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Furcal keeps focus amid adversity

HOUSTON — Rafael Furcal will spend three weeks in a cramped, windowless jail filled with about 70 inmates when the postseason ends for the Atlanta Braves.

He will sleep on a bunk bed, eat three no-frills meals a day and share a shower and bathroom with the other inmates at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Ga.

Furcal is doing all he can to put that off for as long as possible.

"You can't think about the other stuff," the Atlanta shortstop said Friday, a day after his two-run homer in the 11th inning gave the Braves a 4-2 win over Houston in Game 2.

"If you think about that, it'll take you away from your job," Furcal said. "I never think about anything but trying to win the game."

The best-of-five NL playoff series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday, tied at a game apiece. Atlanta has the daunting challenge of playing twice at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros have won 18 straight games.

With the Astros on the verge of taking a commanding 2-0 lead back to Houston, Furcal and the Braves came up huge in the 11th.

Braves rookie Charles Thomas singled with one out off Dan Miceli and stole second. Eli Marrero popped out, but Furcal sent a 1-2 pitch deep into the right-field seats, flipping his bat in the air about halfway down to celebrate his first postseason homer.

It was only the second walk-off homer in Braves playoff history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Couldn't happen to a better kid under the circumstances," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "The situation he's been going through ... it was a really big lift for us; I think a really big, big lift for Raffy."

Said Furcal: "It was beautiful."

Furcal has more incentive than most to keep the Braves' postseason going: he'll be going to jail once it's all over.

Hours before Game 1 in Atlanta, Furcal was sentenced to 21 days in jail and 28 days in a treatment center for violating probation with his second drunken-driving arrest in four years.

He was ordered to remain in home confinement for the rest of the season. On the road, Furcal will be allowed to go only from the team hotel to the ballpark and back, with no stops in between.

But baseball is certainly a welcome diversion from what awaits him at the end of the season.

"You've got to go to home plate and forget about it," said Furcal, who had three hits and drove in three runs in Game 2. "I've got a job to do."

The day after the Braves' final game, Furcal will be required to report to the Cobb County jail by 5 p.m. He'll spent the next three weeks in a facility that holds more than 2,200 inmates in all and has few of the customary provisions for a jailed professional athlete.

"We don't have the luxury or space for a high-profile criminal," said Lynda Coker, Chief Deputy Sheriff of Cobb County. "He's going to do the same thing every other inmate does. This is not a Club Med."

Furcal's teammates have been surprised at his steadiness through a difficult — and embarrassing — time.

"We know it's really tough on him," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "But what he does in the playoffs will probably help him work through it. We're all pulling for him."

Hoping to inch closer to its first playoff series win in 42 years of existence, Houston will send Brandon Backe to the mound against Atlanta's John Thomson.

A day removed from the devastating defeat in Atlanta, Houston remained positive and confident about its chances in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park. The Astros haven't lost at their ballpark since Aug. 22 against the Chicago Cubs, when they were 61-62 and appeared to be long shots for a wild-card berth.

"The way we've been playing at home, getting a split in Atlanta should put us in a great spot," outfielder Jason Lane said. "If we'd have known going in we were coming out with a split, we'd have been happy with it."

Backe, who got the sixth win of his career in the Astros' wild card-clinching victory in the regular-season finale, was eager to make his postseason debut before a hometown crowd.

The 26-year-old Backe grew up in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas, about 50 miles south of Houston. As a teenager, Backe agonized through his favorite team's repeated postseason failures against Atlanta.

"When they lost, I was a little kid and I was devastated," Backe said. "So I certainly don't want it to happen now that I'm on the team. Hopefully, we can pull it off."

The Braves believe they've seized the momentum in the series after coming extremely close to a two-game deficit.

"(Furcal's) home run gave us a big lift and it must have hurt the Astros," Jones said. "They had that game and we stole it from them."