Marlins grow up fast, reach World Series in 5th year Brown goes distance to dethrone Braves, 7-4, in Game 6 for NL pennant

October 15, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The Chop has been cut down.

The most dominant team of the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves will not return to their fifth World Series during this decade. They were trumped last night by a wild card.

The Florida Marlins, who finished second to Atlanta in the National League East but have won 15 of their past 21 games against the Braves, clinched the NL pennant behind ace Kevin Brown, leading all the way in a 7-4 victory before the largest crowd at Turner Field, 50,446.

The win gave the Marlins the series, four games to two, the same 2-1 ratio by which they mastered Atlanta during the regular season (8-4).

Florida will be the youngest expansion team to play in the World Series. It beat by three seasons the record of the 1969 New York Mets, who made it in their eighth year.

Florida will meet the American League titlist in the World Series starting Saturday night at Pro Player Stadium.

Rookie Livan Hernandez, whose 15-strikeout gem Sunday was the pivotal victory in the series, was named the Most Valuable Player.

Hernandez also won Game 3 in relief of Tony Saunders and became the first player in LCS history to win as a starter and a reliever.

"Livan stepped in and threw a masterpiece when we needed it," Brown said.

Questions abounded on the Atlanta side after manager Bobby Cox allowed starter Tom Glavine to absorb a three-run sixth-inning beating that determined the outcome.

Glavine threw 107 pitches in 5 2/3 innings and permitted 18 runners, seven via walks (three intentional). He was nowhere near the same pitcher who throttled the Florida offense on three hits in Game 2.

Cox said he thought Glavine threw well in the big inning and was being "squeezed" by plate umpire Charlie Williams, who had replaced an ailing Frank Pulli.

"The strike zone shrunk up to nothing in that inning," said Cox. "On the replay, it looked like some pitches were right down the middle. That was an extraordinary inning."

The Marlins gave Brown the cushion he needed and made the rubber tomahawks start drooping when they bunched four singles with two walks to score three times in the sixth.

Bobby Bonilla drove in his third run during the rally, another scored on Moises Alou's force, and Craig Counsell knocked home the final run with a single.

Brown, a native Georgian and All-American at Georgia Tech, got stronger as the game progressed, retiring 14 in a row after Keith Lockhart singled with two down in the fourth. Jeff Blauser's infield single in the ninth broke the string.

He talked manager Jim Leyland out of lifting him after six innings. Brown's second start of the series had been delayed three days by a bout with a virus.

"I was starting to feel like I had a little bit of a groove," said Brown, who wound up throwing 140 pitches. "I was starting to get hitters out and getting comfortable."

"I was going to Dennis Cook, but his [Brown's] stuff was starting to work," Leyland said. "He said, 'Give me a hitter and see how it goes.' "

It went very well. Brown finished, allowing a run on three singles in the ninth before Counsell made a nice play on Chipper Jones' shot up the middle to get a game-ending force.

Florida batted only .199 in the series to Atlanta's .253 and allowed an average of almost one more earned run per game. But the Marlins capitalized on their opponent's untimely mistakes and their own clutch pitching.

"It seemed like nothing was going to go our way," said Cox. "We didn't beat ourselves, but if we did make a mistake, we couldn't overcome it.

"I am very proud of this ballclub. We've had a great year. These things are a crapshoot once you get in them. I don't feel great about getting beat, but I think every city would be happy to get here [the LCS] six straight times."

Bonilla, like Brown a former Oriole, knocked in three of the Marlins' runs, and Counsell had two RBIs on a cool night.

Brown said he wanted to be on the mound for the final out but would have understood if he had been pulled.

"I would have yelled and screamed and done just as much running out there to mob whoever was finishing," he said. "This was not about me. It was about doing everything we could to find a way to win.

"People have said this team was bought with a lot of money and put together," said Brown, alluding to owner Wayne Huizenga's $89 million off-season shopping spree, which acquired free agents such as Bonilla, Alou and Alex Fernandez. "But the money is not what won the series. It was the heart, determination and pursuit of our goal."

The game was halted for about 20 minutes before the top of the fifth inning when plate umpire Pulli had to leave.

Pulli was experiencing vision problems described as an "eye irritation" and was having trouble picking up the ball.

His calls in the first four innings were inconsistent, with pitches nearly a foot off the plate being called strikes.

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