Renteria the hero for Braves in opener
Shortstop homers in eighth to tie ballgame, 10th to win it
PHILADELPHIA -- When Edgar Renteria's career is complete and he looks back on the greatest clutch hits he's registered, there's a chance he might overlook the two pivotal homers he hit at Citizens Bank Park on Monday afternoon.
But when reminiscing about his greatest Opening Day moments, it will be nearly impossible for him to forget about the game-tying and game-winning homers that he delivered in the 5-3, 10-inning win the Braves recorded over the Phillies to begin this 2007 season.
"Every time he comes to bat and the game is on the line, he comes through," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He did it twice today."
It was McCann's two-run fourth-inning homer that afforded the Braves their only offense until Renteria ruined a sparkling performance by Phillies starter Brett Myers by drilling an 0-2 fastball high over the center-field wall for an eighth-inning solo homer.
With this homer, Renteria reduced some of the heat Kelly Johnson would have felt, and also ensured John Smoltz would finally escape an Opening Day start without a loss. As for his two-run, 10th-inning shot off Ryan Madson, that's the one that gave the Braves reason to celebrate a win that they hope provided a foreshadowing of things to come.
"An extra-inning ballgame, I think it's a great start," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who saw his bullpen keep the Phillies scoreless for the final four innings. "Either team could have won it with one swing, and we happened to be the first club that swung it and got ahead."
Ironically, Renteria didn't actually go to the plate in the 10th inning looking to swing. Johnson had drawn a leadoff walk and the situation called for a bunt. But the Braves' All-Star shortstop fouled off two bunt attempts and found himself facing a 2-2 count before Madson delivered a lazy slider that stayed up in the zone.
"I tried to put the ball in play and got lucky that the ball went out," said Renteria, whose greatest clutch hit is still the game-winning 11th-inning single that gave the Marlins their 1997 World Series victory over the Indians.
Renteria's sixth career multihomer performance salvaged a strong Smoltz effort and gave the reconstructed bullpen reason to feel good about the stinginess that they displayed. After Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano and Bob Wickman kept the Phillies scoreless for three innings, sinkerballer Chad Paronto worked a perfect 10th inning to register his first career save.
"We need to feel like whenever we're tied, we're going to win the game," Chipper Jones said. "Last year, it was so tough. We blew 29 saves, and it was tough on the psyche of the ballclub. But a few of these [close wins] can turn that psyche around."
There are still 161 games left in the regular season and still a lot to prove. But this game was scripted in the same manner the Braves had envisioned when they rebuilt their bullpen with the offseason additions of Gonzalez and Soriano.
According to script, they received six solid innings from Smoltz, who allowed three earned runs and eight hits -- six of which were recorded with two outs. Then, after his control problems allowed the Phillies to place runners on second and third with nobody out, Gonzalez escaped the seventh inning unscathed with the help of two consecutive strikeouts of Shane Victorino and the ever-dangerous Ryan Howard.
After Victorino directed a two-out double to left in the ninth inning, Wickman elected to intentionally walk Howard in favor of pitching to Chase Utley, who ended the threat with a harmless groundout.
|"Last year, it was so tough. We blew 29 saves, and it was tough on the psyche of the ballclub. But a few of these [close wins] can turn that psyche around."|
|-- Chipper Jones|
One inning later, Chad Paronto needed just 10 pitches to secure the lead Renteria's second homer had brought. Paronto's ability to come through in this pressure-packed situation only increases the belief that the Braves have the game's deepest bullpen.
"All in all, I'm very pleased that we were able to get the win," said Smoltz, who saw last year's much-criticized bullpen blow six of the leads that they inherited from him.
Smoltz, who had been 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in his previous three Opening Day starts, was cruising until he opted to challenge Jimmy Rollins with an outside fastball with two outs in the fifth inning. Rollins' solo homer cut the Phillies' deficit to 2-1 and gave them some momentum that they carried into the sixth inning.
After retiring Howard and Utley to begin the sixth, Smoltz surrendered a single to Pat Burrell and then erred with a slider that Wes Helms hit to deep center field for a game-tying RBI double. One batter later, Johnson, a converted outfielder who was playing his first regular-season game at second base, lost a routine Aaron Rowand pop fly in the sun, allowing Helms to easily score the go-ahead run.
"All in all, I was in control most of the game, with exception to the pitch to Rollins, which I thought was a perfect pitch," Smoltz said.
Like Smoltz, Myers was attempting to sneak an 0-2 fastball past Renteria in the eighth inning. He'd gotten the All-Star shortstop to pop out in the same situation during the third inning. But this pitch, his 106th of the afternoon, didn't land until it hit high on the brick wall that sits approximately 20 feet beyond the center-field fence.
Before this, Myers had surrendered just three hits, including the double and homer that began McCann's three-hit performance.
"It's early," McCann said. "But I'm happy with the way I started, and the team, as well."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.