Unsung star to throw swing game
Sosa's first career postseason start is pivotal point in series
HOUSTON -- Unsung heroes have emerged out of the Braves' Minor League system all season, as evidenced by Jeff Francoeur being a National League Rookie of the Year candidate and 21-year-old Brian McCann belting a three-run homer off Roger Clemens in Game 2 of the NL Division Series on Thursday night.
As significant as the rookies have been for Atlanta this season, you can make an argument that no first-year Brave has contributed more than Jorge Sosa.
With little fanfare, Sosa has simply solidified a rotation that was blitzed by injuries. Essentially, the 27-year-old right-hander filled the void created when Mike Hampton went down.
Tossed into the rotation after being a reliever, Sosa finished with a 13-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 44 games. The Braves went 15-4 in games Sosa started.
Because of his solid season, manager Bobby Cox is starting Sosa in Game 3 of the NL Division Series with the Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. The Astros are countering with Roy Oswalt, who boasts a 20-12 record.
"He's meant everything, really, ever since he went into the rotation," Cox said. "We got him as a power reliever. We had too many starters go down."
At one stretch, Hampton, Tim Hudson and John Thomson were on the disabled list at the same time. If Sosa hadn't stepped in and stepped up, Cox isn't so sure the Braves could have held together enough to go on and win their 14th straight division title.
"Without him, we wouldn't have recovered, I don't think," Cox said. "He pitched like a guy that was in the rotation, one of those guys making, you know, $7-$8 million."
On a staff anchored by front-line starters John Smoltz and Hudson, Sosa tends to get overlooked. Yet Smoltz and Hudson each won 14, while Sosa had 13.
Away from home, Sosa has literally been perfect. His 9-0 road record, with a 1.82 ERA, is proof. It's the best road winning percentage of any pitcher in the Majors with 10 or more starts. Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals was 12-1 away.
The only starter with a better road ERA than Sosa is Clemens' 1.32.
"I was concentrating on the road, pitching good," Sosa said through a translator Friday. "At home, I was trying to do the same as pitching on the road. I was trying to pitch on the road the way my pitching coach [Leo Mazzone] was telling me."
Whatever the secret for his road success, it worked. The Braves are hoping the right-hander continues his road success in a series tied at 1-1.
Sosa also may have an advantage in the fact he hasn't faced the Astros this season.
"It's not so much that they have an advantage," Sosa said. "Maybe we have an advantage or I have an advantage because they haven't seen me pitch. ... Tomorrow I'm going to pitch and do what I have to do."
Obtained at the end of Spring Training from Tampa Bay for fan favorite Nick Green, Sosa was brought in to add a power arm to the bullpen.
Now he's found success taking the ball every fifth day. As a starter, he's 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA. While he has a career-high 134 innings pitched, Sosa showed no signs of slowing down the final month, posting a 4-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in September.
Sosa's success is just the latest example of a pitcher with less than sterling credentials flourishing when they don a Braves uniform. One previous example is Jaret Wright, who rebounded from an injury-riddled career to win 15 games in 2004.
Now Sosa has logged 13 wins when he never previously won more than five. Even that year wasn't particularly rewarding, as Sosa went 5-12 with a 4.62 ERA for the Devil Rays in 2003.
Astros manager Phil Garner knows the difficulties of replacing starting pitching with quality starting pitching.
"You can always get somebody to throw, but to get them to perform well, I think we've done a good job," Garner said. "I tip my hat to the Atlanta Braves. They're in very much the same situation we are. Fourteen times in a row they've won the division, and they've had a different cast of characters doing it. ... Sosa, he's certainly done a fine job."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.