Braves Even Series, Dodgers Out of Postseason

The 2004 MLB Playoffs waive goodbye to the Los Angeles Dodgers while the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros will duke it out on Monday to determine an opponent for the St. Louis Cardinals. This and other news around the league.

Houston Astros manager Phil Garner, infamous for his dirty tactics, may have cost his team the chance to close out their first-ever playoff series win with a case of over-managing. The Atlanta Braves capitalized on such moves, en route to a come-from-behind victory, 6-5, at "The Juice Box" on Sunday afternoon.

During an intense series with the Giants a few weeks ago at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, Garner had his pitchers intentionally throw at Barry Bonds, both to ignite his Astros, as well as create a stir of emotions from the San Francisco slugger. In the current series with the Braves, Garner was accused of faking an inoperative dugout phone to buy time for closer Brad Lidge to enter Game 2 in Atlanta this past week.

Sneaky gimmicks aside, Garner removed Roger Clemens after five solid innings in which the 42-year-old right-hander surrendered only two runs, departing with a 5-2 lead. Garner pointed out that Clemens had been pitching on just three days rest and had already

"He was at the end of his road," Garner said. "As a matter of fact, he was on pure fumes. He got us through it. We had some momentum, we had the lead. We let it slip away."

The Astros indeed allowed the momentum to swing in the Braves favor as Atlanta was able to mount a rally against Houston reliever Chad Qualls. Rookie first baseman Adam LaRoche delivered the big blow off Qualls when he launched a mammoth three-run shot to deep right-center field to tie the game at 5-5.

In top of the seventh inning, Garner made a questionable move when he performed a double-switch, ultimately taking Craig Biggio out of the game, who earlier had hit a go-ahead three-run homer to give the Astros the lead. Then, in the top of the eighth inning, Garner brought in Brad Lidge, but did not employ a double-switch, which proved costly in the bottom of the eighth when Lidge had to be taken out for a pinch-hitter.

If Garner had saved his double-switch for that juncture, Lidge could have been extended for another inning. Consequently, Lidge did not make it to the fateful ninth inning when the Braves manufactured their go-ahead and eventual winning run.

With two outs and two strikes, Astros reliever Russ Springer drilled Rafael Furcal to give the speedy Furcal a free pass. Everyone in the house knew of Furcal's intentions, and then sure enough, Furcal stole second base easily to set up a run-scoring opportunity for J.D. Drew. Drew obliged his teammate with a single to center field that plated the fleet-footed Furcal, giving the Braves a 6-5 lead.

So when asked why he did not make a double-switch to keep Lidge in the game longer at the expense of Jeff Kent, Garner replied, "I wanted Kent to stay in the ball game. I turned to our bench coach [John Tamargo] and said, ‘Kent will be a factor in this game.'"

Kent indeed proved to be a factor, but for the opposite team. John Smoltz, who came in the bottom of the eighth inning, got Kent to hit into a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth to record his major league-record 14th postseason victory.

"I hate pitching in this park," said Smoltz, referring to the bandbox that is Minute Maid Park, "To get a victory here was nice and hopefully we'll have a jam-packed [Turner Field] and we can keep playing."

Atlanta will host Game 5 on Monday and send Jaret Wright (0-1, 12.46 ERA in the NLDS) against Houston ace Roy Oswalt (0-0, 1.42).

"We chose him No. 1 because he was the hottest pitcher and he had a sensational year," Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox said when asked about Wright, "He's a horse…we can ride him a long way."

Hopefully for Atlanta, the Braves can ride Wright past the Astros to send them packing for their eighth straight postseason series defeat. The Astros are 0-6 when on the brink of eliminating a playoff opponent.

Lights out Dodgers!

Not even the largest crowd to see a Dodgers game in Chavez Ravine could will their self-proclaimed "Comeback Kids" to victory. Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers from postseason play after pounding out a 6-2 win on Sunday evening.

A record crowd of 56,268 fans dressed in Dodger blue, completely accessorized with blue thundersticks, went silent after Pujols delivered the knockout blow in the top of the fourth inning. Pujols blasted a monstrous three-run homerun to left field, giving the Cards a 5-2 advantage. The ball traveled so high up, it would have hit the roof if Dodger Stadium was domed.

For all the criticism surrounding the Cardinals' starting rotation, the Redbirds received a stellar performance from Southland native Jeff Suppan. The crafty right-hander limited the Bums to just two runs on three hits over seven superb innings.

"To have my family here today, it's just been a great experience," Suppan said. "They're all supportive, and a little nervous. I told them to breathe a lot during the game."

Suppan got to breathe a little easier after Pujols' homerun broke a 2-2 tie in the fourth, which propelled him to retire the next 12 batters in a row (14 overall) before departing in the eighth inning.

"He's a touch-feel pitcher and early on, he was having a little trouble feeling a little extra on the corner [of the plate]," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Pujols' homerun allowed Suppan to be more aggressive and that proved to be the difference.

It was also the Dodgers' starting pitching that proved to be the difference in their demise as their starters failed to reach the fifth inning in all three losses. Losing pitcher Odalis Perez failed to reach the third inning in both of his starts and lost both games for the Dodgers.

Pujols hurt himself after fouling a pitch off his leg and also when Cesar Izturis ran into him on a close play at first base.

"I think I'm gonna be OK," said a thrilled Pujols after the game, "Thank God we have a day off tomorrow."

During their day off on Monday, the Cardinals will await the winner of Game 5 in the Braves-Astros NLDS. After then, four teams will have the right to play for a trip to the World Series, which of course will be played without the Bums for a 16th consecutive year.

Around the Majors

  • Former National League MVP Ken Caminiti died in the Bronx on Sunday due to a heart attack. The 1996 MVP admitted to using cocaine and was sentenced to 180 days in jail just last Tuesday. He also admitted to using steroids during his MVP season.
  • New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera headed home to Panama on Sunday after hearing news that two of his wife's relatives had been electrocuted while cleaning a pool at his home.
  • According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Giants will seek a trade for A.J. Pierzynski this offseason.
  • According to the New York Daily News, Carl Pavano fired his agents at IMG and will be turning to Ron Simon. Pavano is believed to be interested in staying on the east coast, should the Marlins fail to approve a new stadium. Both New York teams are said to be crossed off Pavano's wish list, however.

    Phil Delacruz was a transplanted Giants fan, buried in the Southland. After four strenuous years in College, studying (read: partying), he's back in the beautiful "City by the Bay" – San Francisco. Do you think he should move back to LALA land? Or do you like him where he is now and appreciate the good reads? Either way, send him an e-mail at to air out your frustrations or, more likely, songs of praise.

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