Giants hold off Braves in opener, 8-5

Sheffield double play halts Atlanta's late bid


Division Series

October 03, 2002|By Jason Reid | Jason Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ATLANTA - The situation unfolded as the Atlanta Braves envisioned when they got Gary Sheffield to help exorcise their demons of Octobers past.

Everything except the ending.

Sheffield hit a towering home run to energize the Braves' late-inning efforts, but failed with the spotlight on him again as the San Francisco Giants held on for an 8-5 victory yesterday in Game 1 of their National League Division Series at Turner Field.

Representing the potential tying run in the ninth with fans chanting his name, Sheffield, one of baseball's top clutch hitters, grounded into a game-ending double play against closer Robb Nen, enabling the Giants to finally finish off the Braves before what remained of a crowd of 41,903.

"That's the situation I like to be in, that's the situation I want to be in," said Sheffield, acquired in a January trade with the Dodgers. "I like my chances when I'm up there, but he's their best pitcher and they beat us with their best."

"Sheff is not one of the guys you want to see if you're the opposing team," said Giants outfielder Tom Goodwin, who played with Sheffield in Los Angeles. "We weren't excited to see him walk up there. On the other hand, that's what baseball is all about: your best against their best. Fortunately, Robby was able to put out the fire."

The Braves' flame only flickered for most of the day.

The stands began to empty as the Giants seemingly broke the game open with two runs in the sixth, taking an 8-2 lead. Giants right-hander Russ Ortiz was cruising in only his second playoff start, and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, who shares the record for postseason victories with teammate John Smoltz, was chased after only five innings in one of his worst performances on this stage.

But the Braves scored three runs in the eighth against setup man Tim Worrell on Sheffield's 415-foot bases-empty shot and a two-run homer by Javy Lopez, after an error by Giants catcher Benito Santiago, to make things interesting in the ninth.

Mark De Rosa walked leading off against Nen, Rafael Furcal singled and Giants right fielder Reggie Sanders made a running catch on Julio Franco's slicing line drive to right-center with Sheffield on deck. Sheffield grounded a 1-2 slider to shortstop Rich Aurilia, and the Giants took the opener of the best-of-five series despite getting only a single from Barry Bonds, who was pitched around as usual, though he was robbed of a homer in the eighth by Atlanta Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones.

Every member of the Giants' starting lineup had at least one hit, including Ortiz, one of baseball's best hitting pitchers, who worked seven strong innings for his first career playoff victory.

"This means a great deal, especially being able to help the team get a win the first game out," said Ortiz, a 14-game winner during the season. "You have to respect and appreciate what Glavine has done in the playoffs. He's a great playoff pitcher and the ballclub did a great job."

J.T. Snow, Aurilia and Santiago [three hits] each contributed two-run doubles in a 12-hit attack. David Bell had two hits and knocked in a run, and leadoff batter Kenny Lofton reached base twice, scored and drove in a run.

"Everybody thinks all the time about Barry, but the guys who hurt you are the guys nobody mentions," Lopez said. "In this case, Bell, Benito and Aurilia they were the ones who got the big hits."

It was exactly the type of heart-racing game Giants manager Dusty Baker expected, because that's the way his bunch plays.

"Exciting ballgame down to the end," said Baker, whose club held off the Dodgers for the NL wild-card berth. "You know, we haven't had an easy game in a month, so I propose we play that kind of game throughout the playoffs."

The East champion Braves won't be in the playoffs much longer if another starter pitches as poorly as Glavine did.

The left-hander gave up 10 hits - matching his playoff high - and six earned runs. San Francisco took a 3-0 lead in the second on Snow's double and Bell's single, and extended its advantage to 6-2 in the fourth on Lofton's single and Aurilia's double - all coming with two out.

Glavine accounted for the Braves' two runs in the second, cueing a two-out, bases-loaded single down the left-field line for his fourth and fifth career playoff RBIs. However, the 18-game winner would have gladly traded them for a better outcome on the mound.

"I really can't put my finger on a whole lot," Glavine said. "The results just weren't what I wanted."

Sheffield can relate.

"It didn't happen today," he said, "but I feel like good things are going to come."

NOTES: Game 2 is tonight, with Kirk Rueter starting for the Giants against Kevin Millwood, instead of Greg Maddux, who has a blister on his pitching hand.

Maddux has been bumped to Game 3. He'll pitch Saturday after the series shifts to San Francisco. The decision by manager Bobby Cox is mainly a precautionary measure, in case the blister worsens.

Jason Reid is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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