Avilan, Heyward come up clutch in pivotal seventh
Lefty reliever induces huge double play before J-Hey pads lead with two-run single
ATLANTA -- An alert fielder, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons saw the ball flash back to the mound in the seventh inning Friday night and immediately figured pitcher Luis Avilan would throw home. Considering the Braves were winning by one run in Game 2 of their National League Division Series against the Dodgers, cutting down the tying run at the plate seemed prudent.
Behind home plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann was screaming, "Four! Four! Four!" instructing his pitcher to throw home. As backup catcher Gerald Laird put it, "I think everyone in the whole stadium was yelling, "Four!"
But Avilan did not throw home. Instead, he whirled toward second base, where Simmons thought to himself: "Let's do this."
And so they did. Simmons received the throw, loitered around second base with Michael Young bearing down on him, and fired a strike across the diamond to double up Carl Crawford. The Braves then scored twice in a bizarre bottom of the inning to extend their lead, tightening their grip around a Game 2 that they went on to win, 4-3.
"That was the coolest moment of my life," Avilan said.
Within seconds, Avilan's double play transformed a once-dicey seventh inning in Atlanta's favor, just when the Dodgers seemed destined to take a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series. Trailing by a run, the Dodgers put their leadoff man on base against Mike Minor, sacrificed him to second, then caught a game-changing break when Luis Ayala missed first base on a would-be ground-ball out.
That brought up Crawford, prompting Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez to summon Avilan, his lefty magician. Quickly running up a two-strike count, Avilan threw a 94-mph fastball that Crawford grounded back to the mound with a fair bit of velocity. That's when McCann started screaming and Avilan started ignoring him, making the defining defensive play of Game 2.
"With that at-bat, we feel like Carl would put the ball in play somewhere," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We felt like if he got it on the ground, they're not going to get two unless it's just a bullet right at somebody. At that point, that's a big league play. Many times you'll see that guy not make that play.
"If everything doesn't really go perfect right there, they don't get Carl. If it's not a perfect throw to short -- Simmons, he makes a nice play and has a cannon. So they do everything right there."
In the bottom of the inning, things continued working against Mattingly when four Dodgers relievers combined to allow two hits, three walks and two runs before recording three outs. The defining decision came when Mattingly opted to intentionally walk right-handed pinch-hitter Reed Johnson, preferring to attack left-handed outfielder Jason Heyward with lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez. Heyward responded with a two-run single, all but putting the game out of reach.
And so the momentum turned, just as quickly as Avilan did on the mound in the seventh. For a Braves team that struggled defensively in Game 1, it was certainly the biggest of three double plays in Game 2, bringing the Braves right back into the series.
"He's got guts as big as anyone in the league," Laird said of Avilan. "It takes big guts to take that turn right there, and he did it."