J. Lopez ignores ankle sprain, plays through pain

Catcher makes return, helps Braves win Game 2

LCS notebook

Championship Series

October 19, 2001|By Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck | Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

When catcher Javy Lopez sprained his left ankle when the New York Mets' Robin Ventura slid into it during a Sept. 30 game, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox assumed his catcher would be lost for at least two rounds of the playoffs.

Imagine his surprise when Lopez felt good enough to enter Game 1 of the National League Championship Series as a pinch-hitter, and start Game 2. Talk about a fast healer.

"With a high-ankle sprain, it generally takes six to eight weeks," Cox said. "The best that we could get from a doctor would be six to eight weeks, and a chance for the World Series. That was probably less than 50-50.

"Javy's gone through all the treatments, early in the morning, late in the afternoon, late at night, and [doctors] got him ready somehow. It's kind of amazing. He's playing with a brace on that he likes, and it's working right now."

After Lopez declared he could start Game 2, Cox told his coaches, "Let's get Javy in there. He might hit a home run, produce some runs." How prophetic. Lopez drilled a two-run homer in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie.

"We don't really know that," Cox said, smiling. "If we did, we could win every game. But Javy's not playing pain-free. I'm going to tell you that right now. It's still hurting."

A. Lopez to pitch Game 4

While the Braves are still considering a three-man rotation for the NLCS, Arizona is sticking with its plan to go with Albie Lopez in Game 4.

The decision is easy to justify: Lopez dominated the Braves during the regular season.

"That certainly entered into it," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "He's got a real good idea of how to face these hitters."

Giles leading off

Rookie Marcus Giles moved atop the Braves' order by default after shortstop Rafael Furcal's shoulder injury ended his season and second baseman Quilvio Veras was designated for assignment. He took the assignment with specific instructions from Cox.

"Marcus has never been a leadoff hitter," Cox said. "When I stuck him in the leadoff position, I told him, `Don't change anything. Be what you are. Do what you do best. If you're a first-ball hitter, swing at it if you like it. Don't change anything.' So he's very much a first-ball hitter."

Sellout for D'backs

The Diamondbacks sold out Game 2 after falling more than 11,000 short of capacity for the opener. At times, it appears their fans still are getting accustomed to the sport.

Asked to describe Phoenix as a baseball market, pitcher Curt Schilling chose his words carefully.

"I think it's in its adolescence as a baseball town. That would be the safest way to put it," he said.

"You don't want to slight the people that have shown up because the last couple nights they've been loud. But it hit me the other day watching the Yankees-A's game, the one constant in St. Louis and New York is the buzz. There doesn't have to be something going on in the field for the crowd to be into what's going on. There's a buzz. Fans underestimate their ability to impact the ballgame. I'm someone who feeds on the crowd noise and adrenaline."

McLemore returns

Multi-position veteran Mark McLemore was back in the Mariners' lineup at shortstop last night after giving way to regular shortstop Carlos Guillen in the opener. Mariners manager Lou Piniella hinted that McLemore would play most of the time at the position for the remainder of the ALCS.

"I don't know, but I plan to play McLemore," Piniella said. "He'll be in the lineup somewhere. Guillen has been out for a while. He had tuberculosis; still has it - it's just contained. He needs some time. I'm not going to play him two games in a row."

Ratings surprise

Yankees manager Joe Torre was surprised to hear that the Monday night NFL game between the winless Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys drew a higher rating than the fifth game of the Division Series between the Yankees and A's.

"I don't have a clue," Torre said. "Dallas, they have their following for sure. I don't have any idea, except that probably there are a lot more football fans than there are Yankee and Oakland A's fans. That's the only thing I can figure out, that if you're a football fan, you're going to watch even teams that you don't necessarily root for."

Ratings reversal

The first three games of the ALCS and NLCS drew TV ratings 21 percent lower than in 2000.

Game 1 of the ALCS between New York and Seattle, and Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS between Atlanta and Arizona - all on Fox - have averaged a 5.7 national rating.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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