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World Series 2001
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10/22/2001 05:29 AM ET
Franco nearly changed Game 5 outcome
By Matthew Leach
Franco's fourth-inning home run tied the score at one and nearly changed the Game 5 outcome.
Franco's homer: 56k | 300k

ATLANTA -- Two feet. That's all that separated Julio Franco from the front page of the sports section. If only Franco's hot shot in the fifth inning on Sunday night had gone anywhere but right at Tony Womack. Then the Braves and Diamondbacks would be heading back to Phoenix for another game, and Franco would have been the star of the show.

Instead, the potential hit was an actual force out, and Atlanta lost to Arizona 3-2. The Diamondbacks won the National League Championship Series four games to one, and they're headed to the World Series. The Braves are done for the year, and their first baseman's improbable return to the Majors may be over after 25 regular-season games and eight playoff contests.

But even without official unlikely-hero status, Franco was the Braves' best player in Game 5. He drove in both of Atlanta's runs. He remained one of the team's few steady defenders. When it looked like the Braves were entirely dead to rights, he brought the team -- and the Turner Field crowd -- back to life with a game-tying homer. He singled to keep their last rally alive.

"I just told him face-to-face how much he meant to us. I don't know if we'd get to the playoffs without him. He's been a great defender at first, and really helped with the lumber."

--Braves Manager Bobby Cox, on Julio Franco

Down three games to one and facing Randy Johnson, who had dominated them in Game 1 of the series, Atlanta fell into a hole in the top of the fourth. The D-Backs pushed across a single run on two singles and two walks against Tom Glavine. In most cases, a 1-0 deficit in the fourth inning is no big deal. Against the Big Unit, when almost no one gave them a chance before the game, it was a cavern to climb out of.

But there was Franco in the bottom of the inning. Just a few minutes after Danny Bautista's RBI single, the veteran (who may be 40, or may be 43) lifted a 1-1 pitch from Johnson just over the 390 sign in right field. In an instant, Atlanta seemed to have a chance again.

"It was a fastball on the first pitch," Franco said. "Then he came back with the same pitch. I just made good contact."

It may have been that simple in the batter's box, but the result was enormous. Turner Field, which had nearly 15,000 empty seats, sprung to life. But the heart of the Braves' order couldn't grab the lead. Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan struck out, and Andruw Jones popped up to first base.

Franco came through again three innings later. Facing a 3-1 deficit, with chants of "Ju-li-o" ringing through the previously staid stands at the Ted, Franco laced a single to center to pull Atlanta within one. Chipper Jones walked after that, but once again Jordan came up short. Where the Joneses and Jordan couldn't come through, the veteran of the Mexican League produced -- like he has done for most of his brief tenure with the Braves.


"I just told him face-to-face how much he meant to us," Braves Manager Bobby Cox said after the game. "I don't know if we'd get to the playoffs without him. He's been a great defender at first, and really helped with the lumber. He's a solid hitter."

Unfortunately, Franco didn't get a hand from the rest of the Atlanta lineup. He had two RBIs, but for Atlanta to win, he needed at least one more. And he had the chance.

The Braves loaded the bases in the fifth on a pair of singles and an error, bringing Franco back to the plate with two down. He hit the ball hard, like he did nearly all night. But Womack, the Diamondbacks' shortstop, made the play, and tossed to second baseman Craig Counsell for the force.

"He probably hit the hardest ball of the night right at Womack with the bases loaded," Cox said. "That killed us. That ball was scalded."

If only it had gone somewhere else ...

"I hit that ball hard," Franco said. "It's the only thing you can do with that ball. If I hit the ball two feet either way, it's a base hit."

... and he's a hero. Instead, he's more likely to be a footnote, a guy whose name makes you smile 10 years from now when you read retrospectives of this series.

"They brought me here to hit," Franco said, "but that doesn't matter. We didn't win."

Matthew Leach is editor-at-large for