Braves go on HR binge, chop down Pirates, 10-3

October 13, 1991|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Correspondent

ATLANTA -- The fans chopped away with their tomahawks for the first time in postseason play at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium yesterday.

And the Braves joined in the festivities by cutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-3, to take control of the National League Championship Series.

It was the first postseason victory at home by the Braves' franchise since Milwaukee won Game 2 of the 1958 World Series, and it gave Atlanta a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven series with the next two games here. The Pirates have not won at this stadium all season.

Right-hander John Smoltz was the beneficiary of the first outpouring of offense by his team, which batted .197 with two extra-base hits while gaining a fortunate split of the first two games in Pittsburgh.

The Braves scored their first six runs with two outs, had seven extra-base hits and routed 20-game winner John Smiley.

"Our guys just keep coming to the top," said Smoltz, who was 12-2 with a 2.63 ERA in the second half of the regular season after consulting psychologist Jack Llewellyn.

"This doesn't surprise me because we're a very explosive ballclub, just like the Pirates are," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox.

Atlanta smothered Smiley with three doubles and a two-run homer by Greg Olson in succession with two out in the first inning.

"I hadn't hit one since mid-August," said Olson, who was celebrating his sixth wedding anniversary. "You get that tingling feeling. You hardly feel your feet hit the ground."

That outburst more than countered a home run leading off the game by Orlando Merced, the 13th player to homer in his first postseason at-bat. It came on Smoltz's first pitch.

"I was just concentrating on throwing strikes," said Smoltz. "And he came up there and killed it. I just said, 'Wow.' It was kind of a rude awakening."

But in the bottom of the inning, after Smiley had retired two batters, Ron Gant doubled into the gap and David Justice tied the game with a double down the left-field line on a 3-2 pitch.

Brian Hunter knocked home Justice with another double to left, and Olson followed with a home run to start the Braves toward their seventh straight home-field victory over the Pirates.

With the sellout crowd of 50,905 droning on and waving their foam tomahawks, the Braves never relented.

Smoltz left after 6 1/3 innings with a 6-3 lead. He had just allowed a homer to Jay Bell after becoming the first National League pitcher to steal a base in the championship series in the previous inning.

Mike Stanton got out of that jam, but the Pirates mounted a major threat in the eighth to bring on Alejandro Pena, the Braves' closer since he was acquired from the New York Mets on Aug. 29.

Pena came in with the bases loaded and one out with Merced at the plate. He threw fastball after fastball, got Merced to foul out to Olson on a 3-1 count, then struck out Bell with the help of an appealed strike call on a 2-0 delivery.

Merced had the homer and Bell had three hits in the game to that point.

"When I come in, I'm not trying to think about who's hot," said Pena, now 13-for-13 in save opportunities since joining Atlanta. "I just go out there with my best stuff and throw it."

Pena retired the Pirates' big three -- Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds -- in order in the ninth, ending their futility.

"I know the fans help us relax," said Pena. "That's a great thing they do with the tomahawk."

"Anybody who says that doesn't affect you is probably lying to you," said Smoltz of the continual chopping.

The Braves added the exclamation point in bottom of the eighth after the Pirates' big opportunity had fizzled.

With Rosario Rodriguez on the mound, Olson and Mark Lemke walked and Rafael Belliard moved them along with a sacrifice bunt. It wasn't necessary.

Another former Pirate, Sid Bream, followed with a three-run homer to right, the third homer of the game by Atlanta. Gant had connected with the bases empty in the seventh.

Smoltz said he was ready to leave the game. He had trouble with a double-jointed problem in his shoulder earlier.

He is "very loose-jointed to begin with. It's not real big thing. It just causes me to take longer between pitches. Today, I was just a little tight."

"This is the first time this year that he couldn't get it back in the socket or whatever he does," said Olson. "Usually, he can throw a couple of pitches and it will pop back in. But he was having trouble this time."

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