Ken Caminiti closed the game for the San Diego Padres -- to Trevor Hoffman's relief.
Caminiti hit a solo home run in the 10th inning and the Padres overcame a rare lapse by baseball's best reliever to beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 Wednesday night in a rain-delayed Game 1 of the NL championship series.
On an evening when daring running -- and a blown save by Hoffman -- sent the game into extra innings, Caminiti trotted around the bases after connecting with one out in the 10th off Kerry Ligtenberg.
"I was seeing the ball good. My timing was back. And I felt good," Caminiti said. "It was big."
It was the fourth postseason homer of Caminiti's career, and helped him atone for failing to come up with a key throw that let the Braves tie it.
Ruben Rivera, subbing for injured Greg Vaughn, doubled and dashed home on Jim Leritz's dribbler to give the Padres a 2-1 lead in the eighth. But in the ninth, Hoffman, who converted 53 of 54 save chances this season, could not protect the edge and gave up Andruw Jones' tying sacrifice fly.
"A loss is a loss," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We came back against their best reliever. We had him in trouble every inning."
| Andruw Jones hit his fourth career postseason home run to get the Braves on the board first. (AP) |
Hoffman pitched two innings and wound up with the victory. The game ended at 1:43 a.m., pushed back by a two hour, one minute rain delay at the start.
"I'm not out here to get saves; I'm out here to win ball games," Hoffman said.
The win was a good omen for the underdog Padres. The last five teams to win the opener of the NLCS have gone on to the World Series.
San Diego sustained a loss, however, when 50-homer man Vaughn limped off in the fifth inning because of a strained left quadriceps. Rivera replaced him.
"Not real good news on that. He could be out 3-to-4 days, that's the early prognosis," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
Game 2 will be Thursday night, with Braves nemesis Kevin Brown pitching against Glavine. Last fall, Brown beat Atlanta twice at Turner Field in the NLCS for Florida.
Steady rain, lightning and thunder threatened to cause the first rainout in the two-year history of Turner Field.
The bad weather might have helped hold the crowd down to 42,117 -- about 9,000 short of a sellout and the smallest in Atlanta postseason history. But even before the storm came, the game was not expected to be sold out.
In the Atlanta ninth, Ryan Klesko walked with one out and surprisingly tried to take third on Javy Lopez's single to left. Rivera's throw beat him, but Caminiti did not catch the throw and Klesko -- his nose bloodied from colliding with Caminiti's shoulder -- was safe.
"It was a very aggressive play on his part," Caminiti said. "I just tried to put a good tag and went too quick."
Andruw Jones, whose home run gave Atlanta an early 1-0 lead, swung away on a 3-0 pitch and hit a sacrifice fly.
Rivera, usually Tony Gwynn's late replacement, opened the eighth with a double off Smoltz. Caminiti followed with a fly to medium right-center, and Rivera tagged up and tested Andruw Jones' strong arm.
Rivera's headfirst slide barely beat the throw, though his momentum carried him a couple of feet off the bag. But third baseman Chipper Jones was busy raising his glove to show the umpire that he'd made the tag, and Rivera scrambled back to safety.
That brought up pinch-hitter Leyritz, whose six postseason home runs include three in the first-round win over Houston.
Leyritz tapped a ball to the right of Dennis Martinez, and the reliever ran to field it. Martinez looked at Rivera, but elected to throw to first baseman Galarraga.
Rivera immediately broke home and again slid in headfirst, beating Galarraga's wide throw. Galarraga was charged with a double error, for leaving the bag early and his bad throw.
Gwynn picked on a familiar victim for an RBI single that made it 1-all in the fifth. For the eight-time NL batting champion, it was his second hit of the night and he's now 30-for-65 (.455) lifetime against Smoltz.
Atlanta went ahead in the third when Andruw Jones led off with his fourth career home run in postseason play.
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