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10/11/10 12:48 AM ET

Giants playing with house money in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Simple arithmetic now favors the Giants, as their best-of-five National League Division Series against the Braves has reached what could be its final game.

After coming from behind to swipe Game 4 on Sunday, 3-2, to take a 2-1 lead in the series, the Giants have two chances to ascend to the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2002, this time against the two-time defending NL champion Phillies.

The Braves are now on a day-to-day basis. Win Game 4 on Monday night at Turner Field (7:30 ET on TBS), and they'll push the series to a climactic Game 5 on Wednesday night in San Francisco. In any event, either game could be the last in the 29-year managerial career of 69-year-old Bobby Cox, who is retiring at the end of this postseason run -- win or lose.

"There's still plenty to play for," Braves first baseman Derrek Lee said after the game. "It seems like we play much better with our backs to the wall."

Be forewarned, though. Teams taking a 2-1 lead in NLDS play have won the series 15 of 16 times since the Wild Card and three-tiered playoff format were adopted in 1995.

"It feels good," Giants infielder Mike Fontenot said. "It definitely feels good. We wanted to come in here and try to get things done, and we came up with a big one tonight. We're definitely looking forward to tomorrow."

Derek Lowe, the 1-0 loser in Game 1, will try to cover Atlanta's backs on Monday. San Francisco opted to go with rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner and save Game 1 winner Tim Lincecum for a fifth game, if there is one. If the Giants win out on Monday, they'll have Lincecum bright and fresh for the start of the NL Championship Series next Saturday night in Philadelphia.

In that case, Lincecum will be pitching on eight days' rest. If there's a Game 5 in this series, he'll have a full complement of five days off after striking out 14 in a two-hit shutout on Thursday.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after Monday night's game that it was a no-brainer to go with Bumgarner because his club is now seemingly in control of the series.

"He's done a great job for us since he's come up," Bochy said of Bumgarner, who was 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts. "He's 21 years old, but the way he handles himself, you wouldn't know it. He's got great poise out there and good stuff. We have all the confidence in the world that Madison will go out there and give us everything he's got.

"The kid has no fear. He'll go out there and compete."

Lowe, in contrast, is a veteran of high-pressure postseason games and will be pitching on three days' rest, a process he's had no problem with in the past.

When the 2004 Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Lowe started Game 4 at Fenway Park on Oct. 17, and was the starter again on two days' rest in Game 7 at the old Yankee Stadium on Oct. 20. Lowe was not the pitcher of record as the Red Sox won Game 4, 6-4, in 12 innings. He did get the win in Game 7 when Boston built a 6-0 lead in the second inning and won, 10-3.

In the 2008 NL Championship Series for the Dodgers against the Phillies, Lowe was the Game 1 starter on Oct. 9 at Philadelphia, and went again on three days' rest on Oct. 13 at Dodger Stadium. Lowe took a 3-2 loss in Game 1, and he was not the pitcher of record as the Dodgers dropped Game 4 by a 7-5 score. The Dodgers ultimately lost the series in five games.

"This time of year, your adrenaline kicks in," said Lowe, who was 16-12 with a 4.00 ERA in 33 regular-season starts in 2010. "I'll make myself available for Game 5 if there's one. I've done it before. You can't really explain how your body is able to bounce back, knowing what's on the line.

"You set your mind because this is what you want to do. You have a workout program all year long, not just to get you through the regular season, but to get you through the World Series."

The only team to rebound from a 2-1 deficit to win an NLDS was the 2002 Giants. They lost Game 3, 10-2, at home, but notched an 8-3 win in Game 4 to force a fifth game back in Atlanta, where they beat the Braves, 3-1, to take the series.

Those Giants ultimately lost the World Series to the Angels in seven games.

The Braves haven't won a playoff series since sweeping the Astros in the 2001 NLDS. They haven't won an NLCS since beating the Mets in 1999. Their previous appearance before this season was an '05 loss to the Astros in the NLDS.

"We're not going to back off," Braves left fielder Matt Diaz said. "We want to make it our business to send this series back to San Francisco. All we have to do is win once to take it back that far."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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