A Giant step forward
Braves stumble in Cox’s last game
ATLANTA — The San Francisco Giants celebrated their first playoff win in eight years, then paused to honor the man whose career they had just ended.
As Bobby Cox came out of the Braves dugout to tip his cap to the chanting crowd one last time last night, the Giants stopped what they were doing on the other side of the field.
They began clapping, too, and tipped their caps in Cox’s direction. The Atlanta manager waved back.
Then the Giants headed off to savor a 3-2 victory that sent them to the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2002. Twenty-one-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner pitched six strong innings, late-season pickup Cody Ross homered and drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out single in the seventh, and the San Francisco bullpen closed it out.
For Cox, there are no more games, only the reality of what he’s going to do with the rest of his life without a group of ballplayers to manage.
He can put away that familiar No. 6 uniform for good.
“It doesn’t feel like the last time I’m putting it on, but it certainly is,’’ Cox said, his voice cracking. “I won’t put it on again.’’
The series was tight and tense to the very last out. Giants closer Brian Wilson walked two in the ninth, giving the Braves one more shot to extend Cox’s career. But Omar Infante struck out attempting to check his swing on a nasty slider, and Melky Cabrera grounded out to third.
“This series had everything,’’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Just the intensity and excitement of the series, it had to be thrilling for the fans. There was never an easy moment for Bobby or myself, because these games could have gone either way.’’
Indeed, 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 vs. Roy Halladay.
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 69.
Missing Chipper Jones and Martin Prado from an offense that wasn’t all that strong to begin with, the Braves simply didn’t have enough bats to extend Cox’s career. Atlanta managed just 24 hits in the four games.
Lowe did all he could, 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 1-1 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.
With one out in the seventh, Aubrey Huff drew a walk from Lowe. Buster Posey beat out a grounder to third. Pat Burrell worked a five-pitch walk and Cox emerged from the dugout to lift Lowe.
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. Third baseman Troy Glaus didn’t even make an attempt, shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a backhanded grab and threw toward second for the force.
But the throw was high, and 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 Infante had pulled his foot off the bag.
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 out of Gonzalez’s reach into left field to bring home the go-ahead run.
Santiago Casilla worked 1 2/3 innings, Javier Lopez struck out Jason Heyward to end the eighth, and Wilson earned his second save in as many nights.