ATLANTA -- The show of hands of all those who thought Danny Jackson would bail out the Philadelphia Phillies at the most critical juncture of their season could not have been a large one.
Jackson had been kicked around Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium the last time he made a National League Championship Series start last year for Pittsburgh.
But the 31-year-old left-hander, who won just one game after Aug. 24, came up large at precisely the right moment last night, beating the Braves, 2-1, to tie the NLCS at two games each.
"The media made me focus tonight," said Jackson. "They never gave me a chance and kept bringing up last year and September. [Atlanta starter John] Smoltz had a similar record, but I never had a chance. I just let my pitching do the talking."
In the process, Jackson ensured that the NLCS, which had seemed on the verge of being over after the Braves plastered Philadelphia pitching for 23 runs in games 2 and 3, will go back to the City of Brotherly Love Wednesday for Game 6.
"Danny pitched a great game," Philadelphia manager Jim Fregosi said. "He made the pitches when he had to. His stuff was good. He gave us all he had."
"This is a huge lift for us," said closer Mitch Williams, who earned the save with his usual high-wire act. "Danny goes out and pitches 7 2/3 innings and pitches tough. Curt Schilling [today's Game 5 starter] sees that and hopefully we can get a win before we go home."
Smoltz, who like Jackson had a poor September, lowered his lifetime postseason ERA to 1.93 and struck out 10, but also took his first loss in five playoff and World Series starts.
"He [Jackson] can't tell me he wasn't going to be motivated regardless [of the media]," said Smoltz. "Danny Jackson has been there before. He's pitched a lot of big games. This was probably one of his biggest, and he pitched a good one."
Smoltz set an NLCS career strikeout mark, and would have been good enough on most nights to get a win, especially when Philadelphia batters stranded a playoff-record 15 runners.
But after second baseman Mark Lemke's seemingly harmless error that allowed Darren Daulton to reach in the fourth, Smoltz gave up a double to Milt Thompson, a sacrifice fly to Kevin Stocker, and then -- the most galling of all -- a game-winning RBI single to Jackson, who had previously gone 0-for-11 in the postseason with nine strikeouts, covering four LCS.
Jackson said: "I was pretty lucky. I just swung and his fastball hit my bat and I hit it up the middle."
For Smoltz, that was the capper to a string of tough performances. In his past five starts, the 25-year-old right-hander was 2-1, but with an ERA of 5.06. And he had lost his last three decisions to the Phillies with an ERA of 6.26.
"I've had a lot of these games. Sooner or later, I'm going to win these 1-0 games," said Smoltz. "I've had this happen a lot and things don't always work out the way I'd like it to. I just control one thing. I try to control how hard they hit the ball and I try to go after a team and put us in a position to win."
Smoltz actually did just that, but the Braves, who had scored a record 23 runs in the previous two games, had their chances in each of the last three innings, but could not push across a run.
In the Atlanta seventh, Jackson squirmed his way out of a potential jam, with a big assist from first-base umpire Jerry Crawford.
Francisco Cabrera, the hero of last year's NLCS, got a pinch-hit single to center to lead off the inning. Deion Sanders came in to run for Cabrera, bringing center fielder Otis Nixon to the plate.
Nixon dropped a bunt just to the first-base side of the pitcher's mound, which first baseman John Kruk ran to field. The ball dropped out of Kruk's glove and he hurried a throw to second baseman Mickey Morandini, who was covering the bag. Nixon appeared to clearly beat the throw, but Crawford called Nixon out, to the protest of Nixon, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox and the crowd of 52,032.
The eighth inning was nearly as frustrating as Thompson's leaping catch at the left-field wall stranded two runners.
"I got a good read on the ball, knew it was hit well, and just went back to the warning track," said Thompson, whom Fregosi left in for defensive purposes rather than pinch hit for him against a left-hander in the seventh. "When I got to the warning track, I knew I had about 2 1/2 steps left. I concentrated on catching the ball, knowing I was going to hit the wall. At that point, instincts took over."
But Atlanta's biggest missed opportunity was in the ninth, when with Williams on, the Braves got the tying run to second with no outs and couldn't score.
Pinch hitter Bill Pecota led off the inning with a single. Then Williams attempted to barehand Nixon's bunt and throw out Pecota, but dropped the ball and retired no one.
Shortstop Jeff Blauser then came to the plate, trying to move the runners up for the heart of the order. Blauser's bunt fell to the third-base side of the infield and Williams pounced on it, forcing Pecota with an off-balance throw that nearly pulled Kim Batiste off the bag.
"When Jim [Fregosi] came out, I told Batty [Batiste] that Blauser was going to bunt over there and if he did I was coming, and he had to be ready," said Williams. "Batty made a great play because I didn't make a good throw."
The next batter, Ron Gant, then grounded weakly to second, where Morandini stepped on the bag, then threw out Gant to end the game and send 52,032 tomahawk choppers home without a chance to celebrate a pennant-clinching on their field.
And all because of a journeyman left-hander named Jackson, a top pitcher in the late '80s who has spent much of the time since nursing various pulls and inflammations.
Cox said: "That was the best I've seen him throw the ball since he pitched for Kansas City in the American League. He had a good fastball and slider. He pitched a strong game."
NL PLAYOFFS TODAY
(Series tied, 2-2)
Site: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
Time: 3:07 p.m.
Phillies starter: Curt Schilling (0-0, 2.25 in NLCS)
Braves starter: Steve Avery (0-0, 4.50 in NLCS)
TV: Channels 11, 9
% Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)