Marlins jump out to 1-0 lead over Braves Alou's bases-loaded double against Maddux gets Florida rolling in 5-3 triumph

October 08, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- It was the businesslike Atlanta Braves who cracked in the opener.

Two crucial Atlanta errors led to five unearned runs against four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux and carried the upstart Florida Marlins to a 5-3 National League Championship Series victory at Turner Field last night.

"We picked a bad night to kick the ball around," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, referring to Florida starter Kevin Brown's lack of sharpness. "We just didn't catch the ball and gave them too many outs."

While beating Atlanta for the ninth time in 13 meetings, the Marlins never trailed and put the game away with a flawless bullpen performance after Brown battled through six tough innings without his best stuff.

Dennis Cook, Jay Powell and Robb Nen combined to allow just one base runner in the final three, stifling the Braves' peck-away comeback efforts via bases-empty home runs by Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko against Brown.

"I didn't have real good location or movement," Brown said after starting on a week's rest. "That is not a good combination. It was a tough game for me physically.

"But I'm glad I had a bad night on a night when we scored some runs. We scratched and scrounged enough and did what we had to do."

If it was a trying night for Brown, it was a terrible one for Maddux, who wasn't overly sharp, either, after not pitching for seven days.

He was the victim of three first-inning runs after getting Jeff Conine to hit a potentially inning-ending grounder that scooted away from Fred McGriff for an error and loaded the bases.

Moises Alou followed with a well-hit chopper that Jones could not field with a backhanded stab, and it went down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double.

In the third inning, a deep fly by Gary Sheffield skittered off the webbing of Kenny Lofton's glove for a three-base error, launching a two-run uprising.

Alou knocked in his fourth run with a soft grounder and Charles Johnson followed with a double on an 0-2 pitch for the final Marlins score.

Cox tried to get right back in the game in the bottom of the first, pinch hitting Javy Lopez for Eddie Perez, who normally catches Maddux.

The bases were loaded, one run was in and Brown had just walked two straight hitters. But Lopez swung at the first pitch and ended the rally with a routine grounder.

"I didn't send him up there to be taking that much," said Cox. "Javy is a bad-ball hitter."

"They wanted to jump right back in it," said Brown of Lopez pinch hitting in the first inning. "After I thought about it, it seemed like a smart thing to do. Obviously, that was a huge out."

Marlins manager Jim Leyland didn't place much stock in winning the first game.

"With most teams, it's probably a huge factor. But with a team like the Braves, it really doesn't mean a lot. The idea is to win four," he said.

Brown threw 101 pitches and now will receive three days' rest before pitching Game 4 in Miami. If needed, he would pitch Game 7 next Wednesday, also on three days' rest.

Brown's problem last night may have been too much rest. He had pitched just once in the past two weeks, allowing San Francisco one run in seven innings in the Marlins' Division Series opener, a game they won, 2-1.

He looked rusty in the first inning. Keith Lockhart doubled and came home on McGriff's two-out single, making the score 3-1. Walks to Klesko and Michael Tucker loaded the bases before Lopez's groundout ended the inning.

Brown hit a batter in the second and gave up a leadoff home run to Jones in the third, the first Braves homer against him in 23 innings this season.

"He gave us a gutsy performance," Leyland said. "He appeared to be pretty strong, probably too strong."

Denny Neagle, idle 13 days since his previous start, finished with three scoreless innings for the Braves in relief of Maddux.

Atlanta's second homer pulled the Braves to within 5-3 and then Maddux was gone, the victim of all five runs, but none earned.

Brown also walked four batters and had exceeded 100 pitches in the sixth.

Both starters were working on seven days' rest after opening their Division Series sweeps. Brown went seven innings without a decision in a 2-1 victory over San Francisco and Maddux went the distance (the first postseason complete game since 1995) in a 2-1 win over Houston.

A crowd of 49,244, clearly the loudest of the season at Turner Field, certainly came expecting to see what everyone predicted -- the start of a best-of-seven series that would be dominated by two of the best pitching staffs in the majors.

Instead, it took Maddux only 2 2/3 innings to match season highs for runs (five) and walks (three). And rather than seeing the Atlanta ace paint the corners of the plate, the home fans watched Marlins batters paint the corners of the ballpark with hits.

Atlanta was appearing in its sixth straight NLCS while the upstart Marlins were making their first postseason appearance in their fifth year.

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