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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Updated: September 25, 5:34 PM ET
HOW TO WIN IN OCTOBER ... OR DIE TRYING

By Buster Olney

"I'm learning a lot about the 2008 playoffs tonight."

Moments of greatness are built with the blocks of preparation and the mortar of adjustment. And when Michael Barrett saw the biggest moment of his career rushing toward him, he was ready. The date was Oct. 1, 2007; the place was Coors Field. The Padres and Rockies were deadlocked after 162 games, and their one-and-done playoff, a seesaw battle that would be the best game of the month, had gone into extra innings. When Matt Holliday tagged up at third base in the bottom of the 13th, with the score tied 8-8, the game and the season came down to one play, one question: Could Barrett, the Padres' catcher, prevent Holliday from reaching home plate?

As rightfielder Brian Giles caught Jamey Carroll's line drive and fired a high-arcing but accurate throw, Barrett decided to goad Holliday into sliding. He knew that if he blocked the plate, the 235-pound Holliday would run him over. So Barrett set up in front, leaving an oasis of white. As the throw from Giles descended, Barrett intended to close off that target. "I felt like that was ouronly chance," he says.

The Padres, who'd already blown a two-run lead in the 13th, had this chance to survive because of plays the Rockies didn't make earlier, at the plate and on the bases. And Holliday had this shot at redemption only because Todd Helton did something he hadn't done all season, and because Colorado's relievers exploited San Diego's late-inning anxiety.

As Barrett expected, Holliday took the bait and started to slide, only headfirst. Barrett planted his left foot to the third-base side of the plate, blocking Holliday's extended hands, but the short-hop throw hit the catcher's glove and bounced away. While Barrett hustled to retrieve the ball, he saw umpire Tim McClelland extend his arms parallel to the ground. Safe! Holliday, chin bloodied, lay in a heap as his teammates celebrated their 9-8 victory. Barrett trudged back to the clubhouse and watched a replay. To him it was clear that Holliday never touched the dish. Barrett had done everything right, and yet it didn't matter. "It was like somebody punched me in the stomach," he says. "I lost my breath."

October can do that to you.