PHILADELPHIA -- The first game of the National League Championship Series was a night of atonement, miracles and religious experiences, all felt by Philadelphia third baseman Kim Batiste, on the way to the Phillies' 4-3, 10-inning win over the Atlanta Braves.
Batiste stroked a one-out single down the left-field line to drive inJohn Kruk with the winning run last night and give the Phillies a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NL playoffs one inning after throwing a double-play grounder into right field and giving the Braves a chance to force extra innings.
Kruk had doubled to right just before Batiste came to the plate, giving the 25-year-old third baseman a chance for redemption.
"When I saw that ball [his throw] go to right, I thought, 'Oh God,' " saidBatiste. "And when I saw that ball go past third base [his hit], I thought, 'Thank you, Jesus.' "
Batiste entered the game in the ninth with Philadelphia leading 3-2as a defensive replacement at third.
With a man at first and none out, Mark Lemke hit a textbook two-hop double-play grounder to Batiste, the kind of play he no doubt has seen in his mind a million times and executed countless times on the field.
Except this time Batiste threw the ball into right field, moving Bill Pecota to third. Pecota scored two batters later on a ground out by Otis Nixon to tie the game.
"You can say a lot of things. Maybe I just rushed myself and that caused a bad throw," said Batiste. "I had a good grip."
But there was no time for self pity. The Philadelphia dugout, filled with some of baseball's most interesting characters, would see to that.
"With 20 guys cheering you on and encouraging, how could you not relax?" said Batiste.
"What can you say?" said Kruk. "We're not going to get down on him. He's won a lot of games for us and he was nervous. Heck, we were all nervous starting the game. Imagine what he feels like coming in the ninth inning."
"Every one was patting him on the back, telling him it was OK," said Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. "He went from goat to hero in a couple of innings."
Fortunately for the Phillies, Batiste's magic no doubt answered the prayers of 62,012 Veterans Stadium fans and came in time to put the Braves, looking to become the first NL team since divisional play was instituted in 1969 to win three straight pennants, back on their heels for the first time since they dropped the first game of the 1991 series to Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately for Phillies starter Curt Schilling, the hit came too late to help him win in his first postseason appearance.
Schilling (16-7), a former Orioles reliever who struck out 10 Braves, including the first five to set two LCS records, was sharp for eight innings, limiting Atlanta to seven hits and two runs.
Schilling, who was sent to Houston after the 1990 season in the ill-fated Glenn Davis trade, allowed just two hits and one RBI in 10 at-bats to Ron Gant, Fred McGriff and David Justice, who each hit 35 or more homers and drove in 100 runs apiece.
"I thought that one of the keys was keeping Gant, McGriff and Justice out of RBI situations, but even though I didn't keep Otis [Nixon] off all night, I thought I made good pitches to them," said Schilling.
Schilling, who left after eight innings and 136 pitches, wanted to continue, but Fregosi thought he had had enough.
"He's an outstanding competitor who likes to finish what he starts," said Fregosi. "He has prepared for this game. He studied all the films and changed some things that hurt him in the last game."
Indeed, Schilling was 0-2 against Atlanta with a 6.65 ERA this year. He was replaced by closer Mitch Williams, who gave Pecota a leadoff walk before Batiste's error, but held on to record the win.
Atlanta starter Steve Avery, who entered the game with a 3-1 record and a 2.96 ERA in four playoff starts over the past two years, hardly looked like the pitcher with the vast postseason experience.
Despite two hits to aid his own cause with a run scored, Avery (18-7) was off his game just enough to keep the Phillies in it.
Avery, one of baseball's best control pitchers, allowed what appeared to be the game-winning run to score in the sixth, when he threw a wild pitch, bringing home Kruk, after allowing a home run to Pete Incaviglia in the fourth.
"I thought on the whole, he pitched a great game," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. "He made a couple of bad pitches, like the 3-2 to Incaviglia which was right down the middle of the plate."
Cox said he expects more games like last night's in this series because both teams have great starting pitching.
If that's the case, then bet on the team that's getting a little help from up above.
Phillies first: Dykstra doubled to left-center. Duncan singled to center, Dykstra to third. Kruk grounded into fielder's choice, second baseman Lemke to shortstop Blauser, Dykstra scored, Duncan forced at second. Hollins grounded into double play, third baseman Pendleton to second baseman Lemke to first baseman McGriff. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Phillies 1, Braves 0.
Braves third: Berryhill flied to left fielder Incaviglia. Lemke popped to third baseman Hollins. Avery doubled down the left-field line. Nixon doubled to left, Avery scored. Blauser struck out. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Braves 1, Phillies 1.
Braves fourth: Gant walked. McGriff singled to right, Gant to third. Justice hit sacrifice fly to left fielder Incaviglia, Gant scored. Pendleton grounded into fielder's choice, shortstop Stocker to second baseman Duncan, McGriff forced at second. Berryhill struck out. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Braves 2, Phillies 1.
Phillies fourth: Hollins fouled to third baseman Pendleton. Daulton struck out. Incaviglia homered to center on 3-2 count. Chamberlain struck out. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Phillies 2, Braves 2.
Phillies sixth: Duncan flied to right fielder Justice. Kruk walked. Hollins doubled to right, Kruk to third. Daulton intentionally walked. On Avery's wild pitch, Kruk scored, Hollins to third, Daulton to second. Incaviglia struck out. Chamberlain intentionally walked. Stocker flied to center fielder Nixon. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 3 left on. Phillies 3, Braves 2.
Braves ninth: Mit. Williams pitching, batting seventh. Batiste to third base. Thompson to left field, batting sixth. Eisenreich to right field, batting ninth. Pecota, pinch hitting for Berryhill, walked. Lemke grounded into fielder's choice, third baseman Batiste to second baseman Duncan, Pecota safe at second. On third baseman Batiste's throwing error, Pecota to third. Tarasco ran for Lemke. Belliard, pinch hitting for Mercker, sacrificed, first baseman Kruk to second baseman Duncan, Tarasco to second. Nixon grounded to shortstop Stocker, Pecota scored. Blauser walked. Gant struck out. 1 run, 0 hits, 1 error, 2 left on. Braves 3, Phillies 3.
Phillies 10th: Duncan grounded to third baseman Pendleton. Kruk doubled to right. Batiste singled down the left-field line, Kruk scored. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Phillies 4, Braves 3.