Willie Harris grew up in Cairo, Ga. loving the Braves. After Harris delivered the decisive two-run single in the six-run ninth inning that gave the Mets an incredible win over the Cardinals Thursday afternoon, he instantly became a beloved figure in Braves Nation.
Before Thursday, Harris was known in Braves lore as the guy who matched a team record while recording six hits (using a giveaway bat) in a July 21, 2007 win over the Cardinals. Four years later, Braves fans really only care about one of the 20 hits he has recorded in his career against the Cardinals.
Harris started the miraculous ninth inning with a walk and capped it with the two-run single that allowed the Braves to exhale and regain a little cushion with six games remaining in the regular season.
Had the Cardinals preserved the four-run lead they carried into Thursday’s ninth inning, they would have drawn within one game of the top spot in the National League Wild Card standings. It would have marked the first time since June 26 that a team had drawn this close to the Braves in this race.
But with Harris delivering the crushing blow after another former Brave Rafael Furcal committed the crucial error, the Braves gained a two-game lead with just six games to play.
The difference between a one-game and two-game lead at this stage seems significant, especially for the Braves, who have lost 13 of their past 20 games.
They have looked nothing like a playoff club over the past few weeks. But now that they have been given Thursday’s gift, it once again looks like they will be competing in the playoffs.
But these final six games against the Nationals and Phillies could prove to be a challenge.
The Nationals have won 10 of their last 12 games and as you know Nationals Park has not exactly been friendly to the Braves. They have won 13 of 33 games played in this park and just six of the past 15.
The Nationals are coming off a four-game sweep of the Phillies, who have lost six straight. While the Phils might back their starting pitchers down next week, you have to think they will also be trying to carry some kind of momentum toward the postseason.
TIDBITS: If the Braves and Cardinals have identical records at the end of the regular season, a one-game playoff would be played in St. Louis to determine which team gets the Wild Card entry.
By the time Harris addressed the media after Thursday’s game, he had already received a congratulatory text from Braves first base base coach Terry Pendleton.
Keeping things short today. The radar does not look encouraging tonight. But then again, it didn’t look good in Philadelphia a few weeks ago when the Braves and Phillies played all three games with just a couple pregame delays.
Check braves.com later for details about how Tommy Hanson felt during this afternoon’s Instructional League Game.