ATLANTA (AP)—No matter how many injuries they face, no matter how hopeless the situation seems, the Atlanta Braves are determined to put off Bobby Cox’s retirement as long as possible.
Another player went down in Game 2 of the NL division series—and a mighty important one at that. But the Braves shrugged off the loss of closer Billy Wagner(notes) and got down to figuring how they can win an NL division series with the San Francisco Giants that is improbably tied at one game apiece.
Game 3 is Sunday afternoon before what should be a raucous sellout crowd at Turner Field, where the Braves put up the best home record in the majors during the regular season.
“We’ve been a team all year that just rolls with the punches,” said ace Tim Hudson(notes), who will start Sunday. “We still have to go out there and play. Injuries are part of the game and adversity is part of the game. We’re not the most talented club, but I feel like we have the most heart and a lot of guts.”
With his team getting home around 9 a.m. Atlanta time, Cox decided to skip the traditional off-day workout and let his players get some extra rest. That’s probably for the best. The way things have gone for the Braves, someone might have gotten hurt.
Two key hitters, Chipper Jones(notes) and Martin Prado(notes), are both out with season-ending injuries. So is starting pitcher Kris Medlen(notes). Three other pitchers — Jair Jurrjens(notes), Takashi Saito(notes) and Eric O’Flaherty(notes)—were left off the division series roster because of various ailments.
Now, the guy who saved 37 games during the regular season is likely to miss at least the rest of the division series. Wagner injured his left oblique on a fielding play in the 10th inning of Friday night’s dramatic 5-4 victory that evened the series.
The Braves must decide if Wagner has a chance to come back in a week to pitch in the NL championship series—should Atlanta even get that far. If so, they’ll likely keep him on the roster and use only 10 pitchers the rest of this series. If not, he’ll be replaced by another pitcher, which would make the left-hander ineligible for the next round anyway.
Wagner will be re-examined before Game 3.
“We’ve got a tough decision to make,” Cox said. “We’ve got a lot of talking to do.”
Saito, who was left off the roster because of an ailing right shoulder, threw a scoreless inning in the instructional league and would appear to be the top candidate to replace Wagner. Jurrjens and veteran Scott Proctor(notes), who spent most of the year at Triple-A, are also possibilities.
Cox said he can get by with 10 pitchers if necessary, especially with the emergence of rookie relievers Craig Kimbrel(notes) and Jonny Venters(notes). Cox also has Peter Moylan(notes) and Kyle Farnsworth(notes).
“We’ll mix and match the seventh, eighth and nine innings,” Cox said. “Whoever matches up those particular innings, that’s who’s going to be out there. We’ll close with whomever. I’ve always thought Moylan could close, and Farnsworth has closed in the major leagues. Venters, no reason why he can’t, as well as Kimbrel.”
The bullpen is a major reason this series is all even. Atlanta fell behind 4-0 in the first two innings against the Giants, and starter Tommy Hanson(notes) was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth. But six relievers—including another rookie, Michael Dunn—combined for seven scoreless innings while the Braves rallied to tie the game.
“They’ve been pretty much our rock all year,” Hudson said of the bullpen. “We wouldn’t have won last night without those guys.”
Now, Cox’s long managerial career is assured of lasting at least two more games.
He’s sure enjoying the ride.
“That’s why we’re so proud of this team,” Cox said Saturday. “They do bounce back.”