It is so sweet of the Atlanta Braves to do this for Major League Baseball.
Seeing as how they are America's Team and all, the Braves apparently feel compelled to give a jaded baseball nation thrills every time they step onto the field.
First came three straight ninth-inning comebacks against the Colorado Rockies in the first-round of the playoffs last week. You might think that was enough. You might say the Braves walked the tightrope long enough for the good of baseball.
You might be wrong.
The Braves did it again Tuesday night in an 11-inning 2-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the opener of the National League Championship Series.
Mike Devereaux, a defensive replacement for rightfielder David Justice, singled in the winning run with two outs in the 11th. The loss broke Cincinnati's eight-game post-season winning streak, dating back to the 1990 NLCS.
"We didn't steal anything," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We played good, we pitched good."
The Braves also had good timing. After flailing away for eight innings against Cincinnati starter Pete Schourek, Atlanta tied the score in the ninth for the fourth time in its past five games.
Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff led off the inning with singles, and Justice followed with a forceout that brought Jones home with the equalizer.
"I don't think you can be surprised by anything this team does anymore. We certainly don't seem to do anything easy," Braves starting pitcher Tom Glavine said. "As bad and as feeble as we look at times, there's something about the eighth or ninth inning that brings out the best in our guys."
The Reds left their best on the basepaths Tuesday night. Cincinnati had numerous opportunities to pad their lead during the game but failed to convert.
"We had plenty of guys in scoring position, but you still need a big hit," Reds manager Davey Johnson said. "We had the guys on base, and we had the hitters we wanted up. We just didn't get the job done."
That was most obvious in the bottom of the 11th.
Pinch-hitter Thomas Howard led off with a ground-rule double that bounced over the rightfield fence against Brad Clontz. Howard moved to third on Barry Larkin's groundout to second.
By now, Cox had brought in Steve Avery to pitch to Mariano Duncan. Normally a starter, Avery is working out of the bullpen in the post-season for Atlanta. He promptly walked Duncan on five pitches _ though Duncan had five walks in his past 265 at-bats.
"Avery's throwing the living dickens out of the ball. He just didn't get it across," Cox said. "I was looking for a strikeout there."
Cox didn't get his strikeout there, but he got something better on the next batter. With Reggie Sanders coming to the plate, Cox went with right-handed reliever Greg McMichael.
Sanders promptly hit into a game-ending 6-3 double play with a grounder to Rafael Belliard at short. It was the fifth double play of the game for the Reds, an NLCS record.
"Everybody has been talking about the Reds' defense," said Glavine. "I'll take our infield against anybody's. Lemmer (Mark Lemke) and (Jeff) Blauser up the middle are as good as anybody turning the double play. Especially in the big situation when you need to get it done."
Speaking of which, the Braves offense finally got it done for good in the 11th. McGriff drew a leadoff walk from reliever Mike Jackson and was sacrificed to second. Two outs later, Devereaux smacked a single to center to drive in McGriff.
Devereaux was a late-season acquisition from the Chicago White Sox to strengthen the Atlanta bench.
"I haven't come off the bench too much in my career," Devereaux said. "I knew I came here for a reason, and I wanted to concentrate on getting myself ready for these situations, coming on in late innings."
Devereaux was not the only late-inning hero. Braves reliever Mark Wohlers showed up in the ninth and 10th innings to keep the Reds at bay while his teammates did their thing.
Cox normally would not bring his closer in during a tied game, but said he went with Wohlers since the Braves were coming off a pair of off-days. All Wohlers did was retire six straight Reds in the 10th and 11th, with four strikeouts.
It all would have been moot if Schourek had one good inning left in him. The former New York Met threw eight innings of four-hit shutout ball before Jones and McGriff reached with their ninth-inning singles to set up the Justice RBI.
Reds pitchers had thrown only eight complete games this season, but Johnson stayed with Schourek because he had not thrown many pitches and the Braves had left-handed hitters coming up.
"Pete Schourek pitched a heck of a ballgame, and the guys coming up were guys you wanted him to face," Johnson said. "That's a tough lineup over there, and he pitched great."
While it is only one loss, it is a particularly difficult one for the Reds since they had a lead and were counting on Schourek to win at Riverfront, where he was 13-2 this season.
"We obviously need a win (tonight), because you can't afford to go 0-2 against Atlanta," Johnson said. "Especially at home."