10/05/2002 10:27 pm ET
Castilla, Lockhart hack away
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones barely moved their bats. Vinny Castilla and Keith Lockhart arrived in the batter's box swinging.
In all cases, though, those Braves hitters made the right choices during the game-turning sixth inning of their 10-2 victory Saturday over San Francisco in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
First San Francisco starter Jason Schmidt walked Sheffield and the Joneses, then Castilla greeted reliever Manny Aybar with a two-run single and Lockhart knocked a three-run homer -- both on first pitches. The well-thought approaches by the five players helped put the Braves a victory away from clinching the best-of-5 series going into Sunday's Game 4 at Pacific Bell Park.
Such well-planned hitting is one of many reasons Atlanta is going for its 10th appearance in the last 11 National League Championship Series. Saturday's game-breaking single was especially sweet for the veteran Castilla, who also knocked a home run in Thursday's Game 2 Atlanta victory. Castilla is batting .364 (4-for-11) with a homer and three RBIs.
In 10 playoff games with Colorado (1995), Houston (2001) and Atlanta he is batting .378 with five homers and 10 RBIs, but he has never been a part of a series winner -- partly because his teams were facing the Braves.
"It feels great when you win; nothing compares," said Castilla, who also made what he thought was the play of the game when he started a grab-tag-and-throw double play that helped pull winning pitcher Greg Maddux out of the first inning. "It's a great ballclub. We've got weapons everywhere."
Those weapons were as dangerous when they didn't fire as when they did.
Before the big inning, the score was tied, 1-1, and the Braves were doing precious little against Schmidt. In fact, the sixth started with more of the same. Julio Franco was the victim of Schmidt's fifth strikeout, all against different Braves hitters.
With swinging being a less-than-attractive proposition, the Braves simply stopped. Experienced hitters deciding to keep their bats quiet against Schmidt could be the key to the Braves continuing a quiet consistency that thus far has gotten to nine of the last 10 NL Championship Series.
"We were just trying to score runs, however we could," said Sheffield, who started the rally with a five-pitch walk, during which he swung only at Schmidt's second pitch. "The key thing was we were trying to get guys on base. When you crowd the bases up, you have to go to the hitter. We did that and scored a lot of runs."
Schmidt's upper-90s fastball early in the game impressed Chipper Jones, but something else encouraged him.
"I looked up in about the third inning and he was already up to 60 pitches," said Jones, who didn't move the bat from his shoulders while Schmidt threw a first-pitch strike, then missed four times. "I thought if we could get him up over 100 pitches by the fifth or sixth inning, we might be able to do something with him."
Andruw Jones thought he'd be the one to do it. He sat on Schmidt's slider and fouled off three pitches before getting on base the easy way -- by taking balls 3 and 4.
So manager Dusty Baker sent Schmidt off for a hot shower and placed himself onto the hot seat by bringing in Aybar. Baker's feeling was Aybar's sinker and the fact Castilla had grounded into 22 double plays during the regular season was a fine combination for the Giants. Plus, Castilla finished the year .207 with the bases loaded.
However, during the regular season, Castilla put 140 first pitches into play with considerable success --.377 with half of his 12 home runs and 23 of his 61 RBIs. Plus, opposing hitters were 5-for-10 when they put the first pitch into play against Aybar.
Aybar's first pitch was good, but that simply meant it was good for the Braves.
"I'm a swinger," Castilla said. "I'm a hacker. Every time I go to hit, I'm a guy who's not going to take a lot of pitches."
Lockhart stayed away from first pitches for the most part, and batted .154 when he did swing at them during the regular season. But he did his best Castilla imitation, and wound up giving the Braves a 6-1 lead on the first pitch he saw from Aybar.
"I just walked into it," Lockhart said. "Guys asked me on the bench [what pitch he hit] and I don't even know. It's just the way it worked out.
"It's pretty amazing. There was no game plan."
Swinging or not, having a plan or not, it all worked out for Atlanta.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.