SAN FRANCISCO — Friday’s 5-4 win against San Francisco in Game 2 of the National League Division Series was huge but costly for the Braves, who lost closer Billy Wagner to strained his left oblique muscle that might effectively keep him from pitching again before his planned retirement.
“That’s tough,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “You can’t replace a guy like Billy Wagner. But we’re going to do everything we can to [overcome it]. We lost Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, we’ve lost a lot of key members of this team, and a lot of guys have stepped up.
“You saw what [Craig] Kimbrel did tonight. He pitched a great game.”
Kimbrel struck out four in two perfect innings in the ascendant rookie’s first postseason appearance.
Wagner, who hasn’t wavered on plans to retire after the season, will not be eligible to pitch again this postseason unless the Braves advance to the World Series. And that’s only if he’s healed enough by then.
The Braves will replace him on the NLDS roster by activating either reliever Takashi Saito or starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens before Sunday’s Game 3 at Turner Field. It will likely be Saito, who’s been recovering from a sore shoulder.
Wagner would be ineligible for the National League Championship Series. Rules permit teams to replace an injured player during a series, but doing so makes that injured player ineligible for the next round.
The 38-year-old left-hander hopes to be back for the World Series, if the Braves make it. Rookies Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are options for closer duties in Wagner’s absence, along with Saito.
“I’m probably the worst one out there, compared to what they’re facing,” Wagner said. “I wouldn’t want to face our bullpen. You’ve got unknowns out there, they don’t have no patterns. You can’t gear up [as a hitter to face them]. Fourteen years of Billy Wagner, you know what’s coming.
“You don’t know what Kimbrel, Dunn and Venters are going to do. You’re in a good situation, you’ve got a veteran down there in [Kyle] Farnsworth, you’ve got some guys that have been there. It’s fun. They’re very capable of doing whatever Skip asks, and I’ve got all the faith in the world in them.”
Wagner was injured while trying to avoid a collision with third baseman Troy Glaus as both were pursuing Edgar Renteria’s 1oth-inning bunt near the third-base line.
Renteria advanced when Andres Torres followed with a sacrifice bunt, which Wagner fielded in front of the mound. He was able to throw out Torres, but that was all for Wagner, who walked gingerly off the field with a Braves trainer.
“I went to field Renteria’s bunt, and when I tried to get out of Troy’s way, that’s when I felt a tweak,” Wagner said. “I tried to make a pitch, just get out there and finish the inning. After I made the pitch [to Torres] and tried to go toward the plate, I couldn’t move.
“Thank God he bunted it hard enough to get it back to me, or I couldn’t have made a play at all.”