Giants, Braves take center stage for Game 4

Giants, Braves take center stage for Game 4

Bobby Cox has experienced the heartbreak and the pain -- as well as the ultimate joy -- that is the Major League Baseball playoffs.

He knows how quickly one game can change the entire look of a best-of-five playoff series and how one swing of the bat -- like the dramatic two-run home run Eric Hinske hit in the eighth inning in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday night -- can energize an entire team and a city.

And he also knows those moments mean nothing if you can't finish the job. Cox hardly flinched Sunday when Hinske's two-run homer gave the Braves a 2-1 lead over the Giants, nor when the Braves coughed up the lead moments later by allowing two runs in the ninth inning in a 3-2 loss.

"We had this one won," Cox said.

Following three scintillating games in the NLDS, it's down to this for Cox, who will need his Braves to beat the Giants in today's Game 4 at Turner Field to keep his 29-year managerial career alive for at least one more day.

The Reds, meanwhile, were denied one more day when the Phillies captured their third straight victory on Sunday to advance to the NL Championship Series and prematurely end the Reds' first playoff journey in 15 years.

Now, the defending NLCS champion Phillies await results from Atlanta, where the Braves will look to force a Game 5 in San Francisco.

Giants at Braves, Game 4
7:30 p.m. ET, Turner Field

A case of the yips? Perhaps: Making his first playoff appearance, Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad has committed four errors in the first three games of the NLDS, including three errors in Sunday's game, one of which allowed the Giants to push across the winning run.

Conrad was forced into the starting lineup following injuries to third baseman Chipper Jones and second baseman Martin Prado late in the season. He was drafted by the Astros in 2001 and made his Major League debut with Oakland in 2008 before signing with the Braves.

Life after Billy the Kid: Takashi Saito has joined the Braves' NLDS roster in place of injured closer Billy Wagner, who injured his oblique Friday and is likely done for the season -- and perhaps even his career. Saito was activated for Sunday's Game 3 against the Giants.

Saito, 40, was originally left off the NLDS roster because of concerns about his right shoulder. In Wagner's absence, Cox said he plans to use a closer-by-committee approach that would employ Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan and possibly Kyle Farnsworth.

Rare feat: Giants outfielder Pat Burrell hit a three-run homer in the first inning Friday off Tommy Hanson to give the Giants a 3-0 lead. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other Giants player to hit a home run in the first inning of a playoff game played at home was Mel Ott in Game 1 of the 1933 World Series.

Burrell hit 20 homers in the regular season this year (two with the Rays and 18 with the Giants), but only one of them came in the first inning -- a solo shot off Philadelphia's Roy Oswalt on Aug. 17 at Citizens Bank Park.

Complete overhaul: The Braves' starting infield during the playoffs -- Derrek Lee at first, Conrad at second, Alex Gonzalez at shortstop and Omar Infante at third base -- looks nothing like it did at the start of the season, thanks to a rash of injuries.

The Braves began the year with Troy Glaus at first, Prado at second, Yunel Escobar at shortstop and Jones at third. Jones (ACL) and Prado (torn oblique) were injured late in the season and Escobar was traded for Gonzalez. Lee came over from the Cubs a week after the injury to Jones.

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