Glavine zeros in on sweep

Lefty helps stop Mets, 1-0, to put Braves on brink with 3-0 lead

Lone run is in 2-error first

Rocker answers boos with 2nd save of series

October 16, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Thousands of raucous New York Mets fans poured into Shea Stadium with their placards and their insults last night, hoping to rattle the Atlanta Braves and help the "Amazin's" fight their way back into the National League Championship Series.

If only the Mets had brought along something to hit with, it might have worked, but unflappable Braves starter Tom Glavine pitched seven shutout innings and the Braves parlayed an unearned run into a 1-0 victory that left them one victory away from their fifth World Series this decade.

For the sellout crowd of 55,911, however, the unkindest cut of all came in the ninth inning, when designated New York villain John Rocker retired three straight batters with the tying run on base to push the Mets to the threshold of an embarrassing four-game sweep. It could be game, set and match tonight when clutch postseason veteran John Smoltz faces Rick Reed.

Rocker inflamed the passions of the Mets faithful earlier this week when he referred to the most vocal fans as "a tired act" and rubbed in the fact that the Braves had won 20 of the previous 26 meetings between the two National League East rivals. Make that 21 out of 27.

The brash reliever was booed heavily during pre-game introductions and Major League Baseball security officials asked the New York Police Department to assign extra security around the Braves' bullpen, but it was Rocker who again had the last laugh.

Mets outfielder Benny Agbayani reached first on an error by shortstop Walt Weiss to lead off the ninth, but Rocker blew away pinch hitter Todd Pratt, retired rookie Melvin Mora on a long fly ball and got Rey Ordonez to tap softly into a force at second for his second save of the series.

"He has created some controversy," said Glavine, "but he has talked the talk and walked the walk. Most of us like to keep our thoughts to ourselves and just play the game, but that seems to motivate him."

"I don't regret anything I said," said Rocker, who lingered on the field for interviews as a handful of fans shouted obscenities from behind a line of police. "I'm probably a little more arrogant at times than I should be, but I enjoy getting in these people's heads."

Of course, Rocker isn't the only Braves player who wants to put the Mets in their place. The rivalry that has developed with the Mets is more than enough motivation for the Braves to try to close out the series tonight, but Glavine insists that there is no lack of respect between the clubs.

"Just beating them is going to be good enough," Glavine said. "We obviously have the opportunity to go out and win tomorrow, but I think that our approach will be the same. We anticipate a close game. We know they have a great team. We've developed a good rivalry with these guys. It's kind of taken on a life of its own this year. It's been fun."

It might not have been such a tense ballgame last night if the Braves had taken a more measured approach on the base paths, but they forced the action and paid for it almost every time.

They took advantage of first-inning throwing errors by Mets starter Al Leiter and catcher Mike Piazza to turn a leadoff walk into the only run of the game -- the Mets choosing a bad time to make two errors in the same inning for the first time all year.

The Braves continued to run the bases aggressively, but succeeded only in running themselves out of several scoring opportunities in the early innings.

Second baseman Bret Boone set the tone later in the first, when he tried to score the second run on a shallow fly ball to center field. Mora fired a strike to the plate and Boone was out easily -- though he put a dent in Piazza in a violent crash at home plate.

Piazza was thrown back so hard that he suffered a mild concussion, but he remained in the game and contributed two singles in four at-bats. He would get dinged up several more times, but hung in until the end.

The Braves wasted another opportunity in the second inning, after Andruw Jones reached on a wild-pitch third strike and Eddie Perez followed with an infield single. Leiter courted disaster when he fell behind 3-0 in the count to Brian Hunter, but got out of trouble when Jones strayed off second base and Hunter lined into a double play.

Three times in the first five innings, the Braves lost the leadoff hitter at second base. Chipper Jones, serenaded with a chant of "Lar-ry, Lar-ry," his given name, led off the fourth with a line drive toward the left-field corner and was gunned down by Rickey Henderson. Perez led off the fifth inning with another sharp single down the line and also tried to test Henderson's suspect throwing arm. The result was the same, Henderson tying an NLCS record.

Leiter might have been on the ropes on any of those occasions, but gained momentum and took a strong performance through seven innings. He might have gone longer, but manager Bobby Valentine couldn't allow him to bat in the bottom of the seventh with the Braves still holding that 1-0 lead.

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