Braves, Jays 1-2 punch away 4-for-5 Nixon leads Atlanta to 3-1 gap over pirates, 6-4

October 11, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- At this time last year, Atlanta Braves center fielder Otis Nixon was cooling his heels, serving a 60-game drug suspension, while his teammates were winning a National League championship.

Last night, Nixon, whom many Braves called their key player, made up for the lost time, going 4-for-5, scoring two runs and driving in two more, to lead the Braves to a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

The win gives Atlanta a nearly insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, going into tonight's fifth game at Three Rivers Stadium.

Bob Walk will start for Pittsburgh and Steve Avery, who won Game 2, will try to nail down a World Series berth for the Braves.

Nixon, who singled three times and doubled once, became the 10th player in NLCS history to get four hits in one playoff game.

"I had to do something off the field to take care of my problem and I had to make a lot of decisions last year," said Nixon, who watched last season's NLCS as a free agent from a drug treatment center in Georgia. "I had to pick which team I wanted to come back with. Nobody wanted to repeat as badly as I did."

Nixon's performance overshadowed that of Atlanta starter John Smoltz, who struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings to get his second series win.

Smoltz, who also walked five, was not nearly as dominant as in Game 1, when he yielded one run and four hits in eight innings.

"In the middle three innings I just told myself to stop being tentative and go after them," said Smoltz.

Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland admired the effort. "Smoltz has been a horse for them," he said. "He [Atlanta manager Bobby Cox] showed a lot of confidence in him and he was right."

Between Smoltz and relievers Mike Stanton and Jeff Reardon, Braves pitching struck out 14 and allowed the Pirates just one hit after the third inning.

The Pirates, who led as late as the fifth inning, had one final chance to get back into the game, after the Braves stormed back to lead 6-3.

In the seventh, right fielder Alex Cole led off with a walk. Jay Bell flied to deep left. Andy Van Slyke then doubled off the center-field wall to drive in Cole and make the score 6-4.

With Barry Bonds, the favorite for National League MVP honors, coming to the plate, Cox lifted a tiring Smoltz, who had thrown 113 pitches, for left-hander Stanton.

Bonds, who was 0-for-14 for his postseason career with runners in scoring position, was no match for the fireballing Stanton, who struck him out to a chorus of boos from the sellout crowd of 57,164.

Jeff King then grounded to second, and the Pirates were done for the evening and possibly the season.

No National League team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff, and only the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the 1986 Boston Red Sox have ever done it.

Doug Drabek looked considerably more effective than he did in the series opener, but left in the fifth with a nearly identical pitching line, working 4 1/3 innings and giving up four runs on seven hits.

Drabek's undoing came in the fifth, when the Braves scored two runs to take the lead again.

Nixon led off with his third single of the evening. Jeff Blauser singled Nixon to third.

After Drabek struck out Terry Pendleton, David Justice slapped a broken-bat single to right, scoring Nixon and moving Blauser to third.

Leyland yanked Drabek for left-hander Randy Tomlin, forcing Cox to lift left-handed first baseman Sid Bream for Brian Hunter, a right-handed hitter.

Hunter tapped to third, and King fielded the grounder and fired home to catcher Mike LaValliere, who blocked the plate. But King's throw was slightly to the first base side of the plate and Blauser stepped over LaValliere to score the go-ahead run.

The Braves weren't finished. With two out in the sixth, Smoltz singled to center, then stole second uncontested, his second career steal in the playoffs.

Nixon then doubled to left-center, scoring Smoltz. Blauser singled to left, driving home Nixon, and the Braves moved to the verge of clinching their second straight NL title.

"Today was obviously a big win for us," said Smoltz. "I like our chances and I like my chances of not pitching anymore [in the NLCS]."

NL playoffs

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Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves (Braves lead, 2-0) TV: Channels 11, 9

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Game 1: Braves 5, Pirates 1

Game 2: Braves 13, Pirates 5

Tonight: at Pittsburgh, 8:37

Tomorrow: at Pitt., 8:37

Sunday: at Pittsburgh, 8:37*

Tuesday: at Atlanta, 8:37*

Wednesday: at Atlanta, 8:26*

(*-if necessary)

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