10/08/2004 10:50 AM ET
Press Row: Can you hear me now?
Braves rally to even series with Astros
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Phones, freedom and stayin' alive were the prominent themes the media focused on after the Braves rallied to tie their National League Division Series with the Astros on Thursday evening.
On television, the broadcasters were talking about how quiet the crowd was at The Ted and how equally quiet the Atlanta dugout was heading into the latter stages of the game. While Rafael Furcal's game-winning homer changed that, it didn't keep some critics silent, as evidenced by the words of Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune.
"It would be incorrect to suggest this unlikely 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros sent tremors around the National League, much less the Majors," Rogers wrote. "Gone are the days when the Braves scare anyone. But when the outside world's measuring stick is the World Series, not divisional dominance, it is fairly important to get past the first round.
"Atlanta hasn't done that since 2001 and was on the verge of falling into a 2-0 hole to Houston. No wonder Furcal called this 'a great game' for the franchise that has won 13 consecutive division titles."
Before the game, there was talk of "the same old Braves" -- win the division then wilt in the playoffs. Even former Braves ace Tom Glavine told MLB.com that another playoff exit was probably on the minds of most of his old teammates.
But Furcal changed that. That he could have been in jail rather than on the field, the result of a recent DUI arrest, also made for interesting fodder. Furcal will begin serving his sentence once the Braves' season is over, so he not only gave Atlanta life, he gave himself a few more days of freedom, as noted by David Barron of the Houston Chronicle.
"More than any member of the Atlanta Braves, Rafael Furcal has a vested interest in postseason performance," Barron writes. "And at least for one night, he might have given himself something to think about away from the ballpark other than his legal problems.
"By excelling under difficult circumstances, albeit of his own doing, Furcal has contributed to a Braves team that exhibits the sort of intensity Atlanta has infrequently required in past playoff games with the Astros."
Ray Glier of The New York Times summed it all up very neatly, presenting the plights of Furcal and the Braves in as simple a manner as possible.
"Rafael Furcal could be in jail. Instead, Furcal, the Atlanta Braves' shortstop, was at Turner Field on Thursday sparking an Atlanta Braves team desperate to avoid another October disappointment."
Some folks chose to ride Houston manager Phil Garner for mismanaging his bullpen in this one, which led to the Braves tying the score and sending the game to extra innings in the first place. New York Daily News columnist Lisa Olsen pointed out, perhaps, there was some subterfuge at work after Garner intimated that the phone to the bullpen in the visitors dugout just didn't work when he needed it.
"You know how frustrating those land line phones can be, all static and dead air," Olsen writes. "Swear on Nolan Ryan's dirty socks, Garner tried to call his Houston bullpen in the seventh inning against the Braves, after it became clear Astros starter Roy Oswalt was tiring. But the dang phone just beeped and beeped and beeped and beeped, until Garner had no choice but to stroll leisurely around Turner Field, stalling for time and waiting for either the repairman or Catherine Zeta-Jones to appear. At least that's the story Garner is sticking to, no matter how loudly Bobby Cox grumbles."
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark also found Garner's phone habits, as well as his use of the bullpen, peculiar.
"His official story was that he'd been trying to phone the bullpen to see if his closer was ready, but he kept getting a busy signal," Stark wrote. "The Braves' official story was that he was just stalling to give a ninth-inning pitcher more time to get loose enough to become a seventh-inning pitcher.
"But at this point, we don't care what really happened, or who was telling the truth. We don't even care if it turns out the phone was disconnected because the Braves didn't pay their phone bill. What we care about was that there was one out in the seventh inning, and the manager was bringing in his closer.
"Apparently, Phil Garner didn't care that his good friend, Ron Gardenhire, had just finished getting skewered on talk shows all across America for asking his closer (Joe Nathan) to go three innings in a Twins-Yankees playoff game the night before. Because Garner wasn't just asking Brad Lidge to be his own setup man in this game. He was asking Brad Lidge to become his set up man's setup man."
Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice also took exception with Garner, not for his inability to dial a phone but for going to his closer in the seventh inning.
"He never had used Lidge in the seventh inning of a save situation.
"He had used Lidge in the seventh just once, that during a loss to Atlanta on Aug. 5. Lidge went 1 2/3 innings that night.
"Even worse, Lidge hadn't pitched more than two innings since May 2003, when he was the setup man for Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner.
"Maybe Garner thought the playoffs would be a good time to experiment."
As for the other National League Division Series, regarding one of the big stories coming out of St. Louis this week -- Milton Bradley dropping a racial slur on a reporter from The Los Angeles Times -- William Rhoden, a columnist from The New York Times, had this to say.
"The reporter, who lost his cool in St. Louis, has to step back outside the bars that separate journalist from athlete. He might heed some advice from [Kobe] Bryant, who has had an intense and not always pleasant relationship with the news media. 'There are more important things in life to worry about than worrying about what somebody said about you,' Bryant said. 'Especially if it's not true.'
"It has been a bizarre 12 days. Pedro Martínez calls the Yankees his daddy and Milton Bradley calls a reporter an uncle.
"Who says we don't cherish family values in sports?"
|Rafael Furcal ensured Atlanta wouldn't go to Houston on the brink of elimination. (Ric Feld/AP)
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.