ATLANTA -- If the Atlanta Braves are really serious about the Indian motif, then they should give Mark Lemke a proper Indian name.
Little Big Man.
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 this year, came through with a sacrifice fly to right field and Lemke scored on a close play. Too close for catcher Brian Harper, who argued furiously that he had made the tag.
Right fielder Shane Mack caught the fly ball, and his throw was there with the runner, but umpire Terry Tata ruled that Harper touched Lemke with only his elbow, setting off the angry post-game debate.
"He hit him with his left elbow, but that was the only contact," Tata said. "Lemke got around him and got the plate with his hand. Harper never touched him with the glove."
It was the second significant 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.
"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."
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 Atlanta is in a position to take control of the Series if Tom Glavine can come back on three days' rest to win 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 a while."
The Twins had taken the 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 the Braves' Lonnie Smith tied the game in the bottom of the inning with his second home run in two days.
The game seemed headed for extra innings again when Lemke re-entered the picture. The triple was his fifth hit in 12 World Series at-bats (.417), and it would send Guthrie to his first postseason defeat, but not before Steve Bedrosian came on in relief and Willard came into a situation he could not have dreamed up any better.
"I just wanted to hit the ball hard and get the run in," said Willard, whose presence on the postseason roster was a surprise in itself. "He jammed me a little. I didn't hit the ball as hard as I would have liked, but it got the job done."
This was supposed to be a pitching duel between starters Jack Morris and John Smoltz, but it turned out that way only because both teams did everything possible to stay off the scoreboard in the early innings.
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 AL 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 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.