ATLANTA -- The box score says John Smoltz and Brad Lidge did not figure in this Game 2 thriller.
That box score is a liar.
Typical of the "win-at-all-costs" mind-set that the Astros and Braves carried into their National League Division Series, Houston closer Lidge and Braves stopper Smoltz went the distance -- and then some -- in a game finally decided by Rafael Furcal's 11th-inning home run.
"With the day off [Friday], everybody knew the rules were off," said Braves closer and postseason sage Smoltz, savoring Atlanta's 4-2 walk-off win on Thursday. "The only thing that messed me up was getting that hit."
Again, whatever it takes.
For Lidge, it meant struggling through 2 2/3 innings and throwing 39 pitches, the most since he needed 41 pitches to notch a two-inning save at Los Angeles on July 9. This time, he allowed the Braves to tie the game but dodged enough trouble to keep them from going ahead.
For Smoltz, it meant working three innings, through the end of the 10th, and throwing a whopping 45 pitches, the last of which blazed past a helpless Jason Lane at 97 mph. It meant holding down the fort and giving the Atlanta offense a shot.
It even meant chipping in some offense of his own.
Battle of the closers
So there was Smoltz in the batter's box, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single to right field off Lidge. With the game tied at 2 and only Eli Marrero left on Cox's bench, Smoltz was an unlikely potential winning run.
"When I was standing on first, I was thinking about what I could do," Smoltz said. "I already played out in my mind what was going to happen."
He wasn't thinking of stealing second base, was he?
"That's what happens with my crazy mind," Smoltz said, smiling. "My better sense comes about when I'm out of fantasy land, I think about doing the fundamentals."
Lidge, who was forced to bend but never broke, stubbornly stranded Smoltz at third base. So in the top of the 10th inning, out went the 37-year-old Smoltz, who along with Yankee-turned-Astro Andy Pettitte has 13 career wins in the playoffs, most all-time.
Smoltz had 44 saves this season, 15 of more than one inning, including four that went a full two innings. He had never gone three until Thursday, when he finished his third inning of work with authority, preserving the 2-2 tie by striking out Lane with the go-ahead run at second base.
"He just doesn't give in," Lane said. "I had a slider I probably could have done something with but I fouled it off. Once I got down, he threw a pitcher's pitch and just locked me up."
John Smoltz / P
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Smoltz finally made way for Antonio Alfonseca in the 11th. In three innings Smoltz held Houston hitless, walked two and struck out three. Furcal delivered the game-winning blow in the bottom of the 11th.
"The three innings is not a big deal," Smoltz said. "But the adrenaline and the intensity I had standing on second base, I can't even tell you. I hadn't been there for a long time, and I thought I was going to be the winning run. I didn't even want another inning. I was doing everything in my mind to figure out, 'How are we going to score this run?'
"This is different. When you win, you get that boost of adrenaline. I'm not physically tired as much as mentally."
Will he be ready for Game 3?
"You deal with either the stupidity or the machismo later," Smoltz said. "You don't think of anything else. If you're sore, it doesn't matter. If you're tired, it doesn't matter. If the mind-set is, 'You're going to get it done,' rather than, 'How are you going to get it done?' you'll be successful more times than not."
Smoltz has been successful more often than not in his career. Lidge has been watching.
Brad Lidge / P
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"He didn't give up any runs and I did," the 27-year-old Lidge said. "The bottom line is that. As well as he did, I would have liked to do that, too. He's obviously a premier closer in this league and he's a guy that I want to become. He's kind of one of my role models."
The admiration was mutual.
"A lot of people talked about my slider for a long time, but that slider there is about as nasty as it gets," Smoltz said. "It's hard. It's sharp. There's a new age of future closers that are going to dominate this game for a while, [Minnesota's Joe] Nathan and Lidge and [Los Angeles' Eric] Gagne. ... The future's bright for a lot of these young guys."
Lidge emerged as a force after the Astros traded Octavio Dotel to land center fielder Carlos Beltran in late June. He converted 29 saves with one of baseball's most dominating sliders, but never worked more than two innings in any of them.
On Thursday, Lidge came on with a runner at first, one out in the seventh inning and the Astros clinging to a 2-1 lead.
"We don't want to give this game away and save somebody else for Saturday," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "So this is very, very important. I feel like Lidge has been so good that you can put him in there."
The runner, Furcal, stole second and scurried to third on a throwing error by catcher Raul Chavez. But Furcal was then tagged out at the plate by Lidge, trying to score on a ball that scuttled away from Chavez.
Lidge could not avoid similar damage in the eighth, when Adam LaRoche lined a run-scoring double that knotted the game and ultimately forced extra innings.
"It was one of those games where you have to be perfect," Lidge said. "I was happy to get out of the seventh, and I came back in the eighth and wasn't as sharp as I should have been."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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