Braves rally on Conrad's walk-off slam
Seven-run ninth nets Atlanta's third walk-off win in wild week
ATLANTA -- In a homestand where the improbable seemingly became possible, the Atlanta Braves saved their most improbable feat for last.
Pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad hit a one-out walk-off grand slam to cap off a seven-run ninth-inning rally to beat the Cincinnati Reds, 10-9, on Thursday afternoon at Turner Field.
The comeback was the largest in franchise history, marked only the 23rd time in baseball history that a walk-off grand slam overcame a three-run deficit and was only the second time it was done by a pinch-hitter.
Conrad, who came up with the Braves trailing, 9-6, was thinking anything but historic finish when he got into the batter's box to face Reds closer Francisco Cordero, who was second in the National League in saves and had successfully closed 13 of 15 previous attempts.
"Oh no, especially after I went up there with the wrong helmet on," said the 30-year-old switch-hitter. "I was on deck getting ready to face [left-hander Arthur] Rhodes and I ran in and had to change my shin guard and got my other bat but forgot to change my helmet. So I had to move past that pretty quick to get focused for that at-bat. I was just [hoping to] get something up in the air, try to keep the ball off the ground, try to stay out of the double play. He threw me some good pitches and I'm lucky it got up and [I] hit it far enough."
Whether he actually had the distance also was debatable, as the drive to left was deflected over the wall at the 380 mark in left-center-field by Reds left fielder Laynce Nix.
"I was rounding first, and from my angle, it looked like he brought it back," said Conrad. "I put my hands on my helmet, like, 'No way he brought that back. At least we got the sac fly.' Then the fans went crazy and they kept running around the bases. So I started sprinting to get to home plate as fast as I could. Talk about a change of emotion. Going from he caught it to winning the game with a walk-off is pretty cool."
Walk-off Grand Slams
Reliever Mike Lincoln had retired six consecutive hitters, and he was headed for what appeared an easy save. The Braves made sure it was anything but easy.
Back-to-back singles by Troy Glaus, his third of the game, and Eric Hinske opened the inning. Shortstop Yunel Escobar then hit a hard ground ball past shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
Nate McLouth's two-run single ended the day for Lincoln and brought in Nick Masset, the losing pitcher Wednesday night. Masset walked David Ross to reload the bases, then Martin Prado followed with what appeared to be a double-play grounder to third baseman Miguel Cairo.
But Cairo never got the ball out of his glove. Another run scored on Cincinnati's fourth error of the day.
"They gave us a couple opportunities there in the ninth," said Chipper Jones.
"The play to short and the play to third. You give good teams four and five outs in an inning and it usually costs you."
Fans at Turner Field expected Jason Heyward to collect, but Wednesday night's hero would strike out against veteran lefty Arthur Rhodes, setting up the showdown with Conrad.
That led to the pitching change, the helmet confusion and eventually, the 2-2 fastball that Conrad took over the wall -- or at least close enough to it before finding "a bridge" courtesy of Nix.
Craig Kimbrel pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his first Major League win for Atlanta. The rookie right-hander was the last of four Braves relievers, who limited Cincinnati to one run and five hits over the final 7 2/3 innings.
"Our bullpen did a pretty darn good job under real tough circumstances," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "[Jonny] Venters and [Jesse] Chavez are one- and two-inning guys, not three-plus inning guys, so we had to really piece it together and they held them."
The heroics of the unheralded members of the bullpen and the rally, which took place without either Jones or Brian McCann in the lineup after both had been removed with the game apparently out of hand, got starter Tommy Hanson off the hook. Hanson was roughed up for eight earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, the shortest start of his Major League career.
"Hanson was light-headed when he took the mound in the first inning for whatever reason and he could never get it going," said Cox. "We were trying to get him through at least three or four innings so we could go to the bullpen, but I had to go get him in the second inning."
Hanson hurt himself by allowing a two-out single to opposing pitcher Mike Leake, who had two hits on the day and is now hitting .353, and a walk that loaded the bases. The next seven batters reached, with six hits and a walk, including a Joey Votto grand slam and a two-run double by Nix that signaled the end of Hanson's day.
"I don't want to sit here and make excuses," said Hanson, who saw his ERA rise from 2.88 to 4.17 and has allowed 13 earned runs over his past two starts, covering 8 2/3 innings. "I've pitched sick before and did fine. Falling behind guys and not hitting my spots. Pretty much that's about it. I didn't do a good job of pitching today."
His Cincinnati counterpart, Leake, did. Leake appeared headed to 5-0, allowing three runs -- one earned -- on five hits, over six innings, striking out six and walking one. He also induced two double-play grounders, to get him out of jams in the fourth and fifth innings.
But sloppy defense and an improbable ninth inning changed that.
The win gave the Braves a 5-2 record in their seven-game, three-team homestand, while the Reds, who begin Interleague Play with a three-game weekend set in Cleveland, dropped their second in a row for the first time since May 2.
The last team to come back from a six-run deficit to win in the ninth was the Indians on May 25, 2009. They scored seven in the ninth to beat the Rays, 11-10. For the Braves, it's their largest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history. The largest ninth-inning comeback for any team in history is the Tigers on April 25, 1901. They scored 10 in the ninth to overcome a nine-run deficit against Milwaukee for the 14-13 win.
The Braves head to Pittsburgh for a weekend series brimming with confidence, knowing that anything is possible and from anyone.
"Let me tell you something. He might not look very big, but that's a strong kid right there," said Jones of Conrad. "I've seen him quick-snatch guys throwing 95 before. Home run, double, whatever, is not out of the question with Brooks Conrad. I wasn't really expecting [a grand slam] at that particular point, but I'll never doubt him again."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.