If the Braves are going to find entry into the playoffs, they're going to have to construct a lengthy winning streak that will include some of the luck that was present when they concluded Wednesday night's walk-off 6-5 win over the Mets with Ryan Church's elusive grounder.
"We caught a break there, but we'll take it," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, after his club notched a season-best sixth consecutive win and remained five games behind the front-running Rockies in the National League Wild Card race.
Rodriguez, who entered to end the eighth inning with a strikeout of Martin Prado, encountered immediate ninth-inning trouble when his former Angels teammate Garret Anderson produced a leadoff single with the help of David Murphy, who wasn't hugging the first-base line.
Five batters later, after Omar Infante had delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly, Rodriguez found his evening further marred by Church's grounder that bounced over the first-base bag and ran up Murphy's arm. As the Mets first baseman again unsuccessfully attempted to secure the ball, David Ross raced from second base with the winning run.
"It had a lot of topspin on it going towards the bag, and it just seemed like something is going to happen," said Church, who was acquired from the Mets in exchange for Jeff Francoeur on July 10.
Instead of saying that it felt good to beat his former teammates or gain revenge against Mets manager Jerry Manuel, who seemingly played a part in his departure from New York, Church instead rejoiced in the resiliency the Braves showed on a night when Derek Lowe taxed the bullpen, a blister on his right ring finger forcing his exit after the Mets produced a three-run second inning.
"It showed that we're in this for the long haul," Church said, after a long day that included a one-hour, 56-minute rain delay before the first pitch. "Regardless of what happens, we're going to give it everything that we've got."
Knowing that the Phillies had already secured their 7 1/2 game advantage over them in the NL East and that the Rockies were seemingly on the way to victory, the Braves had reason to feel devastated when Gonzalez allowed Omir Santos' go-ahead homer in the eighth and then exited with a sore back.
But Anderson provided the necessary spark with his double down the right-field line, and the Braves put themselves in position to at least tie when Yunel Escobar provided a sacrifice bunt. Rodriguez, who has now lost his past two multi-inning appearances, loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Adam LaRoche before incurring his sixth blown save courtesy of Infante's sacrifice fly.
Then Murphy, who has had trouble finding a suitable defensive position this season, found himself with the difficult task of fielding Church's in-between hop.
"I booted it," Murphy said. "Frankie does a good job of keeping it tied and giving us a chance to go to extra innings, and I booted it."
|"It showed that we're in this for the long haul. Regardless of what happens, we're going to give it everything that we've got."|
|-- Ryan Church, on the Braves' difficult win Wednesday|
Murphy's error prevented Gonzalez from having to deal with what would have been the third decisive homer he'd surrendered in a span of eight appearances. Before this rough stretch, the left-handed reliever, who is listed as day-to-day with the sore back, had gone 28 consecutive appearances without allowing a homer.
Gonzalez's woes marred an otherwise strong evening for the Braves' bullpen. After Lowe endured a three-run second inning that was aided by a catcher's interference call against Brian McCann, the Braves limited the Mets to just one other run before the eighth inning.
That lone run was scored in the fifth, when Jeff Francoeur capped his three-hit night with a double that put him in position to score on Jeremy Reed's RBI single off Kenshin Kawakami. The Japanese hurler, who was making his first appearance since Sept. 6, allowed one run and five hits in two innings.
"The bullpen did a good job," Cox said. "Kawakami was a little rusty, but that was to be expected."
Bouncing back from New York's three-run second, during which Lowe surrendered successive two-out, run-producing hits to Josh Thole and David Wright, the Braves began their comeback in the bottom half of the inning with Church's RBI single off Bobby Parnell, who would allow Infante to cap a game-tying two-run third with an RBI single.
The Braves gained a short-lived lead courtesy of a passed ball that allowed Nate McLouth to score in the fourth inning. But it wasn't the bouncing ball that proved to be the one that gave them the only lead that mattered.
"We haven't had much luck," Cox said. "We've provided our own luck until tonight."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.