Walk-in run puts Braves in first place
> By GUY CURTRIGHT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
> Published on: 07/26/05
It wasn't as dramatic as that other bases-loaded walk in extra innings, but it may prove significant as well.
In 1999, Andruw Jones' walked in the 11th innng on a 3-and-2 pitch from Kenny Rogers of the New York Mets to put the Braves in the World Series.
Tuesday night, the power-hitting center fielder drew a four-pitch walk from Washington reliever Luis Ayala in the 10th inning to give the Braves sole possession of first place in the National League East.
It is only July, but the psyched-up crowd of 43,308 at a sweltering Turner Field won't soon forget this game either.
Jones doubled and scored the tying run in the ninth as the Braves rallied against Chad Cordero, who leads the majors with 34 saves. Then Atlanta won it 3-2 in the 10th without its cleanup hitter swinging the bat.
"We'll take any win we can get," said Jones, who is tied for the major league lead with 32 homers. "After [Ayala] threw that sinker in the dirt, there was no way I was going to swing."
The next pitch just missed outside. At least in the opinion of home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, who had previously called an ample strike zone.
Catcher Brian Schneider was upset, as was Ayala and most of the Nationals. But the Braves had the unlikely victory and slumping Washington was out of first place for the first time since June 5.
"It was a little away, I think," Jones said. "The catcher tried to frame it and I think the umpire might have had a bad angle."
In the past, Jones was rarely known for his plate discipline. But he has walked 42 times this season, the most on the Braves.
"You have to be patient in these situations and I was," Jones said. "Ayala is a good pitcher, but he didn't have his control."
That was obvious. Replacing left-hander Mike Stanton, Ayala hit Marcus Giles to load the bases with two outs prior to missing with four straight to Jones.
It was the 14th loss in 19 games for the skidding Nationals and it may be hard to recover from this one.
It looked like Livan Hernandez had snapped his 10-game losing streak to the Braves, but Cordero couldn't protect the lead. Then the Nationals' bullpen imploded in the 10th.
"Livan gave us a tremendous eight innings, but we couldn't close the door," said Washington manager Frank Robinson, who was upset with Ayala. "When it's 3-and-0, you throw the ball down the middle of the plate. You think he's going to swing?"
Hernandez and John Smoltz ? both All-Star Game selections ? battled through the heat, with the temperature 93 degrees at game time.
"I've pitched in a lot of hot games in Atlanta, but that's as hot as I've ever been," said Smoltz, who escaped his first loss since early June when the Braves rallied against Cordero in the ninth. He has won seven consecutive decisions.
"It was as good a matchup as you'll see," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of the duel between Smoltz and Hernandez. "With the humidity and heat, it wasn't easy."
On the next pitch after Chipper Jones had nearly homered in the seventh, Adam LaRoche belted his 14th to get the Braves within a run. "To be honest, I was looking for something to crush," LaRoche said. "I was looking for something inside."
LaRoche got it, but the Nationals still looked to be in control with Cordero entering for the ninth. Instead, Andruw Jones hit Cordero's first pitch for a double and Chipper Jones sent him to third with a single. LaRoche tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
Chris Reitsma retired Washington in order in the 10th and then the Braves won it. Brian McCann led off with a single against lefty Mike Stanton and pinch-hitter Julio Franco laid down a sacrifice bunt. Rafael Furcal was walked intentionally before Stanton got Kelly Johnson to pop out.
With the right-handed hitting Giles coming up, Robinson played the percentages and brought in Ayala, who has a 2.95 ERA. A hit batter and walk later, it was over.
"If you can't get pumped up to play in a game like that, you don't have a pulse," Chipper Jones said. "I give credit to the crowd. They were loud, up out of their seats, chanting, chopping, doing the things that usually happen in a playoff atmosphere.
"These games are fun to play in, even if it's 180 degrees."