Giles' near misses as close as Braves get in Game 1
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
PHOENIX -- The hero of Game 1 for the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday went 0-for-4 with a broken bat, an error and two near misses.
That's considered a semi-successful day when you're on the wrong end of a Randy Johnson masterpiece.
"I felt pretty comfortable out there," said Braves second baseman Marcus Giles, facing Johnson for the first time. "But, shoot, I was 0-for-4. He's dominant. He's got great stuff."
Johnson, the Arizona Diamondbacks' sometimes-unhittable lefty, was all that in the opener of the National League Championship Series. He pitched a complete-game three-hit shutout -- all three hits were singles, and two of them came with two outs in the ninth -- as Arizona won 2-0.
It was a beauty of a pitching performance. Eleven strikeouts and just one walk. Twenty Braves batters in a row sent back to the dugout at one point. His high-90s fastball, combined with a slippery slider and an occasional split-finger fastball, completely baffled the Braves.
"Randy was great," said veteran right fielder Brian Jordan, who was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "To be honest, that was the best I've ever seen him, and I've faced him a lot." Jordan was hitting .348 off Johnson in 23 career at-bats. Before Tuesday, that is.
Up until the back-to-back two-out singles in the ninth by Julio Franco and Chipper Jones, the only hit Johnson had given up was a first-inning single by Jones, a soft liner off the mitt of third baseman Matt Williams that Jones barely beat out at first.
Ah, but then there was the hero, Giles.
In his first at-bat, Giles took an outside fastball and drove it deep to right field. So deep, in fact, that it put right fielder Reggie Sanders up against the fence.
After a groundout to third in his second at-bat, Giles came up again in the fifth and blasted a hanging split-finger to almost the same spot. It was just a tad deeper, and Sanders leaped a little to bring it in.
A foot more, total, between those two fly balls and that could have been the difference in the game.
"I thought both of them were going out, to be honest with you," Giles said.
The second long fly could have had a better chance if Giles would have noticed that his bat was broken. He figures that happened on the groundout to third on the previous at-bat. He didn't discover the bum bat until after the second near miss.
Johnson was furious after that second one almost cleared the fence, screaming "No more!" at catcher Damian Miller as he walked off the mound.
"I didn't think it was the wrong pitch. It just hung up in the zone a little bit," Miller said, laughing at being upbraided by the feisty Johnson on national television. "That's the way he gets in the game. You can look back on it now and it's a little hilarious."
The Braves certainly weren't laughing. After sweeping the Houston Astros in the National League Division Series, the Braves came into this game knowing they could get to Johnson. They had beaten him back in May.
Instead, almost from the start, nothing went right for the Braves. A Giles error in the bottom of the first led to a run. Arizona added another in the fifth inning on consecutive two-out hits off hard-luck loser Greg Maddux. And the Braves didn't get a runner to third until the ninth. Johnson got Jordan to chase an 89 mph slider for the final out.
Giles' two warning-track shots weren't the hardest hit balls off Johnson. First baseman Franco sizzled a line drive that shortstop Tony Womack snared. There were a couple of deep fly balls to center.
But Giles' two fly ball outs were the closest Atlanta came to scoring a run.
On a day like Tuesday, against a pitcher like Johnson, the Braves would have to settle for that.