ATLANTA — The San Francisco Giants won another thriller, again with help from some shaky Atlanta defence, and they’re off to the NL championship series for the first time since 2002.
For Bobby Cox, there are no more games.
Cody Ross homered and drove in the go-ahead run with a seventh-inning single, leading the Giants to a 3-2 victory in Game 4 Monday night and wrapping up an NL division series that was tight and tense to the very last out.
Every game was decided by one run, but the Giants won three of them to take the best-of-five series and earn a shot against the two-time defending NL champion Phillies. Game 1 is Saturday at Philadelphia and features a marquee matchup: Tim Lincecum versus Roy Halladay.
After Melky Cabrera grounded out with two runners aboard to end the series and Cox’s career, the fans chanted “Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!” The retiring manager finally came out of the dugout and tipped his cap. Even the Giants halted their celebration, clapping for Cox and tipping their caps from the winning side of the field.
“Thank You, Bobby Cox,” the giant video board said as Georgia On My Mind played throughout the stadium.
Cox choked up as he talked about taking off his No. 6 uniform for the last time.
“I won’t put it on again,” he said.
Asked if he addressed his players, Cox said, “I did it the best I could. I told them I was really proud of them,” his voice cracking.
Atlanta starter Derek Lowe pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning, and still it wasn’t enough. The Braves have yet to win at Turner Field with a series on the line, losing for the eighth straight time in that situation since the Ted opened to baseball in 1997. Cox won’t get a chance to end that streak, deciding more than a year ago to call it a career at age 69.
He heads for the rocking chair as the fourth winningest manager in baseball history (2,504 regular-season victories) but one major shortcoming on a record that will surely be good enough to land him in Cooperstown. In 16 trips to the playoffs — one with Toronto, 15 with the Braves — Cox’s teams captured only one World Series title, way back in 1995.
A Braves fan held up a sign pleading for the team to “Win It For Bobby,” but Ross and the Giants were in no mood for sentimentality. Not even with the comfort of knowing that Game 5 would’ve been back in San Francisco, and Lincecum was all rested and ready to go after a two-hit, 14-strikeout performance in Game 1.
Now, the Giants ace is lined up to face Halladay, who pitched a no-hitter last week in his post-season debut. The Phillies and Giants split six games this season.
“I can’t say enough about our pitching,” Ross said. “They keep us in it the whole time. We just need to score a few.”
The Braves couldn’t blame this one on Brooks Conrad. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a couple of errors — including a high throw in the decisive seventh that got Ross to the plate with two outs. He delivered a bases-loaded single to left, driving in the tiebreaking run.
Gonzalez also got caught loafing down the line in the eighth after hitting a soft liner toward shortstop — violating one of Cox’s few rules (always play hard). Edgar Renteria dropped it, but still threw out Gonzalez easily at first.
Conrad didn’t start after making three errors in Game 3, which the Braves were one out from winning to take the lead in the series. The last of those let in the winning run of San Francisco’s 3-2 victory, a stunning turnaround that gave the upper hand back to the Giants.
They didn’t let it slip away, even after falling behind twice in Game 4 with rookie Madison Bumgarner on the mound. The 21-year-old lefty pitched like a veteran, allowing six hits and two runs in six innings.
Missing Chipper Jones and Martin Prado from an offence that wasn’t all that strong to begin with, the Braves simply didn’t have enough bats to extend Cox’s career.
Heyward had his first two hits of the series but still batted .125. As a team, Atlanta managed just 24 hits in the four games.
Lowe did all he could for the Braves, turning in a gutsy performance on three days’ rest. He blanked the Giants without a hit over the first 5 1-3 innings, but Ross struck in the sixth with a liner to left that barely cleared the wall. Just like that, it was 1-all on San Francisco’s first hit of the night.
Brian McCann, who had a sacrifice fly in the third to give Atlanta its first lead of the series before the eighth inning, struck again in the sixth. He led off with a shot over the wall in right to quickly restore the Braves’ lead.
But Lowe — working hard, muttering to himself and sweating profusely on an unseasonably warm night — finally ran out of gas in the seventh.
With one out, Aubrey Huff drew a walk from Lowe. Buster Posey followed by topping one toward third baseman Troy Glaus, who was essentially Conrad’s replacement but can barely move because of a sore knee. Posey beat it out without even drawing a throw.
Cox walked slowly toward the mound as though he was going to make a change, but he wanted to ask Lowe how he felt. The pitcher nodded his head and Cox left him in the game, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd.
But the Giants stayed patient against the tiring Lowe. Pat Burrell worked the count to 3-1, then Lowe threw a pitch that darted toward the inside corner. A little too far inside. Ball four.
Lowe threw out his arms, practically pleading with home plate umpire Mike Winters for the call. Cox emerged slowly from the dugout a second time, this time to make the change. Lowe bent over behind the mound, then walked toward Cox to hand him the ball and kept on going toward the clubhouse.
Peter Moylan, a ground-ball specialist, came on to face Juan Uribe. The Braves got what they wanted, only the grounder was between third base and shortstop. Glaus didn’t even make an attempt, Gonzalez made a backhanded grab and threw toward second for the force.
But the throw was a little high, and Omar Infante had to reach up to get it. He had no shot at the double play — and the Braves wound up getting no one when umpire Ed Hickox ruled that Infante had pulled his right foot off the bag a split-second before catching the ball. Replays were inconclusive on a call that left the bases loaded with one out.
Jonny Venters, the third pitcher of the inning, struck out pinch-hitter Aaron Rowand on a wicked slider. But Ross came through with another big hit, grounding one into the hole out of Gonzalez’s reach to bring home the go-ahead run.
Matt Diaz prevented the Braves from falling even farther behind when he made a strong throw to beat the slow-running Burrell, who was tagged out by McCann in a collision at the plate. But 3-2 was good enough for the Giants’ bullpen.
Santiago Casilla worked 1 2-3 innings, Javier Lopez struck out Jason Heyward to end the eighth and Brian Wilson got three outs in the ninth for the save, pitching around a couple of walks.
Then it was time to celebrate a playoff victory, while not forgetting Cox’s career.
“He’s the best manager for me that’s ever managed the game,” Ross said. “I got a chance to play against him for five years. I love coming in here seeing him. I want to congratulate the Braves on a fine season and him on a great career.”
NOTES: After drawing a standing-room crowd of more than 53,000 for Game 3 — the first post-season contest at Turner Field in five years — there were thousands of empty seats in the upper deck for this one. The announced attendance was 44,532. … The Braves’ last win in an elimination contest was Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS, when they routed St. Louis 15-0 in the final season at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The team moved right across the street to Turner Field the following year. … San Francisco, making its first playoff appearance since 2003, won its first post-season series since beating St. Louis 4-1 in the 2002 NL championship. San Francisco went on to lose to the Angels in a seven-game World Series.