The Colorado Rockies experienced relief of another type Friday night.
They staved off elimination in the best-of-five division series against the Atlanta Braves by scoring twice off the heat-throwing Mark Wohlers in the 10th inning after their bullpen had coughed up another ninth-inning lead.
The 7-5 victory before 51,300 kept the wild-card Rockies alive longer in the postseason than the division-champion Dodgers, their National League West soul mates of sorts, but they still face a formidable hurdle, being down 2-1 in games with Greg Maddux pitching for Atlanta today.
"The fat lady may be warming up, but she's still not on stage," said Bret Saberhagen, who pitches against Maddux with his ailing shoulder still not 100%.
No team has ever lost the first two games of a five-game series at home and come back to win. The what-might-have been of Games 1 and 2 may haunt the Rockies through the winter.
"It kind of flashed through my mind walking off the field [after the Game 3 victory]," Colorado Manager Don Baylor said.
"We could have swept three games and been on our way to Cincinnati [for Tuesday night's opener of the league's championship series], but that's just not the reality. The reality is this was just one win and it doesn't get any easier."
Asked to preserve a 5-5 tie in the 10th after saving each of the first two games, Wohlers had two outs when he gave up a double down the left-field line by Dante Bichette (who is 8 for 13 in the series), walked the left-handed-hitting Larry Walker intentionally and yielded run-scoring singles to Andres Galarraga and Vinny Castilla.
Galarraga had struck out against Wohlers with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of Game 1 on what might have been ball four with pitcher Lance Painter on deck as the last Rockies' hope in a game they trailed by one run, and he had struck out three consecutive times Friday night.
"I am thinking I have an opportunity to make up for that and be the hero," Galarraga said. "I don't think [Wohlers] was throwing as hard as he did the other night, but maybe I was concentrating better."
Said Baylor: "[Galarraga] is a free swinger. There's no way he can handle Wohlers up in the strike zone. If he throws 100 miles up, it feels like and looks like 110. We told Cat that if he's going to have any chance to get a hit, he has to look for a pitch down in the strike zone."
In his third appearance in four nights, Wohlers said he wasn't lighting up the speed gun but, "I thought I made a good pitch to Galarraga. He hit a ground ball and it found a hole. One foot to the right and the shortstop has it easy."
Castilla followed with a single to right for the seventh run. The third baseman had earlier hit a two-run homer off John Smoltz in the sixth to break a 5-5 tie. Smoltz, who had a 5-0 career record against the Rockies and a 5-1 record in the postseason, also yielded a two-run homer to Eric Young in the third. Both homers came on hanging sliders.
"The Rockies still have a big hurdle," Smoltz said, "but I feel like I opened the door for them a little. My percentage of bad pitches was very small but very painful. I didn't get the loss, but I feel like I deserved it."
Colorado starter Bill Swift, headed for postseason shoulder surgery like Saberhagen, provided another tenacious effort. The Braves came back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game in the fourth, but Swift was ahead, 5-3, when he left after a leadoff single by Ryan Klesko in the seventh.
The customary parade of Colorado relievers--Baylor has used 16 in the three games--began with Steve Reed and wound through the entire bullpen. The Braves closed to 5-4 in the seventh, then tied it in the ninth on a Klesko single off Bruce Ruffin, and two bloop hits by Javier Lopez and Luis Polonia off Darrin Holmes.
Rookie Mark Thompson retired the Braves in order in the 10th for the save.
Klesko, who butchered a catch-able Bichette single that prevented Smoltz from getting out of the sixth inning before Castilla's homer, emerged with a double and two singles, but fellow left-handers Fred McGriff and David Justice are a combined 5 for 22 in the series, and the Braves' offense has been concentrated in Marquis Grissom (6 for 16) and Chipper Jones (6 for 15).