Braves walk off into NL Wild Card lead

Braves walk off into NL Wild Card lead

ATLANTA -- Braves manager Bobby Cox would have liked to travel a less-stressful road toward the postseason. But as he's come to find over the course of the past six months, his team seems to enjoy keeping things interesting before gaining the chance to celebrate.

The Braves still have plenty to prove over the course of this regular season's final week. But now that they're back home, they once again look like that never-say-die club that has habitually found a way to win in the late innings. Making sure that Tommy Hanson's strong effort didn't completely go to waste Monday night at Turner Field, Omar Infante delivered a two-out, walk-off single that gave the Braves a 2-1, 11-inning win over the Marlins and a chance to celebrate their Major League-best 25th last at-bat victory of the season.

"[Infante is] a gamer," Cox said. "This is the hardest-working team I've ever had, and he's one of the guys that is really into it every day."

Nate McLouth drew a leadoff walk in the 11th inning and advanced to second base on an Alex Gonzalez sacrifice bunt. Marlins right-hander Jose Veras then walked Rick Ankiel and uncorked a wild pitch before calming the threat with a strikeout of Freddie Freeman. That simply set the stage for Infante, who worked the count full and then sent his game-winner down the left-field line.

"He's the guy you want up in that situation," Braves catcher Brian McCann said of Infante, who has delivered both of his walk-off hits this year against the Marlins.

While the Braves celebrated just their second win in their past seven games, they couldn't overlook the fact that Martin Prado was forced to exit at the end of the fifth inning with a painful left hip pointer. It's an injury that could sideline the All-Star infielder for at least the remainder of the regular season.

"Prado is definitely going to be out a while," Cox said. "We'll see how it is."

Without Prado, the Braves will attempt to protect the half-game lead they regained in the National League Wild Card standings courtesy of the 1-0 loss the Padres suffered to the Cubs on Monday night.

The Braves will play two more games against the Marlins and then end the regular season with a three-game set against the Phillies, who clinched a fourth consecutive NL East title Monday night.

Prado was forced to exit at the end of the fifth inning with the hip injury that he seemingly incurred while leaping to his left to make a diving grab of Dan Uggla's fourth-inning liner. He landed on his hip again while making another diving attempt in the top of the fifth, and he exited in the bottom half of the inning when a swing proved too painful for him to continue playing. Prado fell to the ground almost as soon as he left the batter's box.

With Prado sidelined, the third-base duties will likely belong to Brooks Conrad, who nearly helped end this series opener without the need for extra innings. But his two-out eighth-inning double went to waste with Derrek Lee's inning-ending strikeout.

Eric Hinske's two-out single helped the Braves load the bases before Jason Heyward ended the ninth inning with a chopper back to the mound. Looking to make amends for his eighth-inning strikeout, Lee drilled a two-out fly ball that was caught along the warning track to end the 10th inning.

"We played a good game," McCann said. "Obviously we'd like to swing the bats a little better. But tonight our pitching staff did what they've done all season long -- they stepped up and pitched awesome. It was just an all-around great game tonight."

Hanson kept the Marlins scoreless while scattering three hits over the first seven innings. His shutout bid was nixed when Mike Stanton recorded a one-out, eighth-inning single, stole second base and scored on a one-out game-tying double that Brad Davis positioned in shallow left field just inside of the foul line.

While allowing just one run and five hits in 7 2/3 innings, Hanson was introduce to some familiar frustration. The 24-year-old hurler has recorded just three wins while posting a 2.51 ERA in the 17 starts he's made since the end of June.

"We've blown like six of his games and we've scored him barely any runs," Cox said. "He's a team guy. He understands. It doesn't matter."

Still, while the offense wasn't able to provide him some rare support, Hanson received some stellar defensive support in the fourth with Prado's leaping grab and Infante's ability to range far to his left to secure a Gaby Sanchez grounder before flipping to first base to conclude one of the four perfect innings recorded by Hanson.

McCann responded in the bottom half of the inning with his 21st homer of the season, which would serve as the only run Alex Sanabia allowed in his seven innings of work.

But the Braves, who have recorded a Major League-best .697 home winning percentage, once again managed to rekindle some of their late-inning Turner Field magic and enhance their playoff hopes.

"We pitch good here, and good pitching is going to give you a chance, if you're not scoring a lot of runs, to score late," Cox said. "We've won a ton of games in extra innings, the eighth inning and the ninth inning here."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.