Big two-run hit helps erase any lingering concerns following jaw injury
ATLANTA -- Less than a week after his jaw was fractured by Mets southpaw Jon Niese's fastball on Aug. 21, Jason Heyward vowed that when he returned in time for the postseason, he would not be negatively affected by any lingering fear of facing left-handed pitchers.
Heyward provided some indication of this as he returned in time for the final 10 games of the regular season. But if there were any lingering doubts about how he would react to facing left-handers, he erased them when he laced a game-winning two-out single off Paco Rodriguez in the seventh inning of Friday night's 4-3 win over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
"I worked really hard to be in shape before my jaw actually healed so I could play," Heyward said. "It's not really a concern for me. I know if I was going to step back on the field to help my teammates, I couldn't think about my jaw or anything like that. Get out there and go have some fun."
After being frustrated in Thursday night's series opener, the Braves certainly had some fun Friday as they evened this best-of-five series. Their recipe included solid pitching and three clutch two-out hits, the most important of which was delivered by Heyward.
With runners at second and third and two outs in the seventh, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called on left-hander Rodriguez, which prompted Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to call Jose Constanza back to the bench and instead use Reed Johnson in this pinch-hit situation.
After the Dodgers opted to intentionally walk Johnson to set up the lefty-lefty matchup, Heyward looked at a pair of curveballs that missed the zone and then allowed a slider to pass before sending the next slider back up the middle.
"Play the matchups," Heyward said. "That's what the postseason is about. You go lefty-lefty there. Me, personally, I'm glad to have an opportunity to come through big for my team right there. Got a pitch and I didn't miss it."
Heyward's game winner was even more significant given the fact that Rodriguez ranked third among all Major League relievers with a .131 batting average allowed against left-handed hitters.
Before delivering this clutch single, Heyward had two hits in nine at-bats against left-handers since returning from the injury. Both came during his five-hit game against the Phillies last week.
Now, as he prepares for Sunday's matchup (8 p.m. ET on TBS) against Los Angeles left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, Heyward will have even more reason to feel a sense of confidence.
"I think that was big," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "It's big for his confidence and we're facing a lefty on Sunday. So hopefully, he can carry that over."