The fortunes of Braves swing with Pendleton

October 17, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- There are two important things to know about Terry Pendleton.

One is that the Atlanta Braves third baseman is always talking to someone. Pitchers, infielders, outfielders, coaches and managers alike are constantly getting the benefit of Pendleton's wise counsel.

The other important thing to know about Pendleton, as he prepares to lead the Braves into their second straight World Series tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays, is that he truly is a leader.

And most of the time, those two important things are interrelated.

"If a guy's a leader, he has to not only talk, but he has to have the respect. Terry has the respect of this team. He's a great leader, and it really helps when you play well, like he does," right fielder David Justice said.

"He's the guy on the field that helps settle us down," said pitcher John Smoltz, the Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series.

Smoltz continued: "He makes Leo's [pitching coach Leo Mazzone] job easier. Heck, he makes my job easier. I've often called him over in a situation and asked him what he'd throw. It might be the same thing that I would, but it's always the right thing. He's the one guy I'd want to have at the plate with the game on the line."

It was fitting, then, that with the season on the line Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth inning of the deciding game and with the Braves down 2-0, Pendleton was leading off that inning.

And it was also fitting that Pendleton, last season's National League MVP and a candidate for this year's award, doubled down the right-field line to get the rally started, though his intention in that situation was just to get aboard.

"I had to get a hit or a walk. I've got to get Dave Justice a chance to swing the bat in that situation. I can go out [hit a home run] and it's 2-1, but with Dave up there, we can tie it up," Pendleton said.

Pendleton scored the first Braves run and was one of the first players off the bench mobbing Justice and Sid Bream when they scored the tying and winning runs on reserve catcher Francisco Cabrera's two-out single for the 3-2 final score.

Pendleton, a switch hitter who has hit .315 with 43 home runs and 191 RBI since signing with the Braves two seasons ago, was pleased with his double from the left side of the plate, his %J second hit of the series in 22 at-bats batting left-handed.

With the Blue Jays' World Series rotation of David Cone, Juan Guzman and Jack Morris, tonight's Toronto starter who shut down the Braves, 1-0, in Game 7 of last year's World Series, Pendleton needs a return to form batting left-handed.

"My biggest thing is to get back to the way I was swinging late in the season. I was a little uncomfortable from that side lately. I hope it's going to turn around, but I could go in there [the batting cage] and lose it again," said Pendleton, who was in the top 10 in the National League in seven offensive categories this season.

When Pendleton was obtained as a free agent from the St. Louis Cardinals after the 1990 season, the Braves were in last place with plenty of young talent, but seemingly little immediate chances of going anywhere.

Enter Pendleton, a member of the Cardinals' 1985 and 1987 NL pennant-winning teams who was signed on the theory that his winning approach would rub off on the Braves.

"I just wanted him to be a cornerstone of change and demonstrate to these young talented kids how to win. He's doubled that -- no, tripled that -- for us," said John Schuerholz, the Braves' general manager.

Pendleton's signing was among Schuerholz's first big moves when he took over the Braves after their last-place finish in 1990.

And given that Pendleton had had only one big season in St. Louis, the 1987 campaign, where he hit .286 and drove in 96 runs, it was fraught with a little peril, especially if Pendleton couldn't be the leader the Braves expected.

"My biggest concern was how my teammates would respond to me. I thought I'd be thrown in and be the example that they [management] would say, 'He's the guy. Watch what he does and learn. That concerned me quite a bit,' " Pendleton said.

The move continues to pay dividends for Atlanta. Pendleton, 32, has not only blossomed into an offensive force, but has, through Gold Glove play at third, anchored the Braves' defense and their mind-set.

"When I first came up, when I would get down on myself when I didn't get a hit, Terry would always come by first base and say, 'Later on in the game, when we really need a hit, you'll do it,' " said reserve first baseman Brian Hunter.

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said: "He's been a first-class citizen. He's been the glue that held things together here, and he's been an MVP-type player. You're getting a whole bunch when you talk about Terry Pendleton."

And now, seemingly given a second miraculous chance at postseason life after nearly being buried Wednesday, Pendleton is driven to get a second World Series ring.

"You bet I appreciate this [media attention] because you don't know when it will happen again," Pendleton said. "We showed up this past season in spring training with a goal in mind and that was to win the World Series. I'm not taking anything away from Toronto, because they're a real good club, but I just feel like it's [the title] ours."

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