Just call him Nate McClutch.
The Braves center fielder, who was hitting a mere .138 with just one RBI all season, sure picked a good time to break out of his slump.
McLouth hit a leadoff 10th-inning solo blast against Jose Contreras to cap Atlanta’s stunning comeback 4-3 win over division rival Philadelphia.
The Braves have now won five of their last six games and find themselves in a first-place tie with the Phillies atop the National League East standings.
For McLouth, his heroics couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
This is the first walk-off home run he’s recorded at any level of ball he’s played in, from Little League up to the Majors.
McLouth got a chance to be a hero in the 10th thanks to back-to-back two out homers from Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward in the bottom of the ninth.
The Braves may have enjoyed other improbable comeback wins in the past, but this stunning turnaround is one of the most unpredictable and character building victories in team history.
For 8 2/3 innings, Atlanta only managed four hits and was an out away from being shutout.
Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, who was sporting an ugly 17.47 ERA this season, put the Braves offense on the defensive.
This isn’t the first time struggling pitchers have faced the Braves lineup and left the game looking like Cy Young.
The difference now is that this team didn’t fold.
Kendrick handed the ball to Ryan Madson in the ninth, who is filling in for the injured Brad Lidge at closer, and suddenly the Braves found new life.
Madson walked Chipper Jones with one out and then retired Brian McCann, which brought Troy Glaus to the plate.
The Braves fans’ new whipping boy, who again was the target of the hometown faithful’s wrath after committing a costly error earlier in the game, couldn’t possibly come through with two outs—could he?
Glaus smashed a two-run blast, sending a jolt through Turner Field and giving the Braves a sliver of hope.
While still down a run, the Braves turned to their No. 6 hitter in the lineup to keep the game alive.
On a normal night, that would be Yunel Escobar.
But, not on this night.
No, on this night, Bobby Cox adhered to the ongoing chatter of moving rookie stud Jason Heyward up from the seventh spot in the lineup.
So, there he was, “Joltin’ Jason” as some are now calling him—with a chance to tie the game, again.
If you remember, Heyward was the hero in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Rockies with a two-out, bases loaded single in the ninth.
No way he does it again, does he?
Heyward’s shot heard ’round the world tied the game and made Cox look like a managerial genius again.
From there, pandemonium ensued.
Jason Heyward found himself in the middle of two unlikely heroes.
Who would have thought Troy Glaus and Nate McLouth would deliver late-inning home runs, when they’ve been the subject of boos and ridicule all season long?
And, with each passing day, the legend that is the “J-Hey Kid” grows even larger.
For two straight games, the 20-year-old sensation has helped usher the Braves to back-to-back comeback victories.
He leads all major league rookies in home runs (four) and RBIs (16) by a large margin.
But, Heyward’s impact on the Braves is not just all in the numbers.
The electricity that he’s brought to the table has lit a fire under the entire team and has them playing their most inspired and exciting baseball since, well, 1991.
Yes, the year the Braves went from worst-to-first in their division and came within one win of being crowned World Champions.
That year began the rich, glory days of excellence that Atlanta had then enjoyed for 14 consecutive seasons.
But, that competitiveness and winning attitude that has been missing since 2006, appears to finally be resurfacing.
As I said yesterday, the Phillies know all too well what a young, rising superstar can bring to the clubhouse.
What Howard did for the Phillies when he came on the scene in 2005 is what Heyward is doing for the Braves in 2010.
Howard began a new era of winning baseball in Philadelphia.
And, now it seems Heyward is bringing that mantra back to Atlanta.
For those of you who would prefer to get Daria’s blogs by email for FREE, please click here. Then look for a verifying email from FeedBurner to start service.