Miscue helps put Braves in early NLDS hole
Lowe solid, but offense falls victim to 14 Lincecum strikeouts
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum proved masterful. Derek Lowe displayed the form that brought him success the past four weeks.
Unfortunately for the Braves, Game 1 was also partially decided by a defensive mistake in the fourth inning, when Omar Infante could not cleanly handle Cody Ross' routine ground ball, which sent home what would stand as the game-winning run. It's the kind of miscue that could prove to be their demise now that the playoffs have arrived.
As dominant as Lincecum was while recording 14 strikeouts and going the distance during Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night at AT&T Park, the Braves walked away from a 1-0 loss to the Giants knowing that they still squandered multiple opportunities to gain an early advantage in this best-of-five series.
This marked the sixth time that the Braves have lost Game 1 of the NLDS. The only time they battled back to win the series was in 1999, when they won each of the next three games against the Astros.
"You've got to tip your hat to [Lincecum] tonight," Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said. "Fortunately Lowe was matching him there for a while. If we get one call our way, we might still be playing and it's a battle of the bullpens."
With Lincecum allowing just two hits in a 119-pitch shutout, the Giants had no need to utilize their strong bullpen. The Braves got a scoreless effort from four relievers, but they were never able to generate the offense necessary to overcome their fourth-inning misfortunes.
Buster Posey began the decisive fourth with a leadoff single, then got a break when second-base umpire Paul Emmel ruled that he successfully stole second base ahead of Brooks Conrad's tag. After Pablo Sandoval drew a two-out intentional walk, Ross bounced his grounder under the glove of Infante, who hadn't played third base in more than two months before being positioned there for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Phillies.
Put in their place
|10/17/1999||NLCS 5||NYM||4-3 L *||19|
|10/8/1999||NLDS 3||Hou.||5-3 W *||18|
|10/9/2005||NLDS 4||Hou.||7-6 L *||16|
|10/12/1997||NLCS 5||Fla.||2-1 L||15|
|10/7/2010||NLDS 1||S.F.||1-0 L||14|
|9/30/2003||NLDS 1||CHC||4-2 L||14|
|10/23/1999||WS 1||NYY||4-1 L||13|
|10/1/1958||WS 1||NYY||4-3 W *||13|
|10/10/2004||NLDS 4||Hou.||6-5 W||12|
|10/19/2001||NLCS 3||Ari.||5-1 L||12|
|10/14/1998||NLCS 6||S.D.||5-0 L||12|
|10/10/1998||NLCS 3||S.D.||4-1 L||12|
|10/11/1993||NLCS 5||Phi.||4-3 L *||12|
|10/6/1993||NLCS 1||Phi.||4-3 L *||12|
|10/8/1958||WS 6||NYY||4-3 L *||12|
"We made an error, that's all I can say," said Braves manager Bobby Cox after watching Lowe allow just one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings.
While the official scorer might not have deemed Infante's miscue an error, this was obviously the most costly turn of events on a night that was simply dominated by Lincecum. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner allowed Infante to drill his fifth pitch of the night to left-center field for a leadoff double. The only other time he pitched with a runner at second base came after Brian McCann placed a two-out double in the same area in the seventh.
"Coming into this game, just looking at how he's pitched, you knew it was going to be a tight game," Lowe said. "It doesn't matter if a guy is out or safe at second base. It's part of the game. They got a big hit when they needed to."
Instead of placing the blame on Emmel or Infante, Lowe chose to criticize the 2-0 pitch that he delivered to Ross after intentionally walking Sandoval, who hit just .208 with runners in scoring position during the regular season. With Lincecum on deck, the veteran right-hander would have been comfortable to walk Ross and deal with the bases-loaded situation.
"I was trying to throw the 2-0 sinker off the plate, because worst-case scenario, I've got the pitcher coming up. I got too much plate, and we lost," Lowe said. "It doesn't matter what goes on behind you. We're a good enough pitching staff to overcome anything that happens behind us. It was a mistake pitch that I wasn't trying to throw for a strike, and he hit it. It cost us the game."
Lowe managed to pitch around a Conrad error that helped the Giants put runners at second and third before Aubrey Huff ended the third inning with a strikeout. But the 37-year-old Lowe's effort was irrevocably marred by the fourth-inning misfortunes and an offense that wasted a prime opportunity to get to Lincecum in the first.
|10/7/2010||NLDS 1||S.F.||1-0 L||2|
|10/3/2003||NLDS 3||CHC||3-1 L||2|
|10/14/1998||NLCS 6||S.D.||5-0 L||2|
|9/30/1997||NLDS 1||Hou.||2-1 W||2|
|10/6/1948||WS 1||Cle.||1-0 W||2|
|9/30/2003||NLDS 1||CHC||4-2 L||3|
|10/16/2001||NLCS 1||Ari.||2-0 L||3|
|10/7/2000||NLDS 3||Stl.||7-1 L||3|
|10/16/1999||NLCS 4||NYM||3-2 L||3|
|10/15/1999||NLCS 3||NYM||1-0 W||3|
|10/8/1998||NLCS 2||S.D.||3-0 L||3|
|10/12/1997||NLCS 5||Fla.||2-1 L||3|
|10/21/1995||WS 1||Cle.||3-2 W||3|
|10/11/1992||NLCS 5||Pit.||7-1 L||3|
|10/7/1982||NLCS 1||Stl.||7-0 L||3|
|10/19/2001||NLCS 3||Ari.||5-1 L||4|
|10/2/1996||NLDS 1||L.A.||2-1 W||4|
|10/17/1992||WS 1||Tor.||3-1 W||4|
|10/9/1957||WS 6||NYY||3-2 L||4|
After Infante delivered his leadoff double, Lincecum retired each of the next nine batters that he faced, including five in a row via strikeouts. Jason Heyward's leadoff walk in the fourth went unrewarded when Derrek Lee and Alex Gonzalez sandwiched a couple of infield popups around McCann's long fly ball, which found Ross' glove just short of the right-field warning track.
By then, the tone of the evening had been set by Lincecum's ability end the first-inning threat with consecutive strikeouts of McCann and Lee.
"He was lights-out," Cox said. "We had two runners at second base the whole night and that was it. I don't know how many he struck out, but it was more than fingers on my hand."
While notching the second-most strikeouts recorded in a NLDS game with 14, Lincecum took advantage of an offense that misses Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, who both suffered season-ending injuries after playing third base and serving as the club's three-hole hitter.
Defensively, the Braves seem to miss Jones and Prado just as much. They allowed 17 unearned runs in their final 29 games of the regular season. The Giants allowed 17 unearned runs in their last 77 games of the regular season.
Emmel's decision to rule Posey safe was significant. But the Braves also hindered their own cause at the plate and in the field while squandering a strong effort from Lowe, who can only hope for better fortune should the NLDS go to Game 4, with him pitching on short rest.
"At the time, I thought we had him, but it was just a call where he called him safe," Conrad said. "There's nothing you can do about it. You can't go back and overturn it. It was a tough break, but we've got to do better in other aspects to win the game."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.