Braves' run at home is smash hit 14-5 win means Atlanta can lower curtain tomorrow

October 25, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves were growing tired of the late nights and the last-minute heroics, not that they hadn't enjoyed their heart-stopping victories in games 3 and 4 of the 88th World Series.

But they had been waiting a long time to prove that they can swing something other than those silly little foam-rubber tomahawks, and last night they finally did.

Right fielder David Justice drove in five runs and the unlikeliest hero -- platoon second baseman Mark Lemke -- had two more triples and three RBI, as the Braves battered the Twins, 14-5, before a sellout crowd of 50,878 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The Twins will have to wait at least until next year to get their first road win in World Series play since Walter Johnson won one for their ancestors, the Washington Senators, in 1925, but they can make history repeat itself if they can win their remaining two games at home.

They lost all three road games in the 1987 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and went on to win their first world championship since the old Senators moved to Minnesota. But that was small consolation after the most lopsided game of the postseason.

Justice hit a two-run homer, delivered an RBI single and drove in two runs with a pair of ground-outs to lead a 17-hit assault. Lemke, who delivered the big hit in each of the previous two Braves victories, remained the most consistent hitter on the club, raising his World Series average to .438.

"Coming back to Atlanta, we felt we needed to sweep here," said center fielder Ron Gant, who had three hits and scored three runs, "but we tried to stay focused on going inning by inning and game by game."

The Braves appeared ready to squander a five-run lead in the sixth, but scored six runs in a bat-around seventh to turn the game into the laugher they had been waiting for the entire series.

"It felt good because everyone was hitting," said Justice, whose fourth-inning homer started the onslaught. "That was the boost we needed. Hopefully, everyone will remember what we did and keep doing it."

It was the one game neither team could afford to lose. The Braves didn't want to go back to the Metrodome needing to win two games. The Twins didn't either, though they went back to Minneapolis down 3-2 to the Cardinals in 1987.

"All I know is that it's the same scenario," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "Hopefully, it will play out the same way."

But the Metrodome-field advantage is not so distinct this year. If Twins fans were loud in games 1 and 2, they were nowhere near as earsplitting as they were four years earlier. The Braves lost both games, but it was more the result of a lack of clutch hitting than anything else.

The Twins found themselves in the same predicament in Atlanta, where Kelly was forced to put designated hitter Chili Davis in right field to try to put a charge into his lineup.

Davis had played just three innings in the outfield all year, but the Twins had gone 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position in games 3 and 4. The move was an admittedly desperate measure, but the club had shown little offensive continuity without the designated hitter.

It might have had something to do with the pitching, which remained stingy until Braves starter Tom Glavine started to self-destruct in the sixth inning. He was far from overpowering, -- but he carried a shutout through five, long enough for his team to break out with four runs in the fourth and one in the fifth.

Break out they did, with a string of hard-hit balls that would spell an early exit for Twins starter Kevin Tapani, who had worked eight strong innings on the way to a victory in Game 2.

Gant led off the fourth with a line shot into left field, and Justice followed with an opposite-field drive that hit the top of the fence and bounced over to give the Braves a two-run lead. It was Justice's second home run of the series, and it was just the beginning.

"Once we started hitting the ball, our confidence level started rising," Gant said. "It didn't surprise me that we scored some runs. Hopefully, we can do it one more time."

Tapani walked Sid Bream and got a cheap out when Greg Olson hit the base-runner with a ground ball, but Lemke's second triple in less than 24 hours gave the Braves another run.

Lemke had three career triples in 621 major-league at-bats entering the postseason. He has three in a string of four World Series at-bats, dating to his ninth-inning shot off the left-field fence that helped put the Braves over the top in Game 4.

This one focused some attention on Kelly's controversial decision to put Davis in right. Lemke's warning-track drive sent Davis streaking toward the right-center-field fence. The ball glanced off his glove, leaving room to speculate that regular right fielder Shane Mack might have made the catch. But it would have taken an outstanding play.

Shortstop Rafael Belliard followed with a sharp double into the left-field corner to drive home the fourth run of the inning.

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