ATLANTA – No matter how many injuries they face, no matter how hopeless the situation seems, the Atlanta Braves are determined to put off Bobby Cox's retirement as long as possible.
Another player went down in Game 2 of the NL division series — and a mighty important one at that. But the Braves shrugged off the loss of closer Billy Wagner and got down to figuring how they can win an NL division series with the San Francisco Giants that is improbably tied at one game apiece.
Game 3 is Sunday afternoon before what should be a raucous sellout crowd at Turner Field, where the Braves put up the best home record in the majors during the regular season.
"We've been a team all year that just rolls with the punches," said 17-game winner Tim Hudson, who will start Sunday. "We still have to go out there and play. Injuries are part of the game and adversity is part of the game. We're not the most talented club, but I feel like we have the most heart and a lot of guts."
With his team getting home around 9 a.m. Atlanta time, Cox decided to skip the traditional off-day workout and let his players get some extra rest. That's probably for the best. The way things have gone for the Braves, someone might have gotten hurt.
Two key hitters, Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, are both out with season-ending injuries. So is starting pitcher Kris Medlen. Three other pitchers — Jair Jurrjens, Takashi Saito and Eric O'Flaherty — were left off the division series roster because of various ailments.
Now, the guy who saved 37 games during the regular season is likely to miss at least the rest of the division series. Wagner injured his left oblique on a fielding play in the 10th inning of Friday night's dramatic 5-4 victory that evened the series.
The Braves must decide if Wagner has a chance to come back in a week to pitch in the NL championship series — should Atlanta even get that far. If so, they'll likely keep him on the roster and use only 10 pitchers the rest of this series. If not, he'll be replaced by another pitcher, which would make the left-hander ineligible for the next round anyway.
Wagner will be re-examined before Game 3.
"We've got a tough decision to make," Cox said. "We've got a lot of talking to do."
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said he doesn't expect a drop-off from the Braves' bullpen even if Wagner is no longer available.
"They're throwing some pretty good arms at us," he said at Turner Field, where the Giants held a Saturday evening workout. "They have some good options over there. We know it."
The Giants will send Jonathan Sanchez (13-9) to the mound against Hudson. The San Francisco starter shouldn't be too nervous about pitching in such a crucial game, having gone last Sunday in a 3-0 shutout of San Diego that clinched the NL West title and avoided a three-team playoff.
"It's pretty much the same kind of game," Sanchez said. "I'm going to come with the same mentality — go out there and get people out."
Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who was struck on the right hand with a pitch in Game 2, didn't take batting practice but said he expects to play Sunday. He's been receiving treatment and took a few a swings in the clubhouse to test out his hand.
Saito, who was left off the Braves roster because of an ailing right shoulder, threw a scoreless inning in the instructional league and would appear to be the top candidate to replace Wagner. Jurrjens and veteran Scott Proctor, who spent most of the year at Triple-A, are also possibilities.
Cox said he can get by with 10 pitchers if necessary, especially with the emergence of rookie relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. Cox also has Peter Moylan and Kyle Farnsworth.
"We'll mix and match the seventh, eighth and nine innings," Cox said. "Whoever matches up those particular innings, that's who's going to be out there. We'll close with whomever. I've always thought Moylan could close, and Farnsworth has closed in the major leagues. Venters, no reason why he can't, as well as Kimbrel."
The bullpen — Hudson called it "pretty much our rock all year" — is a major reason this series is all even. Atlanta fell behind 4-0 in the first two innings against the Giants, and starter Tommy Hanson was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth. But six relievers — including another rookie, Mike Dunn — combined for seven scoreless innings while the Braves rallied to tie the game.
In the 11th, Rick Ankiel won it with a homer into the bay beyond the right-field wall at AT&T Park.
"That's what's been the difference, really," Bochy said. "Their bullpen has shut us down. We haven't been able to score off their pen, which is at the top with us as far as bullpens. And they're showing why."
Now, Cox's long managerial career is assured of lasting at least two more games.
He's sure enjoying the ride.
"That's why we're so proud of this team," Cox said. "They do bounce back."