Posted: Saturday October 9, 2010 10:08AM ; Updated: Saturday October 9, 2010 12:02PM
Tom Verducci
Tom Verducci>INSIDE BASEBALL

Five Cuts: After an improbable win, the Braves are looking dangerous

Story Highlights

The Braves rallied to win Game 2 with their manager and closer sidelined

With Billy Wagner out, flamethrower Craig Kimbrel, 22, will close for Atlanta

Bruce Bochy's choice: Tim Lincecum or Madison Bumgarner for Game 4?

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Craig Kimbrel
If Billy Wagner is shut down, the Braves could turn to Craig Kimbrel (above), who has 45 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.
AP

SAN FRANCISCO -- Their manager was in his office (wink, wink) and their closer was in pain in the training room when the Atlanta Braves forestalled their retirements for at least one more game. The Division Series between the Braves and Giants will go at least four games. There is more baseball left for Bobby Cox and Billy Wagner, a prospect that seemed improbable when Atlanta was down three runs to Giants closer Brian Wilson in the eighth inning.

The Braves defer retirement and defy logic. Rick Ankiel, who hit one home run in his previous 28 games, hit a game-winning bomb in the 11th. Troy Glaus, who last took part in a double play from third base in 2008 and played all of two innings there this year, turned the greatest twin-killing of his life, a courageous and dangerous 5-4-3 to end the 10th inning when the Giants had the bases loaded. Second baseman Omar Infante made it possible by completing the most clutch double play in memory -- after having to stab an errant throw that seemed destined for the outfield.

"Yes, I was nervous, no doubt about it," Glaus said. "But then I told myself, 'Relax, you've done this before.""

Nothing about Atlanta's Game 2 win made sense, but neither do the Braves. They keep losing key players -- Wagner (who injured his oblique muscle in the 10th inning) follows Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens, Kris Medlen and Takashi Saito -- they don't score a lot of runs, they play lousy defense, but somehow they win, even when their manager gets tossed yet again.

It's a weird dynamic: The more the Braves win in a depleted manner, the more dangerous they become. And right now the Braves are very dangerous. The series is tied, but Atlanta seized the momentum.

"The longer I'm around," Jones said, "the more I come to believe that there are some times when a team is just not supposed to win -- or lose -- that there are things beyond your control. The baseball gods decide the way it will be and that's it. I mean, the Reds today had Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips make errors and a ball gets lost in the lights. Some games you're just not supposed to win.

"We had no right to win that game. But we did."

2. The next Wagner is ready

Wagner could barely walk after leaving Thursday night's game. He is unlikely to pitch again in the series, and might be replaced on the roster for Game 3 by Saito -- though that would mean keeping Wagner off the NLCS roster, too, if the Braves advance.

So who closes for Atlanta if Wagner is shut down? The next Billy Wagner: Craig Kimbrel. "He's absolutely ready," Jones said.

Kimbrel is a 5-foot-11 flamethrower who has chewed up big league hitters since he was called up in May: 45 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. Kimbrel threw 33 pitches in Game 2 and the Giants managed to put only two of them into play.

Asked if he was nervous while making his second postseason appearance, Kimbrel said,"Oh, yeah. I was nervous -- only on every pitch."

The kid who throws 97 mph and snaps off hard sliders has been called a right-handed version of Wagner. He has a deceptive, short-arm delivery that somehow causes the ball to hurry past hitters. "He's got that extra little giddy-up at the end, just like Billy," Jones said.

Now won't that be fun: a 22-year-old kid with one career save trying to close out games for a retiring Bobby Cox.

3. Bochy made the right move

Don't even start with the second-guessing on Giants manager Bruce Bochy for asking Wilson to get a six-out save in Game 2. What Bochy did should need no defense: He brought his best reliever into a critical jam when he was six outs away from taking a two-games-to-none lead. Would you rather he bring in a lesser reliever?

Wilson has thrown two innings or more 12 times in his career. He had not pitched in five days and was staring at another off day the next day. It was not a time to be passive.

Wilson simply didn't get the job done. He couldn't get Alex Gonzalez, who was 1 for 31 when he stroked a game-tying double. That's not the manager's fault.

4. Who goes in Game 4?

Now that there will be a Game 4 between the Braves and Giants, who will be the starting pitchers? Atlanta is likely to bring back Derek Lowe on short rest. Lowe threw 96 pitches in Game 1 and is 4-1, 4.30 in seven starts on short rest.

Bochy has a more difficult call. He has not ruled out bringing back Tim Lincecum on short rest, though Lincecum never has been used on three days' rest and threw 119 pitches in his Game 1 start. His other choice is rookie Madison Bumgarner, who would be getting the ball on nine days' rest.

Suddenly the pitching matchups and homefield have turned for Atlanta: Tim Hudson against Jonathan Sanchez in Game 3 and possibly Bumgarner against Lowe in Game 4.

5. Reds fall to pieces

And on the day when there were no more Cy Young Award winners left to start, the postseason went all nutty on us. The Reds and Giants each blew four-run leads and the winning pitchers -- Yankees fans will appreciate this -- were Jose Contreras and Kyle Farnsworth.

The collapse of the Reds in Game 2 was stunning because of the fundamental blunders they made. The typically smart Rolen made a critical mistake in the seventh at third base by trying for a force play at second after fielding a grounder. It was an unnecessarily aggressive play. Given that the out was in doubt, the smart play -- throwing to first for the sure second out -- would have left Aroldis Chapman one out away from walking off the field.

An eyeblink later, right fielder Jay Bruce lost a ball hit by Jimmy Rollins in the lights. That's just bad luck. What Brandon Phillips did on the relay throw from Drew Stubbs was bad baseball. Instead of moving his feet to take the off-line throw on his glove side, Phillips tried to reach across his body, and dropped the ball. Two runs scored.

Manager Dusty Baker gave the Phillies another run when he played his infield back in hopes of a double play from Carlos Ruiz. He did hit a grounder, but not where the Reds could turn two. It was 6-4, and the Reds were done.

 
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