ATLANTA -- The little guys did it again.
Atlanta Braves second baseman Mark Lemke, who had won Tuesday night's extra-inning marathon with a clutch single, delivered a long triple in the ninth inning last night and scored the deciding run in a 3-2 victory that evened the 88th World Series at two games apiece.
Lemke's towering fly ball off reliever Mark Guthrie short-hopped the left-field fence and set the stage for career understudy Jerry Willard to have his moment in the Series spotlight.
Willard, a backup catcher who appeared in just 17 regular season games for the Braves, came through with a sacrifice fly to right field and turned the Fall Classic into a best-of-three series.
But that depends on who you talk to. Right fielder Shane Mack caught the ball and threw a strike to catcher Brian Harper that appeared to beat Lemke to the plate, but umpire Tarry Tata ruled that Harper failed to tag with his mitt.
"I didn't get a real good jump," Lemke said. "I concentrated on not taking off too soon. We made contact with our shoulders, but he didn't get the glove on me. I know [Harper] was a little upset, but I saw the safe sign and I got out of there."
Harper flung his mask and mitt in disgust and several Twins complained as the Braves celebrated.
It was the second big umpiring dispute of the series, the first decision going to the Twins when Kent Hrbek apparently lifted Ron Gant off first base in Game 2 at the Metrodome. This one kept the game from going into extra innings for the second night in a row.
Somehow, the Braves found a way to get even in the series, even though they did everything they could to keep from winning. If Harper had gotten the call, Lemke would have been the third Braves base-runner to be thrown out at the plate. But he didn't, and they are in a position to take control of the series if Tom Glavine can come back on three days rest to defeat the Twins in Game 5 tonight.
The Braves never do it the easy way. They won Game 3 on a close play at the plate in the 12th inning. They won last night on an even closer one. Close play. Close game. It seems like the Braves way to play baseball in the postseason, for better or for worse.
"I think when you win a real close ballgame, it loosens up your team," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "It's better for your ballclub, but it might be better for the coaching staff if you won a blowout once in awhile."
The Twins had taken a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning on a bases-empty home run by Mike Pagliarulo, who was one of the heroes of the American League playoffs. But Lonnie Smith tied the game in the bottom of the inning with his second home run in two days.
If this was supposed to be a pitching duel between Jack Morris and John Smoltz, it only turned out that way because both teams did everything possible to stay off the scoreboard.
Morris was making his fourth start of the postseason. He worked seven innings and gave up two runs on five hits in a 5-2 victory in the World Series opener and defeated the Toronto Blue Jays twice in the American League Championship Series. But he has not overpowered anybody.
He won all three games, but he allowed 30 base-runners in 20 1/3 innings, leaving room to wonder if he would be resourceful enough to hold off the Braves offense the second time around. He was, but he couldn't have done it by himself.
The Twins had gotten a run in the second inning when Brian Harper lined a double to right that fell just out of the reach of a diving David Justice and Mike Pagliarulo delivered a run-scoring single to left.
Morris retired the first five batters he faced, but allowed five of the next seven to reach base. He worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the second before giving up a game-tying home run to Terry Pendleton in the third. Then he had to work out of a first-and-third jam to get out of that inning.
He got off cheap. The Braves had runners in scoring position in four straight innings, but they scored only on Pendleton's towering shot to right center.
What is a tag?
Did Twins catcher Brian Harper tag Braves runner Mark Lemke on the sacrifice fly that ended Game 4 of the World Series last night?
Plate umpire Terry Tata ruled that he did not.
The book "Official Baseball Rules" defines a tag on a non-force play as when the fielder is "touching a runner with the ball, or with his hand or glove holding the ball, while holding the ball securely and firmly in his hand or glove."
(Series tied, 2-2) Game 1 -- Minnesota 5, Atlanta 2
Game 2 -- Minnesota 3, Atlanta 2
Game 3 -- Atlanta 5, Minnesota 4
Yesterday -- Atlanta 3, Minnesota 2
Today -- Minnesota (Tapani 16-9) at Atlanta (Glavine 20-11), 8:26 p.m.
Saturday -- Atlanta at Minnesota, 8:26 p.m.
Sunday -- Atlanta at Minnesota, 8:40 p.m.*
* -- if necessary