Braves 4, Marlins 3
ATLANTA (AP)—Jeff Francoeur ran as fast as he could, touching first base just ahead of the throw to keep the eighth inning alive.
Ryan Langerhans slid headfirst into the bag for an infield hit, the tying run crossing the plate.
Finally, Brian McCann singled up the middle, putting the Braves ahead for the first time all night.
Three rookies. Three huge plays. An improbable win for Atlanta.
Moving a step closer to their 14th straight division title, the Braves rallied with the four-run eighth inning to pull out a stunning 4-3 victory over the Florida Marlins on Friday night.
“Our mentality is the same, whether we’re playing Game 7 of the World Series or a game that doesn’t mean anything,” McCann said. “I don’t think the pressure is going to get to any of us.”
This game sure meant a lot, reducing Atlanta’s magic number to five for winning another NL East championship. The Braves maintained their four-game lead over Philadelphia, which pulled out an 11-10 victory at Cincinnati.
Josh Beckett extended his scoreless streak against the Braves to 19 innings this season, leaving after the seventh with a 3-0 lead. The Florida bullpen couldn’t hold it.
The third-place Marlins, with only two wins in their last nine games, dropped seven games behind the Braves and are nearly eliminated from the division race with eight games remaining. Florida trails Houston by four games in the wild-card race.
“I guess we’re still in it,” Beckett said. “We’re not mathematically eliminated. But it’s tough.”
Beckett turned in another dominating performance against the Braves. He pitched six scoreless innings in his first two starts against Atlanta, winning both, and scattered five hits over seven innings this time.
But the Braves finally broke through when the Marlins went to their bullpen, ending a streak of 19 straight scoreless innings over three games.
“When you have a scoreless streak like we did,” Chipper Jones said, “the floodgates usually open when you do score.”
Antonio Alfonseca failed to get an out in the eighth, giving up a double to Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles’ run-scoring single. Showing the importance of the game, Marlins manager Jack McKeon went right to closer Todd Jones.
But Chipper Jones ripped the second pitch to right for a single, sending Giles to third. Andruw Jones walked on four pitches, loading the bases with no outs.
Adam LaRoche struck out, but Francoeur hustled to beat out the relay throw on a potential double-play grounder, making it 3-2. It was probably the most important fielder’s choice of his brief career.
“I knew I had to get there,” Francoeur said. “I was just running as hard as I could. I don’t know if it looked fast, but that was as fast as I can run.”
Langerhans hit a chopper up the middle. Second baseman Luis Castillo gloved the ball behind the bag, passed up a chance to force Francoeur and threw wide to first. Langerhans dived into the base just to make sure he beat it out while Chipper Jones scored the tying run.
“I told Chipper it was like one of those bad dreams where you’re trying to run away from something and you feel like you can’t go fast enough,” Langerhans said.
Appropriately enough, it was left to a rookie to win it. McCann just missed a hit down the right-field line, then came through with a single to center.
“It’s been a great year, something totally unexpected,” said McCann, who started the season at Double-A Mississippi. “Usually, you don’t get two pitches to hit in one at-bat. I got ‘em.”
Yet another rookie, Blaine Boyer (3-2), earned the win, while Kyle Farnsworth struck out the side in the ninth for his ninth save in as many chances since being acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline.
Smoltz has been bothered by a sore shoulder, so he bumped his start back a couple of days. The extra rest didn’t help—he surrendered eight hits in six innings.
Atlanta got only one runner as far as third base against Beckett. McCann led off the fifth with a double and moved up on Smoltz’s sacrifice bunt. But the slow-running catcher had to hold when Furcal grounded out to first. Giles ended the threat with a grounder to third.
The Braves kept working deep into the count, however, forcing Beckett to throw 112 pitches. He didn’t have enough left to finish.
“I can’t be disappointed,” Beckett said. “I left it all out there.”
Boyer pitched for the first time in six days, working a scoreless eighth. He had been bothered by a sore shoulder. … Mike Lowell started at second base for the first time since college. The Marlins are hurting up the middle with Castillo (hamstring) and shortstop Alex Gonzalez (bone bruise) both ailing. Gonzalez was used as a pinch-runner, while Castillo came on in the eighth, with Lowell moving to third. … Beckett remains 11-4 in September— his best winning percentage for any month.