Giants 3, Braves 1
-- Barry Bonds finally got to the second act of the baseball playoffs tonight, and he brought the San Francisco Giants with him. Bonds led off the fourth inning with a home run and scored the game's first two runs -- which proved to be decisive -- as the Giants held off the Atlanta Braves, 3-1, in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
"We had so many moments by so many players I'm kind of in shock," said Bonds, who homered three times in the series but continued to hear criticism of his poor postseason numbers. "I've never been past the first round."
San Francisco, which begins the next round of the playoffs on Wednesday in St. Louis, became the fifth team in six years to celebrate an October postseason series win at Turner Field.
"I've seen a lot of celebrations in that dugout," Bonds said. "They're a class act and a class organization, and that's why they've been as successful as they've been over the last decade."
The Giants rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the series, beating Tom Glavine on Sunday in San Francisco and Kevin Millwood (1-1) tonight. On Sunday, Livan Hernandez shut down the Braves. Tonight, Russ Ortiz won his second game of the series.
But Bonds was the catalyst.
"He was focused," San Francisco Manager Dusty Baker said. "I just knew and prayed that Barry would have a great series and he did. He hit the ball a lot harder than his stats indicate."
Bonds hit .294 in the series, with four RBI. His performance comes on the heels of a regular season in which he hit a career-best .370, which led the major leagues.
As great as Bonds has been, he hardly won the decisive Game 5 on his own.
Ortiz (2-0) pitched 5 1/3 strong innings for the Giants and Robb Nen earned his second save of the series, but only after striking out Gary Sheffield and forcing Chipper Jones to hit into a game-ending double play.
"Russ Ortiz was so big for us in this series, just like Livan was [in Game 4]," Bonds said.
The Braves, who won the NL East by 19 games, will spend another winter ruminating over a postseason meltdown. Atlanta has won 11 straight division titles -- unprecedented in American professional sports -- but have only the 1995 World Series title to show for five seasons of 100 or more victories and five more in which they had at least 90.
Turner Field has hardly been a safe harbor since the Braves detonated Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and moved across the street in 1997. Florida and San Diego each won a decisive NLCS Game 6 in the ballpark's first two years, and Arizona advanced to last year's World Series with a Game 5 victory.
"I thought we had our chances," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "We had our 3-4-5 hitters coming up [in the ninth], but Nen pitched good. We had a tremendous year. We pitched good, our bullpen pitched good and we missed out going to the NLCS by one swing of the bat."
The Giants have not won an NLCS since 1989, four years before Bonds left Pittsburgh to sign a free-agent contract with San Francisco.
Bonds advanced to the NLCS for the first time in 10 years. He and the Pirates played in three straight, but Cincinnati eliminated them in 1990 and Atlanta took Game 7 victories in 1991 and '92 -- the latter ending with Francisco Cabrera's game-winning RBI scoring Sid Bream from second after Bonds's throw from left field arrived a split-second late.
Ortiz, who allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings of the Giants' 8-5 victory in Game 1, held Atlanta hitless until one out in the fourth.
The 28-year-old right-hander saved his best work for the fifth, when he forced Jones into a fielder's choice groundout to escape a bases-loaded jam.
Ortiz, starting on four days rest, was pulled after Vinny Castilla singled his 95th pitch into center and moved Andruw Jones to second. Mark DeRosa's single off Aaron Fultz, who relieved Ortiz, cut the Giants' lead to 2-1.
The Giants got their third run in the seventh when they loaded the bases with no outs off left-hander Mike Remlinger, but settled for only one run when Kenny Lofton hit a sacrifice fly off Darren Holmes.