ATLANTA — Billy Wagner’s career may be over.
Wagner, fifth all-time with 421 saves, was removed from the Braves’ NL division series roster before Game 3 on Sunday against the Giants because of a left oblique injury.
The Braves also announced Derek Lowe will start in Game 4 against the San Francisco Giants.
Wagner, who is retiring after the season, was hurt in the 10th inning of Friday night’s 5-4 win over the Giants.
Braves manager Bobby Cox said Wagner tried to throw “and he can’t go at all.”
The Braves replaced the 38-year-old Wagner with another veteran, right-hander Takashi Saito.
By replacing Wagner, the Braves will be without the left-hander for the remainder of the division series and, if they advance, the National League championship series.
Wagner would be eligible if the Braves play in the World Series. Until then, he can only cheer and wonder if he has appeared in his last game.
“It depends on my teammates now,” Wagner said Sunday. “If they can continue to do what they’ve been doing all year and get to the World Series, maybe I haven’t.”
Wagner was fifth in the NL with 37 saves this season.
He said he was given “a couple of injections” Sunday morning before trying to throw.
“It’s painful,” he said. “There’s just certain movements you can’t make.”
Added Wagner: “I was hoping for a miracle. ... In a couple weeks, maybe I’ll get better. Maybe I’ll get lucky.”
Wagner said he’s never had a similar injury and joked “I didn’t know you could pull fat.”
Wagner said he signed with the Braves “to go out and compete and have a chance to win a ring.
“Maybe it’s not going to happen the way I want it to, and that’s just life,” he said.
The decision to start Lowe on three days’ rest in Game 4 is not a big surprise. Cox initially said he would start Lowe or rookie Brandon Beachy, who pitched in only three games following his call-up late in the season.
Lowe pitched 5 1-3 innings in a 1-0 loss to the Giants in Thursday’s opening game.
“He should be good,” Cox said of Lowe. “He’s fired up about it. Even before we started these playoffs, he was politicking for Game 4, so he’s got it.”
Lowe acknowledged he made sure Cox knew his desire to start Monday’s game.
“I know they threw around a couple scenarios, and I just wanted to let him know that it wouldn’t be a problem,” Lowe said Sunday.
Saito was left off the Braves’ postseason roster because of a sore right shoulder. But he threw a scoreless inning in the instructional league and also threw on the side in San Francisco this week, convincing the Braves he is ready for postseason work.
“I feel bad for Billy, but I just have to be ready for whatever comes my way,” Saito said.
Cox said the 40-year-old Saito will have no limitations.
“Saito says he feels great, and we’re going to go with it,” Cox said.
“We’re like to get him in any type of game, I guess, but we may have to pitch him in a real important spot.”
Saito was 2-3 with a 2.83 ERA and one save this year.
After losing Wagner, Cox said he will monitor the matchups to determine how he uses his bullpen, especially late in games.
Two rookies — right-hander Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters — could be top contenders for the closing role in 2011.
Kimbrel, a hard-throwing right-hander, is 4-0 with a save. He boasts an impressive 0.44 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 20 2-3 innings. Venters is 4-4 with one save and a 1.95 ERA in 79 games.
Kyle Farnsworth took over for Wagner and earned the win on Friday. Peter Moylan, 6-2 with a 2.97 ERA and a save, also has been one of Cox’s most-trusted relievers.
“I mean, they’re throwing some pretty good arms at us,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Saturday.
“They have some good options over there. We know it.”
Meanwhile, Bochy started Mike Fontenot at third base instead of Pablo Sandoval, who was 1 for 6 with a walk in the first two games.
“I think it’s fair to say Pablo is searching a little bit with his swing, so we made a change,” Bochy said. “We did this a couple times late in the season.”