Plan for Atlanta: bravery in Dome, Avery on mound

October 26, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Braves return to the Metrodome tonight to try to prove that they were not intimidated the first time through, and that this is not 1987 all over again.

The Minnesota Twins need to win two games at home to capture the 88th World Series, just as they needed two back-to-the-wall victories to stun the St. Louis Cardinals four years ago. They know it can be done. The Braves, who were so much pheasant under fiberglass in games 1 and 2, know what they are up against.

"We know, and they know as well, that they are a different ballclub at home," said outfielder David Justice, whose five RBI in Game 5 helped the Braves come back to Minnesota with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Series.

"It's going to be tough. They are very confident at home. But if we hit the way we're capable of hitting, we can make it tough on them."

The Braves proved that on Thursday night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, scoring 14 runs -- the most by a National League club in World Series play -- to complete a sweep of the three games at the Chop Shop. But the change of scenery is doubly significant, because it comes with a significant change in the rules of the game.

The designated hitter rule will be back in effect for Game 6 tonight, so the Twins will be at full offensive strength (such as it is) against Braves starter Steve Avery.

"That will make a big difference for them," Justice said. "Now, you've got Chili Davis and another hitter in their lineup. They are a different team."

The big question is whether Avery will crack under the lack of pressure. Each of his three postseason starts have come at pivotal times for the Braves. He salvaged a split of the first two games of the National League playoffs in Pittsburgh, and staved off elimination in Game 6 of the NL playoffs. The Braves were down, 0-2, when he made his first World Series start, and no team has rebounded from a three-game deficit.

This time, he doesn't have to win. The Braves have a game to play with, though they know that a loss tonight will only add to the Twins' aura of invincibility at the Metrodome.

Avery is looking at it from a different perspective. It is a must-win situation for him, because he wants to be the guy on the mound when the Braves complete their worst-to-first title drive.

"It's something that everyone dreams about," he said. "For me to have the opportunity to do that, well, I definitely want to take advantage of it."

If there is such a thing as momentum, the Braves would figure to have all of it. They have won three straight. They are coming off a 17-hit offensive explosion. They have their most overpowering pitcher on the mound. What could go wrong?

If you have to ask that, you've never seen a game at the Hump.

"We're confident, but we're not overconfident," Justice said. "I // think we can win it Saturday. We've got Steve going. It's going to be a tough game, but I definitely think we can win it."

Avery will be making his Metrodome debut, but he says the Braves gained enough experience during the first two games in Minnesota to overcome the psychological disadvantage they encountered the first time around.

"I think we'll be a little more comfortable there this time," Avery said. "We've been there. It's not a situation where we doubt that we can win there."

Center fielder Ron Gant said the most important factor will be the club's rejuvenated offense, though the Braves came back from a lopsided playoff victory over the Pirates to score a grand total of three runs over the next three games.

"We're going into Minnesota knowing that we can score some runs," Gant said. "With Steve out there on the mound, all we have to do is score a few."

The Twins have the pitching to make that 14-run assault nothing more than a memory, with 20-game winner Scott Erickson taking the mound tonight and veteran Jack Morris ready to come back for Game 7. But the Braves are trying to keep Thursday night's blowout very fresh in their minds.

"A night like [Thursday] night can do a lot for the confidence of the whole team," Gant said. "We want to go in Saturday with the confidence level we had tonight, then just relax and focus on the one game and try to get it done in one game."

History sides with the Twins, who came back from St. Louis in 1987 to hammer the Cardinals, 11-5, in Game 6. Kent Hrbek delivered the biggest blow, a sixth-inning grand slam that broke the game open. It could happen again.

"There are a lot of similarities," Hrbek said after Game 5. "We won at home, then they won at home, and now we have to do the same thing. . . I hope that trend continues."

World Series


(Atlanta leads series, 3-2) Game 1 -- Minnesota 5, Atlanta 2

Game 2 -- Minnesota 3, Atlanta 2

Game 3 -- Atlanta 5, Minnesota 4

Game 4 -- Atlanta 3, Minnesota 2

Game 5 -- Atlanta 14, Minnesota 5

Today -- Atlanta (Avery 18-8) at Minnesota (Erickson 20-8), 8:26 p.m.

Tomorrow -- Atlanta (Smoltz 14-13) at Minnesota (Morris 18-12), 8:40 p.m.*

* -- if necessary

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