This game did not look promising at all entering the 9th inning. The Braves had once again failed to support a great Tommy Hanson performance, and had once again used a poorly timed, horrific error to hand the opponent a lead late in the game. To make matters worse, the Dodgers' pitcher to start the 9th was the flame-throwing lefty Hong-Chih Kuo, who had already shut down the Braves on 7 pitches in the 8th. With the score 3-1 Dodgers and the Braves' win probability at only 7.8%, the outlook was certainly fairly bleak.
The Braves hadn't used up all their magic, though. Alex Gonzalez led off the inning with a bloop hit to left. He moved to second on a hard-hit single to right by Brian McCann (only the 4th hit by a left-handed batter off of Kuo this year). Then, after a wild pitch and a Troy Glaus foul out, Brooks Conrad walked to load the bases. That brought up pinch-hitter David Ross. With Ross announced, Joe Torre opted for the right-handed Octavio Dotel.
That proved to be a fateful decision, as Dotel was pretty wild. Ross got behind in the count but worked it full and then took ball 4, getting the Braves to within 3-2. Just like that, the Braves' win chances looked pretty good: bases loaded, 1 out, tying run on third (and a 52.1% win probability). But they were still trailing, and they've struggled with the bases loaded, so I'm sure some Braves fans were still nervous. And it's not like Melky Cabrera inspires lots of confidence (aside from ironic confidence).
We needn't have been nervous. The Melk-Man always* delivers. He took a bad swing at the first pitch but worked the count full, then slapped a single just past the shortstop into left field. One run scored. When Scott Podsednik couldn't field the ball cleanly, another run scored, and the Braves' victory was assured.
Melky also gets bonus points for throwing out Ryan Theriot at the plate on an attempted sacrifice fly to end the Dodgers' rally in the 8th inning. He wasn't much use in the first 7 innings (though he did smoke one ball that ended up being caught). But he came through twice when it counted late, and that was good enough for a win.
In that nightmarish Dodgers' 8th inning, Reed Johnson led off against Jonny Venters by smacking a bad-hop infield single off of Brooks Conrad's chest. Venters walked the next batter, Scott Podsednik. Theriot followed with a swinging dribbler down the third base line. Conrad charged, fielded, and... threw it into left field for an error that scored two runs. Venters struck out the next man and then induced the fly-ball double play (with help from Melky) to get out of the inning. Not allowing that fourth run turned out to be very important.
As for the starters, they both pitched excellently. In fact, their lines were very similar. Both went 7 innings, and both gave up only 1 run. Both gave up only 5 hits and walked only one. Billingsley struck out more (8 to 3), but neither deserved to lose. So I guess it makes sense that neither figured in the decision.
I do feel bad that we can't seem to score for Tommy, but once again he kept us in the game despite a struggling offense, and once again we came through after he left the game. I'm sure he'll take it. Anyway, it was a great win (and series win!). Hopefully the Braves can keep the momentum from this going against the Nats.
Stat of the Game
The Braves are now 14-0-2 in their last 16 home series. If we can get home field in any playoff series, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Melky Cabrera-- 1/4, 2 RBI, K, 0.315 WPA, OF assist
Tommy Hanson-- 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 0.247 WPA
Brian McCann-- 3/4, 0.200 WPA
David Ross-- 0/0, BB, RBI, 0.210 WPA
Brooks Conrad's offense-- 1/2, 2 BB, R, SB, 0.171 WPA
Octavio Dotel-- 0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, -0.688 WPA
Hong-Chih Kuo-- 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K, -0.156 WPA
Brooks Conrad's defense-- crucial error leading to go-ahead runs
Troy Glaus-- 0/4, GIDP, K, killer foul out, -0.293 WPA
Melky's walk-off hit (0.479 WPA)
Glaus' foul out in the 9th (-0.151 WPA)... Loney did make a nice play on it, though.