ATLANTA -- Everything went according to script. The team that was left for dead out of Spring Training, again in late June and most recently on Wednesday night, rose to the occasion and caused reason for celebration and optimism again.
The celebration erupted when Rafael Furcal delivered a two-out, two-run homer off Dan Miceli that enabled the Braves to prove resilient once again and claim a much-needed 4-2 victory over the Astros in 11 innings at Turner Field on Thursday.
"If you had that crystal ball and you knew what type of game it was going to be, this is the type you want to win when you're down 1-0 [in the series]," John Smoltz said. "A 10-1 win doesn't have the same meaning. When you win a game like this that they had in control for eight innings, it's huge."
Smoltz proved huge in this contest, which seemingly became a must-win game after the Braves lost Game 1 on Wednesday. He provided three inspired scoreless innings. But his effort may have gone for naught had Furcal not drilled Miceli's 1-2 misplaced slider over the right-field wall.
The walk-off homer was the first in Braves postseason history since Eddie Mathews did it in Game 4 of the 1957 World Series.
Rafael Furcal / SS
Weight: 165 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
When the Braves continued to waste opportunities through the first seven innings and were facing a 2-0 deficit, it appeared Atlanta's offseason may actually begin in a few days. But the Braves began their comeback against Roy Oswalt in the seventh inning and persevered through adversity yet again.
Now instead of going to Houston -- where the Astros have won 18 straight at Minute Maid Park -- with no margin for error, the Braves will enter Saturday afternoon's Game 3 without having to try to become just the fourth team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in Division Series play.
"This was just a great win," Smoltz said. "Hopefully it will roll into Game 3, because we do have a day off [on Friday]. But I don't think anybody is going to forget this one."
John Smoltz / P
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Smoltz won't forget the scoreless innings he provided in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings, or the single he recorded to begin the ninth inning. But the most important thing that came out of this contest for the Braves closer was that his teammates again proved that they're not ready to give up.
"If nothing else, this team does not and will not, on my standards or Bobby's [manager Cox] standards, give in," Smoltz said. "We may lose. But we're not giving in."
The Braves could have folded their tents when they couldn't capitalize on the early opportunities that Oswalt afforded them. Just one day earlier, they had matched their own Division Series record by stranding 12 runners.
But facing a 2-0 deficit, the Braves began their comeback in the seventh inning when Dewayne Wise drilled a one-out double. Wise later scored on a Furcal single that gave the Braves their first run and ended the day for Oswalt, who allowed just the one run on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.
In a somewhat gutsy and ultimately costly move, the Astros brought in closer Brad Lidge to relieve Oswalt. Lidge was fortunate to escape the seventh unscathed when Furcal was retired attempting to score on a pitch that got away from catcher Raul Chavez.
Adam LaRoche / 1B
Weight: 180 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
When J.D. Drew got thrown out stealing after opening the eighth with a single, it seemed like the Braves, who have stranded 22 runners in this series, were going to squander another opportunity. But Adam LaRoche's one-out RBI double off the wall in left-center field against Lidge caused some eighth-inning excitement and forced the necessary extra innings.
Like Smoltz, who hadn't thrown three innings since Sept. 23, 2001, Lidge isn't accustomed to multiple-inning appearances. But like the Braves, the Astros were going to do whatever necessary to gain this victory, even if it meant putting their closer in an unfamiliar role.
"They had a couple of nails in the coffin and I think basically he was trying to bury us," Smoltz said. "Lidge, I don't know what he has left in his arm, but I know he's got a ton of strikeouts and a ton of innings. It's definitely easier when you have three chances against a great pitcher like that versus one chance."
Mike Hampton / P
Weight: 195 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: L
The comeback saved the day for Braves starter Mike Hampton, who was making his third start since tearing cartilage in his left knee on Sept. 11. The southpaw limited the Astros to two runs on four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning with tightness in his left forearm that he says is nothing to worry about.
Although he was dominant throughout much of the contest, Hampton's two mistakes proved costly. The only damage he incurred came courtesy of solo homers from Jeff Bagwell and Chavez.
But those two home runs and his sore arm weren't even in Hampton's focus in the postgame celebration that rightfully existed in the clubhouse of a team that simply won't be left for dead.
"If we had lost this one, we'd have had our backs against a big wall," Hampton said. "This was a huge win."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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