Boy, did Andres Galarraga and the Atlanta Braves solve San Diego pitching. Just in time, too.
Galarraga's slam and the Braves' new-found pop could change the complexion of the series. Atlanta's Big Three pitchers are now lined up to try to do what no other team in history has done, recover from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.
"I knew the team really needed it to stay alive," Galarraga said. "They were not throwing me too many good pitches to hit. That was probably the best pitch I got to hit all series."
Manager Bobby Cox practically predicted before the game that Galarraga -- who had zero RBI in the series until his slam -- would rediscover his power.
"I just thought the odds were with us tonight on his bat," Cox said. "He's like everybody else. He can get cold for four or five days, and then he can get hot and carry you. It had to happen sometime, and boy, it was a big one tonight."
Even the Padres knew it wouldn't be that easy to sweep the Braves, who led the league with 106 wins and reached the postseason for the seventh straight time.
"We thought we had it," said Padres postseason hero Jim Leyritz. "But we still feel good. It would have been nice to sweep, but we're talking the Atlanta Braves and it's not easy to sweep them."
Now, after a good effort from Denny Neagle, Atlanta will come back Monday night with John Smoltz, who will start against Andy Ashby in a rematch of Game 1, won by the Padres 3-2 in 10 innings.
"We didn't feel like a team that was down 3-0, said Neagle, who allowed three runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts and one walk. "Everybody feels confident right now. I don't think we feel like a team that is down 3-1."
If the Braves can win Game 5 and send the series back to Atlanta, their other two Cy Young pitchers, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, will be ready to go.
"We did keep it alive," Cox said. "Hopefully, back home it will be better for us."
After Leyritz hit a solo homer in the sixth that put the Padres ahead 3-2, Javy Lopez tied it with a leadoff home run in the seventh.
| Walt Weiss, left, might have been out on this play, but the Braves ran over the Padres 8-3 Sunday. (AP) |
The Braves went on to load the bases with two outs before Galarraga, who had just one single in his 12 previous at-bats this series, unloaded. The Big Cat stood at home plate and watched the ball sail into the seats in left-center, hushing the crowd of 65,042 that had come to celebrate.
"You go 0-for-2, 0-for-3, you start swinging at bad pitches. I decided to be more patient and I think it worked today," Galarraga said.
Ozzie Guillen, who started because Cox thought he could provide an offensive spark, was on third base after his go-ahead single. He turned to watch Galarraga's shot and threw his hands in the air as he headed for home.
Padres pitching proved to be mortal after all, from starter and loser Joey Hamilton to relievers Randy Myers and Dan Miceli, who allowed Galarraga's slam. Atlanta, batting just .200 in the first three games of the series, finished with 12 hits off five Padres pitchers.
Galarraga hit 44 homers this year, but only two in September and none in October until Sunday. His shot came on a 1-0 pitch off Miceli, who had come up big in clutch situations earlier in the playoffs.
Leyritz's one-out homer off Neagle put the Padres ahead. But Lopez, who hadn't driven in a run in the previous three games, hit Hamilton's first pitch of the seventh over the right-field fence.
The Braves chased Hamilton one batter later on Andruw Jones' infield single.
"You can't come in and beat these guys at will because they have a good club," said Hamilton, a Georgia native. "The odds were definitely with them regardless of how you throw."
Left-hander Myers came on and got the first two outs, but then allowed an RBI single to Guillen, an infield single to Keith Lockhart and walked Chipper Jones to load the bases and bring on Miceli.
Coincidentally, the Padres acquired Myers in a waiver deal with Toronto on Aug. 6 in part to keep the Braves from getting him. Padres relievers had allowed just one run on eight hits in seven innings thi series.
Atlanta's Dennis Martinez, 43, got the final out in the sixth with a runner on second to get the win.
It was only the second time the Padres gave up more than two runs in eight playoff games this year.
Leyritz hit his fourth homer this postseason, and pumped his fists as he rounded first. He has seven homers in 43 career postseason at-bats, and has seven RBI in 16 at-bats in this year's playoffs.
San Diego went ahead 2-0 in the third on Tony Gwynn's two-out double and Leyritz's RBI single.
Lockhart, who was with the Padres part of the 1994 season, tripled leading off the fourth and scored on Chipper Jones' single.
The Braves tied it at 2 on Ryan Klesko's two-out single, his first RBI of the series.
Hamilton was making his first start of the playoffs after throwing 3 1/3 shutout innings of relief in two appearances in the division series. He allowed four runs and seven hits in six-plus innings, struck out five and walked two.
Neagle hadn't started since Sept. 17. In his last appearance, he won in relief of Glavine against the New York Mets Sept. 26, the second-to-last day of the season.
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