The Braves looked like they were in trouble playing Houston on Tuesday night. Their NL East lead had shrunk to a game and a half to the surging Phillies and they were down 2-1 going into the ninth inning. Jair Jurrjens pitched a great game but three Atlanta errors led to two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and they looked like they were going to miss out on a chance to gain on the Phillies, who got whacked by the Dodgers. Fortunately, Jonny Venters did what he's done all year and put out the fire in the eighth to keep the game at one run.
And then Brooks Conrad came up in the ninth inning. Conrad had come in to spell Chipper Jones at third late in the game. Brooked Conrad has not shown himself to be much of a major league hitter. In 186 plate appearances, he's hit all of .214. He's a utility guy at best and at 30 years of age, doesn't figure to get much better or ever figure to be more than what he is. But if it's late in the game with the game on the line, you don't want to be facing Brooks Conrad. The .214 lifetime hitter has a 1.060 OPS in high leverage situations. He had won another game earlier in the year with a walk off grand slam. And with this game on the line against Matt Lindstrom, he followed an Alex Gonzalez single with a two runner homer to put his team ahead. Troy Glaus added a solo homer to give the Braves a two run cushion, but Conrad was the difference.
Billy Wagner threw a perfect ninth for the save and the Braves ended up picking up a game on the Phillies after all. The Braves' bullpen has been amazing. Wagner, who has said he will retire at the end of this season, is throwing as well as he has in his entire career. He is proving that behind Mariano Rivera, he's probably the second best closer who ever played that position. But Venters has been an amazing story. His submarine style is just killer and his season ERA now sits at 1.09 to go along with a 1.01 WHIP. It's hard to imagine where the Braves would be this season without him. His season reminds this old Fan of 1996 when Rivera pitched the eighth for the Yankees in setting up Wetteland. Venters doesn't throw as many innings as Rivera did that season, but he is certainly as effective.
And so, a super sub and a submariner led the way for the Braves and gave them a little bigger cushion in the NL East race.