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HOU@ATL: McCann hits a walk-off homer in the 11th

ATLANTA -- Instead of simply resting on what was intended to be a day to rest, Brian McCann produced a day that he might have previously considered too good to be true.

Given that he has homered more times than any other Major League catcher since the start of the 2006 season, there is seldom reason to be surprised when McCann goes deep. But the dramatic manner in which the five-time All-Star catcher hit his two most recent home runs certainly provided reason for awe.

When McCann came off the bench to deliver a dramatic game-tying, two-out, ninth-inning home run Tuesday afternoon at Turner Field, he gained a special memory. Two innings later when he victimized Jeff Fulchino with a two-run, walk-off homer that gave the Braves a 3-1 win over the Astros, the 27-year-old veteran experienced a thrill some may have assumed was reserved only for the dream world.

"I'm just fired up for him," Braves backup catcher David Ross said. "Part of me wants to give him this huge hug and part of me wants to kick him ... because he made it look so easy. I just grinded out nine innings and battled my tail off and he comes in and hits two homers. But I'm so happy for him and us."

Once his towering blast down the right-field line stayed fair, McCann cruised around the bases and was greeted at the plate by a group of celebratory teammates. One teammate hit him with a glass of water as he neared the plate, and others took part in the team's new tradition of rubbing dirt on the head of the guy who has just delivered a walk-off hit.

"I've definitely never done that before," said McCann, who needed just these two late-inning at-bats to double his season home run total to four.

After being baffled throughout Wandy Rodriguez's eight scoreless innings, the Braves were down to their last out when McCann came off the bench to pinch-hit for Ross in the ninth inning. Three pitches later, they were down to their last strike. But when their clutch-hitting catcher drilled Mark Melancon's 1-2 curveball the other way over the left-center-field wall, they had life.

When McCann strolled to the plate two innings later after Eric Hinske had drawn a one-out walk, Ross and Derek Lowe said they were thinking he might end the game with an RBI double. But two pitches into his showdown with Fulchino, McCann capped his incredible day with the two-run shot that somehow stayed to the left of the right-field foul pole.

"That's a day off people dream of right there," said Chipper Jones, who was encouraged by the way his right knee felt as he went 1-for-5 while playing for the first time since Saturday.

McCann struggled to hide a smile when he was asked to compare the thrills of a walk-off homer and a game-tying, two-out, ninth-inning homer.

"It's equally as awesome if you win the game," McCann said. "To do it again in the 11th was awesome."

Prior to McCann, the last Braves' player to homer in the ninth inning (or later) to tie the game, and then homer again to win the game in extra innings was Ralph Garr, who also accomplished the feat on May 17, 40 years ago in 1971.

Instead of being doomed by the opposite-field seventh-inning homer that Lowe surrendered to Brett Wallace -- the only run he allowed over seven innings -- the Braves saw McCann and some clutch bullpen work help them claim their sixth final at-bat victory of the young season.

With their fourth consecutive victory, the Braves notched their fifth win of this eight-game homestand, which started with two disappointing losses to the Nationals.

"Today was great," McCann said. "We've been playing so great in the month of May and getting good pitching time in and time out. It was good to get some timely hitting."

The clutch late-inning bullpen work began when Scott Proctor made his season debut by inheriting runners at first and second with nobody out in the eighth inning. The veteran right-hander escaped unscathed when he got Wallace to leave the bases loaded with a strikeout.

When a Cory Gearrin pitch struck Matt Downs' left forearm, it appeared the Astros would load the bases with nobody out in the top of the 11th inning. But plate umpire Alfonso Marquez seemingly was correct when he ruled Downs stuck his arm out to get hit.

After Downs eventually struck out, Gearrin loaded the bases with a Clint Barmes walk and then breathed a sigh of relief when Alex Gonzalez fielded a J.R. Towles grounder and began an inning-ending double play.

"That was an absolutely brutal call," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "You don't make that call in that situation. The ball was up and in and he was trying to protect himself and get out of the way. You don't make that call. You don't make that call in that situation when the guy is trying to get out of the way."

When McCann homered during the bottom half of the inning, Gearrin was credited with his first Major League victory. Once he returned to the clubhouse, the right-handed reliever learned he had been optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Julio Teheran, who will make a spot start Wednesday in Arizona.

Gearrin's transaction simply added to the events of a day that could be deemed odd. At the same time, it might be one that McCann and many of his teammates remember forever.

"I know [McCann] will," Lowe said. "He won't let us forget it either. He'll probably talk about it all year long."

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