Schilling rolls past Braves, too

Ace's 5-1 win lifts Diamondbacks to 2-1 lead in NLCS

Run just his 2nd in playoffs

4-hitter 3rd straight complete game

Finley drives in 3

October 20, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - The plan is both simple in its design and so obvious that there's no denying its existence. Get two victories each out of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, then go to the next round and do the same.

The Arizona Diamondbacks won't score points for originality. Before last night, they were having enough trouble scoring runs. But in a seven-game series, could there be a wiser approach?

Schilling took his turn last night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, starting out with three hitless innings and continuing his postseason assault in a 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves before 41,624 at Turner Field.

The Diamondbacks grabbed a 2-1 advantage, their other win coming from Johnson, who pitches tomorrow night. The teams could be even by then, with Atlanta sending out four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux tonight. Arizona counters with Albie Lopez, figuring if he can deviate a little from the script, all the better. Improvising is encouraged but not mandatory.

A 22-game winner during the regular season, Schilling is 3-0 with two runs allowed in 27 playoff innings. He's struck out 30, including 12 last night, and walked four. He's also the first to toss three straight complete games in the same postseason since the Los Angeles Dodgers' Orel Hershiser in 1988.

"He's so much better than when he was with the Phillies," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He can spot all his pitches. He doesn't do anything accidentally."

It was a good night for former Orioles. Along with Schilling, Steve Finley provided a 2-0 lead in the third inning with a double off John Burkett, making his first start in a NLCS game, and drove in another run in the fifth off reliever Mike Remlinger. The Braves nicked Schilling for a run in the fourth, but were too sloppy - and usually too overmatched - to threaten him.

"When we got two, I was in control of our destiny tonight," he said. "No disrespect to Albie, but I knew Maddux was going tomorrow. If we were down 2-1, the ball would've been in their court."

Needing to reverse Wednesday's 8-1 meltdown, the Diamondbacks had the right man for the job last night, and not just because of the usual stuff he brings into a game. Schilling was 15-1 with a 1.57 ERA following an Arizona loss, the truest indicator of a stopper.

"It just shows you what kind of character he has on that mound," catcher Damian Miller said. "He's the kind of pitcher that wants the ball. It makes a guy like that so important on a ballclub."

Especially when the offense remained on extended leave.

Before last night, the Diamondbacks had scored 13 runs in seven postseason games. They exceeded two runs only once, a 5-3 victory over St. Louis in Game 3 of the Division Series. Though outscored 20-13, they had advanced to the next round and were even with the Braves.

Manager Bob Brenly continued to use his regulars last night, with Tony Womack returning to the leadoff spot after missing Game 2 with a strained calf muscle. But he moved Matt Williams to cleanup after batting him sixth earlier.

Williams was 3-for-7 with a run-scoring single before last night, a nice recovery from the Division Series when he went 1-for-16 and heard boos in his own ballpark. He also carried a .344 career average against Burkett.

"He's staying on the ball a lot better," Brenly said. "I think a lot of that is a byproduct of facing this Atlanta staff and knowing how they've worked him in the past. His approach just seems to be where we like to see Matty offensively."

He needed the rest of the bats to perk up. "I prefer to give credit to the opposing pitching," said Brenly, tired of his sagging offense being a hot topic.

"During the regular season, you're facing four or five starters in the rotation as opposed to just one, two and three, and the best guys in the bullpen. So, naturally, facing the best pitchers, offense is going to be at a premium."

The Diamondbacks put two runners in scoring position in the first inning on a single by Craig Counsell and two-out double by Williams, but didn't score. They got a bloop single from Mark Grace in the second, but again were denied. Schilling struck out on three pitches, one of them at 69 mph. He throws harder underhand.

The next opportunity wasn't wasted. Counsell reached on an infield hit with one out in the third, diving to the outside of the bag where Julio Franco couldn't touch him. Burkett was late getting there and pulled up, leaving Franco to make the play. Williams then drew a two-out walk before Finley lined an opposite-field double to left.

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