One of the running themes of this Braves season has been resiliency. Not just because of the Braves' resurrection following the 9-game losing streak, or even the numerous improbable comeback wins, but also because even the unheralded or ridiculed players have had moments in which they have raised their game when the team needed them to. Tonight, the resiliency came from Brooks Conrad and Derek Lowe.
Conrad, the 30-year-old rookie, is filling in for Martin Prado, who himself was filling in for Chipper Jones. He may not be an All-Star or an Atlanta legend, but in his 2-and-a-half games since replacing Prado, he's had some huge hits. The latest was a monster 3-run blast off of Marlins starter Andrew Miller that turned a slim lead into a comfortable one.
Lowe, who for much of his tenure in Atlanta has been public enemy #1, continued his fantastic September with a dominant performance. He struck out 9 Marlins and held them scoreless until his final inning (after the Braves had taken a 4-run lead). True, he threw a lot of pitches and didn't quite make it through the sixth inning, but much like Tim Hudson last night, he put forth a gutsy effort (on short rest) in his most important start of the year. That's what you want your veteran starters to do; that's why we're paying Lowe the big money. If Derek pitches like this in the playoffs, he might actually--*gasp*--be worth all that money.
Lowe's final line was 5.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, and 9 K. I'll take that every time.
Miller kept the Braves off the board despite a plethora of baserunners for the first 2 innings, but the Braves finally made him pay in the 3rd. Matt Diaz and Derrek Lee walked with 1 out (2 of the amazing 10 walks drawn by the Braves today). Alex Gonzalez, who had a terrible day at the plate, then flew out, but David Ross picked him up, scorching a double down the line to put the Braves up 1-0. Ross actually had doubles in his first three at-bats--not bad for a backup catcher. That brought up Conrad, who crushed a ball over the left-center-field wall to put the Braves up 4-0. Miller finished with a line of 3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 BB, and 2 K. Ouch.
Last night's hero, Eric Hinske, drew a bases-loaded walk in the 8th to give the Braves an insurance run. The Braves' bullpen was excellent once again, as Peter Moylan, Mike Dunn, Craig Kimbrel, and Billy Wagner combined to shut out the Marlins for the last three-and-a-third innings. They gave up just 2 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 4.
Now, with the Giants and Padres not playing for a couple more hours, the Braves have put pressure on them to keep pace. At this point, the Braves know that no matter what happens out west, they will make the playoffs if they win 2/3 against the Phillies. Even winning 1/3 will all but ensure a postseason berth. It's actually possible for the Braves to clinch before they even start the Philly series (if both the Giants and the Padres lose tonight and tomorrow, the Braves will be guaranteed to finish ahead of at least one of them).
I'll close with a question: How many of you guys have tickets for this weekend, and if you don't, what are you waiting for? (Non-southeasterners get a pass here, obviously.)