Braves take a power trip Klesko's slam, Smoltz overwhelm Cubs, 7-1


ATLANTA -- From start to finish, Game 1 was an impressive display by the Atlanta Braves. They showed power. They got superb pitching and fielding. When it was over, the Chicago Cubs had been pummeled.

With Michael Tucker's two-run home run providing an early lead, and Ryan Klesko's seventh-inning grand slam turning the game into a rout, the Braves opened the playoffs with an easy 7-1 victory over the Cubs yesterday before 45,598 at Turner Field.

John Smoltz became the all-time leader in postseason victories (11), holding the Cubs to one run and five hits through 7 2/3 innings of dominant work. In 21 postseason starts, Smoltz has an 11-3 record, and yesterday's win moved him past Whitey Ford and Dave Stewart.

It may not get any easier for the Cubs, who will face Tom Glavine tonight, followed by Greg Maddux.

Getting to the playoffs was difficult for the Cubs. To get past the Braves, the Cubs will have to find a way to get past Atlanta's pitching.

"Smoltz was the story of the game and made us look like we weren't out there fighting," said Jim Riggleman, Chicago's manager. "He wouldn't let us get on base hardly. And if we put a base runner on, it seemed like he just turned it up a notch."

After winning a one-game playoff Monday against the San Francisco Giants, the Cubs hoped to ride that emotion into yesterday's game. Instead, the Braves rode the arm of Smoltz, who struck out six, did not walk a batter, and prevented the Cubs from reaching second base until the seventh inning.

"I didn't have the best stuff, but I got away with some pitches, and the defense was outstanding," said Smoltz, who had a 17-3 record during the regular season.

The Braves never looked back after Tucker's two-run home run in the second inning against Mark Clark, Chicago's starting and losing pitcher. Tucker's blast was set up by a Chicago mistake. With two outs in the bottom of the second, Cubs shortstop Jose Hernandez failed to end the inning when he juggled a slow ground ball by Andruw Jones. Tucker followed with a drive into the right field seats on a 3-2 pitch, giving the Braves and Smoltz an early lead on two unearned runs.

Atlanta added another run in the sixth inning to go ahead, 3-0.

Then came the crowning blow, Klesko's grand slam to right field in the seventh inning against Chicago reliever Matt Karchner. Clark started the inning by walking Smoltz, so Riggleman called on Felix Heredia in relief. After Walt Weiss grounded into a fielder's choice, Heredia walked Keith Lockhart and Chipper Jones to load the bases. Riggleman replaced Heredia with Karchner, who got Galarraga to pop out. After reaching a 3-2 count to Klesko, Karchner threw a fastball that Klesko powered over the right-field wall, giving the Braves a 7-0 cushion.

With Smoltz pitching, that was far more offense than Atlanta needed. Tyler Houston hit a bases-empty home run in the eighth against Smoltz to account for Chicago's only run. Sammy Sosa, who led the Cubs to the playoffs with his remarkable 66 home runs, went 2-for-4 with a single and a double.

"We came down here to win two games, and now we're down here to win one," said Cubs first baseman Mark Grace. "We're still a confident bunch. We've bounced back all year, so we have to try to bounce back tomorrow."

NL Division Series

Houston vs. San Diego

(San Diego leads 1-0)

Game 1

San Diego 2, Houston 1

Today: Game 2

San Diego (Ashby 17-9, 3.34) at Houston (Reynolds 19-8, 3.51), 4: 07 p.m., ESPN

Saturday: Game 3

Houston (Hampton 11-7, 3.36) at San Diego (Hitchcock 9-7, 3.93), TBA

Sunday: Game 4*

Houston at San Diego, TBA

Monday: Game 5*

San Diego at Houston, TBA

! * -- If necessary

NL Division Series

Atlanta vs. Chicago

(Atlanta leads 1-0)

Yesterday: Game 1

Atlanta 7, Chicago 1

Today: Game 2

Chicago (Tapani 19-9, 4.84) at Atlanta (Glavine 20-6, 2.47), 8: 07 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Saturday: Game 3

Atlanta (Maddux 18-9, 2.22) at Chicago (Wood 13-6, 3.40), 7: 35 p.m., chs. 11, 4

Sunday: Game 4*

Atlanta (Neagle 16-11, 3.55) at Chicago (Trachsel 15-8, 4.46), TBA

Monday: Game 5*

Chicago at Atlanta, TBA

* -- If necessary

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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