ATLANTA — Left-handed batters hit a measly .131 against Dodgers left-handed reliever Paco Rodriguez this season, going 13-for-99. But when the Dodgers based some seventh-inning strategy on those numbers Friday night, Jason Heyward made them pay.
Trailing 2-1 with two out and Atlanta runners on second and third bases, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly ordered Rodriguez to intentionally walk right-handed pinch-hitter Reed Johnson to load the bases and set up a confrontation with the left-handed hitting Heyward.
“Play the match-ups. Play the match-ups. That’s what the postseason is about. You go lefty-lefty there,” Heyward said later, apparently unoffended by the strategy. “Me personally, I’m glad to have an opportunity to come through big for my team right there.
“Got a pitch, and I didn’t miss it.” Heyward — a .264 hitter this season vs. left-handed pitchers, compared to .250 against right-handers — drilled a two-run single up the middle, giving the Braves a 4-1 lead that proved to provide sufficient cushion for a 4-3 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS.
Heyward’s was one of three two-out RBI hits for the Braves in the game, following Andrelton Simmons’ double that scored a run in the second inning and Chris Johnson’s single that scored a run in the fourth. All of the Braves’ runs came with two out.
For his part, Mattingly said the decision to walk Johnson, a bench player, to face Heyward came down to “trusting Paco to do what he had to do. … Paco has been that guy all year long,” meaning a guy who gets left-handed hitters out.
Mattingly added, “Paco is a guy that pitches down and fits into Reed. We felt like Paco fits into Reed; he’s a guy we think gets Heyward out.” But not this time.
“Those add-on runs late were big,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
The next inning showed just how big: Braves reliever David Carpenter opened the eighth by issuing a leadoff walk and allowing a two-run homer down the left-field line to the next hitter, Hanley Ramirez. That quickly cut the Braves’ lead to 4-3, which held up as the final score because Carpenter struck out the next two hitters and Craig Kimbrel executed a four-out save despite walking two batters in the ninth.
Heyward’s hit was a reminder of the importance to the Braves’ lineup — and postseason chances — of his return to action from a broken jaw.
“I worked really hard to be in shape before my jaw actually healed so that I could play,” Heyward said. “I knew if I was going to step back on the field to help my teammates, I couldn’t think about my jaw or anything like that. Just get out there and go have some fun.”