The Atlanta Braves couldn’t get anything started against the San Francisco Giants‘ vaunted pitching staff, so the home-standing Gents took an admittedly unorthodox approach.

They decided to start the Bravos’ offense themselves—not the wisest thing to do for your World Series aspirations, but it sure makes for an exciting night of baseball.

And another significant challenge for emerging southpaw Jonathan Sanchez.

A Pat Burrell bobble in left field helped give Atlanta its first run in 14 divisional-series innings, though Bobby Cox’ squad would have to wait a little longer for its first earned run. That rally two innings later was also aided by an error as a wayward throw from Pablo Sandoval allowed Melky Cabrera to reach and eventually cross the plate as the tying run.

Extra innings were needed to settle the affair, a feat accomplished in the 11th inning when Rick Ankiel exorcised his personal playoff demons with a Bondsian blast into McCovey Cove off of Ramon Ramirez. The former St. Louis Cardinal pitcher, who infamously disintegrated in Game 1 of the 2000 National League Division Series with five wild pitches, obliterated a solo home run that only needed to be heard.

The sound alone told you it wasn’t staying dry.

And that the series was going back to Hotlanta tied at one game apiece.

Somewhat lost in all the shuffle was a blinder from Matt Cain in his postseason debut.

He picked up right where Tim Lincecum left off; though Cainer didn’t match the Freak, he twirled a fantastic ballgame. The 26-year-old tossed six-and-two-thirds innings while tolerating seven hits, two walks, an unearned run, and whiffing six.

Alas, the big right-hander’s defense and bullpen let him down as two regular-season strengths turned into playoff albatrosses in front of the appalled AT&T Park crowd.

Brian Wilson was up from the start of his appearance and that never bodes well for any pitcher, even one of the best door-slammers in the game. The colorful closer got bruised a bit when Alex Gonzalez scalded a ball to the left-center gap, but the only run that crossed home plate belonging to Wilson was unearned thanks to Sandoval’s E-5.

The two earnies belonged to the real bullpen goat, Sergio Romo.

The normally reliable eight-inning man faced two batters (Derrek Lee and Brian McCann), allowed them both to reach on singles, and each would come around to score when Romo’s bearded compadre took a few batters to find his postseason legs.

Meanwhile, the Braves late-inning crew was pressed into early duty by a mediocre playoff debut from Tommy Hanson.

The youngster had a rough first frame that saw Burrell’s three-run jimmy-jack create an early deficit and wouldn’t make the fifth, but a parade of Atlanta relievers stifled the Giants‘ lumber. Southpaw Mike Dunn, righty Peter Moylan, lefty Jonny Venters, and right-hander Craig Kimbrel torched San Francisco‘s lineup with five scoreless innings that saw only three baserunners and eight strikeouts.

Then Kyle Farnsworth did his best to deliver Game 2 on a silver platter after Braves’ closer Billy Wagner left with what looked like a serious injury to his side. Of course, los Gigantes’ season-long nemesis—the dreaded double-play grounder—knifed them in the back again.

Buster Posey was the culprit this time, grounding into a 5-4-3 twin-killing in the bottom of the tenth with the bases loaded.

Ankiel would hit his moon ball two Brave batters later and Farnsworth would put the finishing touches on his win.

Now, Jonathan Sanchez must continue his recent spate of effectively wild outings in order to save the Giants’ tortuous 2010 season. A loss in Game 3 would either require a start from Lincecum on short rest or a horrifically unfavorable predicament for 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner’s first taste of playoff baseball.

All is not lost, however.

True, the lefty did issue 19 free passes in September and October. But he suffered a mere18 hits and half of those were singles i.e. you better hope he walks you because the league “hit” Jonathan to the tune of a .151 batting average and a .261 slugging percentage in 35.2 frames spanning those two months.

The faithful will also recall that he started and won the NL West clincher against the San Diego Padres on Sunday. He set a suffocating tone with the pennant hanging in the balance, a pressure-packed turn on the bump if there ever was one as 161 games culminated in a single contest.

The San Francisco Giants and their fans must hope Jonathan Sanchez is up to the challenge once again.

Because, this time, 164 games depend on it.


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