Braves outfielder Rick Ankiel follows through on his home-run swing in… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)
Reporting from San Francisco — Rick Ankiel made his postseason debut against the Atlanta Braves. He was a kid, and a wild one. He walked six batters and threw five wild pitches, all before the third inning was over. Soon after, so was his pitching career.
It is 10 years later. Ankiel, then a St. Louis Cardinal, plays for the Braves now. He is a 31-year-old outfielder.
And he has left his mark on the postseason again, this time as a hero.
Ankiel hit a home run into San Francisco Bay late Friday night, an 11th-inning shot that lifted the Braves to a 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
"The biggest homer of my career, by far," Ankiel said. "I wanted to go from the batter's box to the dugout. I didn't want to run the bases."
The best-of-five National League division series is tied, 1-1, with Game 3 Sunday in Atlanta.
The Braves lost closer Billy Wagner, for the rest of this series and possibly for the postseason, because of a strained oblique muscle. He plans to retire after the season, so the career of the seven-time All-Star might have ended with the injury.
Wagner said he hoped to return by the World Series, if the Braves get there.
"If I can't pitch and that's it, it stinks," Wagner said. "Our team is not done. I'm here to help in any way possible and enjoy the ride."
The Giants blew a 4-0 lead, after scoring all four runs in the first two innings. They loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, but Buster Posey grounded into a double play.
As Ankiel started his home-run trot, he extended his right arm in triumph. The ball carried beyond the bleachers, the second time a postseason home run has landed in the bay. Barry Bonds hit the other one, off Chuck Finley of the Cardinals in 2002.
After the game, the Braves treated Ankiel to a shaving cream pie, so creamy that Ankiel still wore its remnants to a subsequent news conference.
It took one decade, one position switch and one big swing to turn Ankiel from October goat to October hero.
"It's been a long, fun journey," he said. "I appreciate everything that's happened."
Chipper Jones, the injured Braves star, relished how the label of postseason failure had been forever removed from Ankiel's legacy.
"It's awesome," Jones said. "It really is, how things come full circle. He had a bad taste in his mouth.
"Trust me -- I was in the batter's box against him in that series, and it was not fun. The guy is a remarkable athlete. He's got a huge heart.
"He's here. He's back in the playoffs, and he's a hero for the Braves."
Ankiel never would have gotten his chance had the Giants bullpen delivered as advertised.
Turns out this Mariano Rivera stuff isn't so easy, this routine of the closer getting extra outs in October.
The Giants led, 4-1, with six outs to go, set up for Sergio Romo to work the eighth inning and closer Brian Wilson the ninth. But Romo gave up back-to-back singles and Giants Manager Bruce Bochy summoned Wilson.
"Sometimes the save can be in the eighth inning," Bochy said.
The Braves scored one run on an error by third baseman Pablo Sandoval. One out later, Alex Gonzalez redirected a 97-mph fastball into the left-center-field gap, a double that scored two runs and tied the score, 4-4.
For Wilson, that is one postseason appearance, and one blown save.
The game also featured what has become the obligatory postseason umpiring controversy.
In the second inning, Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff appeared to pull his foot off the bag, but umpire Paul Emmel called an out. Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox got himself ejected, after hurling his cap to the ground and reminding Emmel that his blown call at second base on Thursday had paved the way for the Giants to score the winning run.
"I brought that up," Cox said.