Just in time, Andres Galarraga and the Atlanta Braves solved San Diego's pitching.
With the Braves facing elimination and trailing in the seventh inning, Atlanta rallied for six runs, capped by Galarraga's 459-foot grand slam, and beat the Padres 8-3 Sunday in Game 4 to avoid an unthinkable sweep in the NL championship series.After postseason hero Jim Leyritz hit a solo homer in the sixth that put the Padres ahead 3-2, Javy Lopez tied it with a leadoff home run in the seventh.
The Braves went on to load the bases with two outs before Galarraga, who had no RBIs and just one single in his 12 previous at-bats this series, unloaded. The Big Cat stood at home plate and watched his ball sail into the seats in left-center, hushing the crowd of 65,042 that had come to celebrate.
Ozzie Guillen, who started at shortstop because Atlanta manager Bobby Cox thought he could get something going, was on third base and turned to watch Galarraga's shot sail away. He threw his hands in the air as he headed for home.
Padres pitching proved to be mortal after all, from starter and loser Joey Hamilton to relievers Randy Myers and Dan Miceli, who allowed Galarraga's slam. Atlanta, batting just .200 in the first three games of the series, finished with 12 hits.
Even the Padres knew it wouldn't be that easy to sweep the Braves. Now, after a good effort from Denny Neagle, Atlanta will come back Monday night with the first of its Big Three pitchers.
John Smoltz will start for the Braves and the Padres will counter with Andy Ashby. Both pitchers got no-decisions in Game 1, a 3-2, 10-inning win for the Padres Wednesday night in Atlanta.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in playoff history. If the Braves can get past Monday night and take the series back to Atlanta, its other two Cy Young pitchers, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, will be ready to go.
Galarraga hit 44 homers this year, but only two in September and none in October until Sunday. His shot came on a 1-0 pitch off Miceli, who had come up big in clutch situations earlier in the playoffs.
Leyritz's one-out homer offNeagle put the Padres ahead. But Lopez, who hadn't driven in a run in the previous three games, hit Hamilton's first pitch of the seventh over the right-field fence.
The Braves chased Hamilton one batter later on Andruw Jones's infield single.
Left-hander Myers came on on got the first two outs, but then allowed an RBI single to Guillen, an infield single to Keith Lockhart and walked Chipper Jones to load the bases and bring on Miceli.
Coincidentally, the Padres acquired Myers in a waiver deal with Toronto on Aug. 6 in part to keep the Braves from getting him. Padres relievers had allowed just one run on eight hits in seven innings this series.
Atlanta's Dennis Martinez, 43, got the final out in the sixth with a runner on second to get the win.
It was only the second time the Padres gave up more than two runs in eight playoff games this year.
Leyritz hit his fourth homer this postseason, and pumped his fists as he rounded first. He has seven homers in 43 career postseason at-bats, and has seven RBIs in 16 at-bats in this year's playoffs.
San Diego went ahead 2-0 in the third on Tony Gwynn's two-out double and Leyritz's RBI single.
Lockhart, who was with the Padres part of the 1994 season, tripled leading off the fourth and scored on Chipper Jones' single to left.
The Braves tied it at 2 on Ryan Klesko's two-out single to left, his first RBI of the series.
Hamilton was making his first start of the playoffs after throwing 3 1-3 shutout innings of relief in two appearances in the division series.
Neagle hadn't started since Sept. 17. In his last appearance, he won in relief of Glavine against the New York Mets on Sept. 26, the second-to-last day of the season.
Notes: Galarraga's slam was the sixth in NLCS history and the first since St. Louis' Gary Gaetti hit one against the Braves on Oct. 10, 1996.