Braves win it on Ankiel’s blast
Rick Ankiel and the Atlanta Braves came through with another comeback when they absolutely needed one.
Ankiel splashed a tiebreaking home run into McCovey Cove in the 11th inning for his first postseason clout and Atlanta rallied from a late four-run deficit to beat the San Francisco Giants 5-4 on Friday night, tying their NL division series at a game apiece.
The Braves earned 46 come-from-behind victories this season and did it again when it mattered most — with manager Bobby Cox watching from the clubhouse after his third career postseason ejection way back in the second inning.
”It just seems like our resiliency has paid off for us all season and it’s been fun to be a part of,” Ankiel said.
Atlanta heads home to Turner Field for Game 3 on Sunday with the best-of-five series all square. It’s the only first-round playoff series that is even after two games.
Kyle Farnsworth pitched 1 2-3 shutout innings for the victory, relieving in the 10th after closer Billy Wagner got hurt. Farnsworth escaped a bases-loaded jam when Buster Posey grounded into an inning-ending double play that was started by third baseman Troy Glaus.
Alex Gonzalez hit a tying, two-run double in the eighth against Giants closer Brian Wilson, who led the majors with 48 saves this season.
”I was telling our guys before the game, ‘Win this one and the momentum swings the other way,”’ Cox said. ”It’s a great club to manage. There’s no problems on this club. They’re always hustling, working out, they give it all they’ve got.”
Ankiel’s drive on a 2-2 pitch from Ramon Ramirez was just the second splash homer in the postseason at 11-year-old AT&T Park. Home run king Barry Bonds hit the other one on Oct. 10, 2002, in Game 2 of the NL championship series against St. Louis.
Posey grounded into 5-4-3 double play, keeping the score tied at 4. Wagner, who plans to retire after the season, first grabbed at his left side after chasing pinch-hitter Edgar Renteria’s bunt single to start the 10th inning.
The left-hander then fielded Andres Torres’ sacrifice bunt back to the mound, threw to first for the out and immediately grabbed at the area near his left hip before crumbling to his knees.
The 39-year-old Wagner walked slowly off the field with a trainer and was replaced by Farnsworth, who was given all the time he needed to warm up.
Farnsworth hit Freddy Sanchez in the right hand on his third pitch. Sanchez went down writhing in pain and was quickly examined, but he went to first base.
Wilson entered with runners at the corners in the eighth and was trying for his first career six-out save. He pitched two innings twice during the regular season.
The All-Star closer has 10 saves of five outs in his career, six this year. Wilson had gone 26 consecutive appearances without allowing more than one earned run until Friday.
”It’s a tough loss, no getting around it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ”You have to bounce back. They fought hard. We had a couple of chances to add on, but their ‘pen shut us down.”
Atlanta’s rally spoiled a strong postseason debut by Giants starter Matt Cain a day after Tim Lincecum’s 14-strikeout, two-hit gem in a 1-0 victory. Pat Burrell hit a three-run homer in the first inning Friday to stake San Francisco to a quick cushion.
Burrell connected on the first pitch from Tommy Hanson with two outs in the first, sending the pompom waving sellout crowd of 44,046 into a frenzy of orange. The attendance was the largest in the history of AT&T Park, topping the total from the 2007 All-Star game.
But Ankiel’s shot silenced the ballpark, and he was hit with a celebratory shaving cream pie after the game.
”It’s hard to describe or put into words. The biggest homer of my career by far,” Ankiel said. ”To be honest with you, I wanted to go from the batter’s box to the dugout and be with the guys and not run the bases. What a cool thing to do and what a cool way to win.”
Before his home run, Ankiel had been known in the postseason for his meltdown against Atlanta in 2000 while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That year, Ankiel started Game 1 of the NL division series but had major control problems and wound up walking six with five wild pitches in only 2 2-3 innings. The issues with his command eventually persuaded the now-center fielder to switch positions.
The Braves, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, also had a major league-leading 25 wins in their final at-bat this year.
The teams have Saturday off for travel. Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez goes in Game 3 for the Giants against righty Tim Hudson. Both pitched their teams to victory and playoff berths on the final day of the regular season.
Brian McCann’s RBI single in the sixth snapped a 24-inning postseason scoreless stretch by the Braves dating to their last trip to the playoffs in ’05.
The Giants hadn’t allowed a run in 28 innings dating to the fourth inning of their game last Saturday against San Diego.
But Atlanta did little else against Cain until it got to the bullpen.
Cox got tossed by umpire Paul Emmel after Gonzalez was called out at first on a close play. Emmel was the umpire at second base in Game 1 who called Posey safe on a stolen base when replays showed he was out. Posey later scored the only run of the game.
The 69-year-old Cox, who is retiring after the season, did not argue in the opener — but he did this time. He was ejected by Emmel immediately after throwing his hat to the ground.
Notes: Cain went 11-0 in 18 starts when receiving three runs of support this season. … Cox has been ejected from a record 158 regular-season games.