Furcal has added incentive to keep playing

Updated: October 8, 2004, 9:14 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Rafael Furcal will spend three weeks in a cramped, windowless jail filled with about 70 inmates when the postseason ends for the Atlanta Braves.

Rafael Furcal
Atlanta Braves
143 14 59 103 29 .279

He will sleep on a bunk bed, eat three no-frills meals a day and share a shower and bathroom with the other inmates at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Ga.

Furcal is doing all he can to put that off for as long as possible.

"You can't think about the other stuff," the Atlanta shortstop said Friday, a day after his two-run homer in the 11th inning gave the Braves a 4-2 win over Houston in Game 2.

"If you think about that, it'll take you away from your job," Furcal said. "I never think about anything but trying to win the game."

The best-of-five NL playoff series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday, tied at a game apiece. Atlanta has the daunting challenge of playing twice at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros have won 18 straight games.

With the Astros on the verge of taking a commanding 2-0 lead back to Houston, Furcal and the Braves came up huge in the 11th.

Braves rookie Charles Thomas singled with one out off Dan Miceli and stole second. Eli Marrero popped out, but Furcal sent a 1-2 pitch deep into the right-field seats, flipping his bat in the air about halfway down to celebrate his first postseason homer.

It was only the second walk-off homer in Braves playoff history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Couldn't happen to a better kid under the circumstances," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "The situation he's been going through ... it was a really big lift for us; I think a really big, big lift for Raffy."

Said Furcal: "It was beautiful."

Furcal has more incentive than most to keep the Braves' postseason going: he'll be going to jail once it's all over.

Hours before Game 1 in Atlanta, Furcal was sentenced to 21 days in jail and 28 days in a treatment center for violating probation with his second drunken-driving arrest in four years.

He was ordered to remain in home confinement for the rest of the season. On the road, Furcal will be allowed to go only from the team hotel to the ballpark and back, with no stops in between.

But baseball is certainly a welcome diversion from what awaits him at the end of the season.

"You've got to go to home plate and forget about it,'' said Furcal, who had three hits and drove in three runs in Game 2. "I've got a job to do."

The day after the Braves' final game, Furcal will be required to report to the Cobb County jail by 5 p.m. He'll spent the next three weeks in a facility that holds more than 2,200 inmates in all and has few of the customary provisions for a jailed professional athlete.

"We don't have the luxury or space for a high-profile criminal," said Lynda Coker, Chief Deputy Sheriff of Cobb County. "He's going to do the same thing every other inmate does. This is not a Club Med."

Furcal's teammates have been surprised at his steadiness through a difficult -- and embarrassing -- time.

"We know it's really tough on him," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "But what he does in the playoffs will probably help him work through it. We're all pulling for him."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press