ATLANTA -- The question lurking in the back of everyone's mind at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium last night was this: Would it be deja blew all over again for the rocky bullpen of the Colorado Rockies?
It surfaced as the Rockies took an early three-run lead on the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of their National League divisional series. It stayed there as the Braves, trailing by a run headed into the bottom of the ninth and looking to sweep the Rockies, tied the game.
But after blowing late leads in each of the first three games, one of Colorado's beleaguered relievers finally provided the right answer in an exhausting yet exhilarating 7-5, victory in 10 innings. After the Rockies pulled ahead with a two-out, two-run rally in the 10th off Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers, it was left up to Mark Thompson. The seventh pitcher and sixth reliever used last night by Rockies manager Don Baylor silenced the Braves and their crowd of 51,300. The rookie right-hander, who was not even listed in the team's postseason media guide, got the Braves out in order in the 10th.
When Fred McGriff's liner was snatched by Larry Walker for the final out, Thompson had his first major-league save and the Rockies had their first-ever postseason victory. The Rockies staved off elimination in the best-of-five series, forcing Game 4 tonight against three-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux.
"They've been this way all year," said Baylor. "They've battled back from a lot of adversity a lot of different times. It was kind of back-breaking for us in the ninth with the way they scored, then to have to face Wohlers after the way he blew us away the other night, but we came up big."
Three softly hit singles on 0-2 pitches in the bottom of the ninth had tied the game at 5. Two of them were nearly caught: one by Javy Lopez fell near the glove of a diving Walker in right and the other, by pinch hitter Luis Polonia, fell at the feet of Dante Bichette in left. They helped bring back nightmarish memories for Colorado.
So did the sight of Wohlers, whose 100-mph fastball produced back-to-back strikeouts to close out Game 2. But after getting the first two outs, Wohlers saw Bichette double and score on Walker's single. Back-to-back singles by Andres Galarraga, one of Wohlers' strikeout victims Wednesday in Denver, and Vinny Castilla, brought in the insurance run.
"We were in a tough position, but we came back," said Castilla.
It looked like it might be a routine win for the Rockies after Castilla's two-run home run in the sixth off Braves starter John Smoltz gave them a 5-3 lead. They had led 3-0 after Eric Young's two-run shot off Smoltz in the third.
But nothing is routine for the Rockies these days. They watched the Braves erase their early deficit with a three-run fourth, pull to within 5-4 in the seventh and tie the game in the ninth.
"It looked to me like there was nothing we could do to stop them," said Bichette.
But Thompson, 24, who was added to the postseason roster only after starter Marvin Freeman was injured, did just that.
"You've got to turn to someone and I'm just glad he turned to me," Thompson said of Baylor. "With a two-run lead, it took a little of the pressure off. I'm happy I could help this team."