In his wildest dreams, Luis Avilan never figured he would make his first mark in postseason play with his glove. The 24-year-old native of Venezuela is a gifted left-hander who throws 95 mph plus.
But with a 2-1 lead on the line in Game 2 of the division series, and the Dodgers threatening with runners on the corners and one out in the seventh inning, the Braves reliever nearly went to his knees to field a low liner back to the mound from Carl Crawford. He turned and fired toward second base to start a double play that changed the course of the game.
“That was the coolest moment of my life,” Avilan said. “That definitely beat my MLB debut.”
Avilan had to go to his back hand to make the play. The reliever, who gets only the occasional chance back to the mound, handled it coolly despite the circumstances – the stakes in the series and the screaming crowd of 48,966 at Turner Field.
But it wasn’t even the physical play that made the double play so incredible. It was Avilan’s split-second decision.
With a speedy leadoff man at the plate in Crawford, and the runner at third base - Skip Schumaker - taking off on contact, Braves catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Freddie Freeman were both calling for Avilan to throw home.
“Yeah, (McCann) called ‘4, 4, 4,’ but I knew that we had Simmons at shortstop with a good arm, so that was my first thought,” Avilan said.
It wasn’t Simmons’ first thought, though.
“I was hoping he’d go home,” Simmons said. “I know Crawford is running and I saw (Avilan) like catch it a little weird. So I was like ‘Oh, he’s going to make a bad throw if he turns, so just make the out at home.’ And he turned and I was like ‘Oh ok. Let’s do this.’”
Braves second baseman Elliot Johnson had been thinking Avilan should go home with the throw too. Ultimately though, Johnson had a pretty good view of as big an infield play as the Braves have made since Walt Weiss threw home to help the Braves out of a bases loaded jam in the 1999 division series.
“The safe play is just to get the out at home, but to try and turn it you’ve got to be perfect,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of things working in our favor because it jammed (Crawford) so bad that he’s got to complete his swing before he can start running. So that plays part of it. (But) what a great idea.”