SAN FRANCISCO – One night after swinging and missing at everything except humiliation, the Braves fielded another lineup Friday night with seemingly too many malnourished batting averages.
Believing is commendable. But at some point, doesn’t the reality of a lineup card including consecutive averages of .260, .269, .255, .250, .250 and .232 crush hopes, egos and craniums?
There is no way to explain what happened in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, at least no way that doesn’t involve crystals or chanting or Santeria. Seemingly flat-lined in the game and the series, the Braves rallied from a 4-0 deficit with one run in the sixth inning and three in the eighth. Then they won it 5-4 in the 11th on a solo home run — by Rick Ankiel.
After what happened against Tim Lincecum in game one of the NLDS — 14 strikeouts, two hits, three base runners — postseason Fantasyland appeared to be over. But even Disney writers couldn’t have scripted this.
A Brooks Conrad grand slam in a seven-run ninth inning just became the second most improbable story of this season. Will the stories ever end?
“They’re all the same story,” Jason Heyward said. “One crazy story.”
The NLDS is now tied at one win each, with the series shifting back to Turner Field for the next two games. For the first 14 innings of this series, just getting to Game 4 looked like a fantasy.
♦ Rick Ankiel, he of the .232 average, homers in the 10th off Ramon Ramirez.
♦ Troy Glaus, shot knees and all, was inserted into the game at third base in the 10th. He later admitted he couldn’t ever recall being inserted into the game late as a defensive replacement. We saw why. With bad knees, he stumbled and crumbled to the ground when attempting to field a leadoff bunt by Edgar Renteria. Later in the inning, the Giants had the bases loaded with one out but Buster Posey sent a sharp grounder to Glaus to start a 5-4-3 double play.
(Glaus didn’t throw home for the force out. Better to have more drama.)
♦ The winning pitcher? Kyle Farnsworth, who has been dreadful for the Braves since coming off with Ankiel in a late-season deal with Kansas City. He was in the game only because of Billy Wagner suffered an oblique strain (and unfortunately his season and career may be over).
Ankiel. Glaus. Farnsworth.
Folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.
Anybody got the lottery numbers for this week?
When the Giants’ Pat Burrell crushed a three-run homer off of Braves starter Tommy Hanson in the first inning, the initial thought was, “Good night.”
When Giants pitcher Matt Cain singled in a run in the second inning to make it 4-0, the scariest statistic of the postseason was that a San Francisco pitcher had one more RBI than anybody on the Braves’ roster.
Through 14 innings of this series, the Braves had not scored a run, had only six hits and struck out 20 times. Then, it was as if there was some collision of planets.
In the sixth, Derrek Lee singled to left, advanced to second on a fielding error by Burrell and scored on a single by Brian McCann. The 4-1 deficit still seemed insurmountable. But aesthetically, at least things looked better.
Then in the eighth, the ever-present, blindsiding Braves’ mojo struck again.
Lee and McCann singled off reliever Sergio Romo. Giants manager Bruce Boche surprisingly decided to bring in closer Brian Wilson, hoping he would get the final six outs, or at least end the Braves’ rally. The move backfired. Melky Cabrera reached base on third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s throwing error, Lee scoring to make it 4-2.
No. Really? They were going to do this again?
Yes. Really. Conrad sacrificed and advanced both runners into scoring position. Alex Gonzalez, who also had been struggling offensively for several weeks, followed with a two-run double to left, tying the game at 4-4.
It was so quiet at AT&T Park, you could hear a pennant drop.
The inning ended there but the Braves showed something that they hadn’t to that point of the series: life.
The next four Braves relievers shut down the Giants, striking out eight in five shutout innings. But the fantasy appeared certain to crumble in the 10th.
With the Braves about out of bodies, Glaus entered the game in the third. Renteria, the ex-Brave, immediately laid down a bunt. Glaus had no chance. Andres Torres sacrificed Renteria to second. The worst part of the play for the Braves was an injury to Wagner, who appeared to pull a muscle in his side and was helped off the field.
In came Farnsworth. He hit second baseman Freddy Sanchez on the hand. Then he walked Aubrey Huff, loading the bases with one out. Game over? Not quite. Buster Posey grounded to Glaus, who risked a the game-winning run scoring by deciding to throw to second. No problem. He started a 5-4-3 double play.
The skies opened. Again.
In the 11th with one out, Ankiel crushed Ramirez’ pitch out of the stadium and into the Bay. He knew immediately, raising his hands in the air.
Farnsworth closed it out in the bottom of the inning.
Don’t try to explain it. Just go with it.
Somehow, they’re still alive. The season’s greatest miracle of all.