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But after a double, an error and a walk, the lead was cut to 2-1. With two outs and the bases loaded, third-string catcher Francisco Cabrera lined a single to left field, and slow-footed Sid Bream was waved around from second with the winning run. Bonds had a chance to get Bream at home, but the throw was just up the line and Bream slid in just before the tag.

In the stands, former President Jimmy Carter high-fived everyone around him as the crowd of 51,000 in Atlanta celebrated one of the most improbable comebacks ever. The Pirates, meanwhile, went into a daze that has taken them two decades to escape.

Whether it ends any better this year may be decided before the playoffs even begin. No team needs the pressure of winning one game to move on after already playing a full season of 162, but the Pirates have history to beat, too.

A winning season is nice. But winning the NL Central may be the only thing that really matters.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or