Cabrera delivered a strong throw to minimize the damage created during an ugly eighth inning, then capped off a three-run ninth with a two-run walk-off single that gave the Braves a 4-3 win over the Dodgers on Monday night at Turner Field.
"Whenever we get in a situation like that, it almost feels like we're going to win," said right-hander Tommy Hanson, who received minimal run support yet again and then found himself celebrating the Major League-best 20th last at-bat victory recorded by the Braves this season.
Having earned the right to be deemed Mr. Clutch, Conrad was staring at the possibility of understanding what it felt like to be a late-inning goat. But after committing a pair of defensive miscues that allowed the Dodgers to claim a lead in a two-run eighth inning, Conrad managed to draw one of the two walks that set the stage for Cabrera.
After issuing a bases-loaded walk to David Ross to make it a 3-2 game, Dodgers reliever Octavio Dotel saw his club's one-run advantage erased by Cabrera's ability to slap his game-winner the other way and just out of the reach of shortstop Jamey Carroll. Conrad scored the winning run from second base without a throw from left fielder Scott Podsednik.
"We're just a team that fights," Ross said. "You're not going to look at our lineup and say, 'This is a name, this is a name.' But we're in first place for a reason."
The Braves, who won three times during this four-game set, gained a 2 1/2-game advantage over the idle Phillies in the National League East.
After tallying just one run and five hits through the first eight innings against Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley and newly appointed closer Hong-Chi Kuo, the Braves were facing the possibility of tallying one run or fewer in three of the four games contested during this series.
Alex Gonzalez and Brian McCann got things started in the ninth with consecutive singles. The left-handed Kuo retired Troy Glaus before walking Conrad to load the bases. Los Angeles manager Joe Torre brought Dotel out of the bullpen to face Ross and then watched Atlanta's backup catcher draw a six-pitch walk to make it 3-2.
This set the stage for Cabrera, who delivered just his third hit in 15 at-bats with the bases loaded this season and then found himself being mobbed by his teammates. The Dodgers' bullpen woes played a large part in the fact that they won just twice during this seven-game trip to the East Coast.
"Even though we haven't been playing well, you have to be shocked by the results there," said Torre, who removed All-Star Jonathan Broxton from the closer role at the start of this four-game series.
The Dodgers gained a lead with a two-run eighth that they constructed without recording a hit against Jonny Venters. Making his fifth consecutive start at third, Conrad began the inning by bobbling pinch-hitter Reed Johnson's infield single, which was originally ruled an error. After Podsednik drew a walk, the Braves' third baseman grabbed Ryan Theriot's chopper and made an errant throw that sailed into right field and allowed two runs to score for a 3-1 Dodgers lead.
Cabrera minimized the damage in the eighth when he caught James Loney's fly ball in left, then fired a strong throw that denied Theriot's attempt to tag and score from third. The two unearned runs charged to Venters matched the number of runs he had surrendered over the course of his previous 22 appearances.
"I gave Cabrera about four of five hugs after the game," Conrad said. "He really came up big there."
The ugly eighth further tarnished the effort provided by Hanson, who was charged with one earned run and five hits in seven innings. The 23-year-old right-hander has gone 0-2 with a 1.33 ERA in his last six starts. Atlanta has scored two runs or fewer in four of these six games.
"Tommy was outstanding again," manager Bobby Cox said. "He just threw the ball super."
The Dodgers gained an early first-inning lead when Theriot reached on a one-out infield single, then scored from first on a double that Andre Ethier delivered to left field. Hanson retired 15 of the next 17 batters that he faced before allowing a two-out sixth-inning single to Ethier.
Jason Heyward nearly gave the Braves a lead in the sixth when he turned on Billingsley's 1-1 fastball and then watched helplessly as a leaping Ethier caught the 350-foot, game-tying sacrifice fly while making contact with the right-field wall. The long drive scored Omar Infante, who had reached with a leadoff triple to the gap in left-center.
Conrad, who has batted .328 (19-for-58) in the seventh inning or later this year, delivered a one-out seventh-inning double and was left stranded at third when Billingsley ended his evening by striking out Rick Ankiel and getting Cabrera to ground out.
By the end of the night, Cabrera didn't have to worry about the fact that he had left Conrad stranded. Instead, the Braves outfielder could simply enjoy the strong throw and timely hit that allowed Conrad to avoid transforming from being late-inning hero to a late-inning goat.
"I'm going to remember both because both were big for the team," Cabrera said through translator Jair Jurrjens.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less