Behind eight ball, Braves rise On brink of pennant, Padres yield 5 runs in 8th inning to fall, 7-6

Ace Brown fails in relief

Maddux closes win after S.D. gets 2 in 9th

October 13, 1998|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

SAN DIEGO -- A few things were startlingly clear following the Atlanta Braves' wild, come-from-behind 7-6 victory over the San Diego Padres last night in a remarkable Game 5 of the National League Championship Series:

The Braves may trail, 3-2, in the series, but they are ahead by every other measure -- including pitching matchups, home-field advantage and especially momentum.

Michael Tucker is clutch.

John Smoltz is lucky.

Kevin Brown is not a relief pitcher.

And some inanimate object in the Padres' locker room likely met an untimely end when this game was over.

Oh, how a game, a series, a season can turn on a single swing of the bat.

Tucker turned on a 3-2 splitter from Brown and launched a three-run homer into the right-field seats in the eighth inning, sending the Braves into delirium and sending the series back to Atlanta for Game 6 tomorrow.

"Everything," Tucker said, "is going our way."

Padres manager Bruce Bochy, in a wildly aggressive move, went for the kill, bringing in Brown -- his stud-hoss, his ace, his scheduled Game 6 starter -- to shut the door, a move that sent the crowd of 58,988 into delirium.

"I feel like I had my best guy out there with a two-run lead," Bochy said. "I'll my take my chances there. It was a calculated risk, but I thought it was worth taking."

Brown, who had only pitched in relief two other times in his career, mowed down three batters in the seventh, but walked Ryan Klesko to open the eighth and gave up an infield hit to Javy Lopez.

"We kept saying, 'He's not God,' " Lopez said.

And up came Tucker, who had already singled twice to drive in the Braves' first two runs. After falling behind 3-0, Brown battled back to 3-2 before leaving a splitter at the knees.

Brown, known to bash in a water fountain here and a chair there, appeared inconsolable after being removed after the homer.

But Brown's work isn't finished. Though he threw 41 pitches, it was his regular day to throw in the bullpen. And it's likely he would start a possible Game 7.

"I'm sure he is going to want to go in Game 6," said Bochy, who is expected to opt for Sterling Hitchcock instead.

Add Tucker's name to the list of unlikely postseason heroes for the Braves, joining the esteemed Charlie O'Brien, Mark Lemke, Mike Devereaux and Francisco Cabrera.

"I got a pitch to drive, and I didn't miss it," said Tucker, who drove in five runs after driving in 10 in the second half of the season.

But even then, the dramatics weren't over.

First, Braves lefty John Rocker, allowed to hit for himself after Tucker's homer, drew a walk off Donne Wall, then scored from first -- with a hard slide -- on Tony Graffanino's double. It was a run the Braves would need.

Because Braves closer Kerry Ligtenberg gave up a two-run homer to Padres pinch hitter Greg Myers in the ninth, trimming the lead to one. Here, Braves manager Bobby Cox did a little creative bullpenning of his own.

Still with no outs, Cox brought in Game 3 (and Game 7) starter Greg Maddux -- who closed it out, coaxing a grounder from Tony Gwynn (a lifetime .455 hitter against Maddux) to end the game.

When the game started, the Padres were in the role of the hunted and the Braves seemed to be gathering strength in their role of the hunter.

And they had their trustiest old gun slung over their shoulder.

Five other times in his career Smoltz had taken the mound with the Braves facing postseason elimination. The Braves won four of the five. Smoltz's record in those games? 3-0 with a 1.02 ERA.

"I'm not going to be the guy who lets it end," Smoltz said boldly after the Braves' win in Game 4.

But Smoltz gave up a pair of two-run, opposite-field homers -- to Ken Caminiti in the first and to John Vander Wal in the sixth -- putting the Braves down by two runs and nine outs away from another ignominious postseason exit.

Then, with a 4-2 lead, Bochy made the move that will be talked about for years to come.

Brown had last pitched on Thursday -- a complete-game shutout in Game 2 -- and was scheduled to go tomorrow in Game 6 on five days' rest.

Why not end the thing right here, right now -- so there wouldn't be a Game 6, and Brown could rest for four more days before Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday?

Bochy waited until the perfect moment -- just after right-handed pinch-hitter Greg Colbrunn was announced for the Braves.

The crowd, confused at first, suddenly roared to their feet when they realized what was happening.

The Braves players stared in seeming disbelief.

And Brown, teeth clenched, trademark scowl across his face, jogged in and took his warm-ups.

Half an hour later, Brown was out of the game, the Braves were on their way to a cathartic victory and the NLCS was headed back to Atlanta, where who knows what will happen next.

Next for NLCS

Tomorrow

Game 6: San Diego at Atlanta, 4: 20 p.m., chs. 45, 5

+ Series: San Diego leads 3-2

NLCS schedule

Atlanta vs. San Diego

(San Diego leads 3-2)

Game 1: San Diego, 3-2 (10 inn.)

Game 2: San Diego, 3-0

Game 3: San Diego, 4-1

Game 4: Atlanta, 8-3

Game 5: Atlanta, 7-6, last night

Tomorrow: Game 6

San Diego (Hitchcock, 11-7, 3.80) at Atlanta (Glavine, 20-7, 2.41) 4: 20 p.m.

Thursday: Game 7*

San Diego at Atlanta, 8: 15 p.m.

*-If necessary

Note: Pitchers' statistics include postseason.

TV: All games on chs. 45, 5

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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