Hinske embodies Braves' resilient spirit
Key cog brings personality, clutch hitting to another playoff squad
ATLANTA -- As the Braves have evolved into a resilient club that has been undaunted by significant injures and unfazed by late-inning deficits, they have embodied the spirit that Eric Hinske has acquired while transforming from American League Rookie of the Year to invaluable utility man.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that these last three years he's been on clubs that are World Series-caliber clubs," Braves right-hander Tim Hudson said. "I don't think it's a coincidence that we're here in the playoffs back again with him."
When the Braves completed their 11-inning come-from-behind win over the Giants in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday night, Hinske ranked it as one of the most thrilling postseason games he has ever experienced.
Those who have been with the Braves throughout a journey that included a Major League-best 25 last at-bat victories and an NL-best 46 comeback wins recognized this as a product of the never-say-die attitude that guys such as Hinske and backup catcher David Ross have helped instill while playing secondary roles on the field and primary roles in the clubhouse.
"You can't ever lose your swagger and you can't ever get down on yourself," Hinske said. "You still have to know you're good and expect to score runs and win ballgames."
When the Braves signed Hinske in January, it was easy to playfully predict that they had gained their good-luck charm. He has been a part of each of the past three American League teams that have advanced to the World Series.
As this season has progressed, it's been apparent that Hinske hasn't simply been at the right place at the right time. This might have better applied to the stints that he enjoyed with the 2007 Red Sox and '09 Yankees.
But as the Braves have steadily been influenced by Hinske's energetic and upbeat personality, they have quickly come to realize why many members of the surprising 2008 Rays squad still consider him one of the keys to their run to the World Series.
"He's a really fiery spirit," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He doesn't like to fail. He'll let you know it. You know, he's done a pretty darn good job of pinch-hitting and playing left field. He played some first base and some left field. He really helped us get going early in the year when nobody was hitting, and we put him out there and he did a darn good job."
When Matt Diaz's troublesome right thumb became an issue six weeks into the season, Hinske spent the next month providing consistent offensive production from the left-field position. The 33-year-old left-handed hitter batted .324 with five homers and 18 RBIs in the 34 games (27 starts) he played from May 11-June 20.
While going 28-10 in that span, the Braves ended their days in the NL East cellar and became one of the Senior Circuit's top clubs. The successful run essentially gave Atlanta the padding it needed to overcome some late-season injures and still earn a postseason berth.
During the second half of the season, Hinske wasn't able to provide the same kind of production at the plate, and he found himself primarily used as a pinch-hitter. But his attitude and drive remained the same and proved infectious enough to help the Braves preserve through some of the tough stretches they encountered in the season's final two months.
"His personality is a personality that is strong, and he is very likeable on our club," Hudson said. "Most great clubs that go far in the playoffs have those pieces on their club. Those pieces that fit in both in the clubhouse, on the bench and from a key bench player type of role. He's one of them. "Obviously [Ross] is one of them. I think those two guys combined have played an enormous role in our team chemistry this year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.