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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Braves' Clutch King Lopez Beats Cards

ATLANTA -- Even before this game, Javy Lopez had secured his place in the rich, recent postseason history of the Atlanta Braves. He had three home runs last year, each one bigger than the next, all of which led the Braves to winning their first World Series since coming here from Milwaukee. He had another in Game 1 of this year's National League Division Series sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers.


Compared to those hits, Wednesday night's seemed almost minuscule. But it was just as important, a bases-loaded single that scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning that helped the Braves to a 4-2 victory over the pesky St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series before 48,686 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.


It came after Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa had intentionally walked pinch hitter Terry Pendleton with one out and runners on second and third.


The victory was secured when Braves reliever Mark Wohlers continued his own postseason perfection, with his fourth save in as many games.


It was the 15th victory for Atlanta in its last 18 postseason games and came on a night when Cy Young favorite John Smoltz quietly broke the league championship records for career strikeouts and innings pitched. Smoltz's first of six strikeouts broke the mark he had shared with Nolan Ryan and Jim Palmer, and his 54th inning of postseason work broke the record of Steve Carlton.


It ruined what had had the makings of a pretty good night for the Cardinals. After taking the lead on a triple by Brian Jordan and a wild pitch by Smoltz in the second inning, after tying the game at 2-2 with three straight singles off Smoltz in the seventh, St. Louis was shut down as Smoltz and Wohlers combined to retire the last nine Cardinals hitters. The winning runs came after Mark Lemke had walked to lead off the eighth, and Chipper Jones laid down a bunt.


Jones, who tied an NLCS record with a 4-for-4 performance on all singles, bunted off the plate. Relief pitcher Tony Fossas threw to second baseman Luis Alicea covering first, but Alicea dropped the ball. After Fossas got Fred McGriff to pop out to short, La Russa brought in T.J. Matthews. He intentionally walked Pendleton, and got to 0-2 on Lopez. But on the next pitch, Lopez did what he has made a living at -- getting big hits for the Braves.