got him on the first leg [sliding toward the bag], and then I got him on the second leg."