DeRosa saves Braves' day in eighth, 5-3

Smoltz allows tying run in top of inning, but sub for Giles doubles for win

Atlanta avoids 0-2 NL hole

Record postseason crowd has old, sinking feeling before favorites pull it off

Division Series

October 02, 2003|By David Lennon | David Lennon,NEWSDAY

ATLANTA - In the aftermath of Tuesday's surprising Game 1 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series, it was inevitable the Atlanta Braves would face questions about their postseason ineptitude when they showed up for work yesterday.

Atlanta came up short in two of its last three trips to the Division Series, including last season to the San Francisco Giants, so was another collapse on deck?

"It won't matter what we do this year," closer John Smoltz said. "The debate is going to be continuously thrown out there. Our team knows what's before us. There is absolutely 100 percent, across-the- board understanding that this probably could be it. If we do not win it all, this team is going to change greater than it's ever changed."

Then again, who needs to re-sign free agents such as Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez when the Braves have Marcus Giles and Mark DeRosa?

Giles, who didn't start last night because of a bruised thigh suffered in Game 1, delivered a pinch-hit, RBI single in the sixth inning and DeRosa, his replacement at second base, hit the winning two-run double in the eighth as the Braves rallied past the Cubs, 5-3, before a record postseason crowd of 52,743 at Turner Field.

"When you're hitting in front of Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones, you're going to get pitches to hit and you have to come through," DeRosa said. "I was just thankful I was able to contribute."

Smoltz, called on to protect a 3-2 lead with six outs to go, suffered his second blown save since returning from elbow tendinitis Sept. 20 when the Cubs tied the score at 3 in the eighth inning.

But after DeRosa's double off Chicago reliever Dave Veres, Smoltz retired the Cubs in order in the ninth to tie the series at 1, with Game 3 tomorrow night at Wrigley Field.

"We needed this game going to Chicago," DeRosa said. "Two games down, [Mark] Prior on the mound in a hostile environment. That was going to be tough."

Smoltz converted 45 saves in 49 chances this season, but the injury cost him nearly a month and whatever concerns the Braves had about his health were exacerbated when the Cubs tied the score.

Eric Karros and Randall Simon both singled with one out, and pinch hitter Tom Goodwin followed with a sacrifice fly to center field.

"I didn't have my best stuff," Smoltz said. "But sometimes these games are won more mentally than with your best stuff."

Mike Hampton's first-inning control problems put the Braves in a 2-0 hole, but Atlanta fought back to tie the score on Chipper Jones' ground out in the first and Andruw Jones' RBI single in the fourth inning.

Hampton was 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in four NLDS starts before last night and he immediately ran into trouble in the first inning against the Cubs. Hampton walked the first two batters, then caught a break when Sammy Sosa's drive to center field caromed off the top of the wall for a double.

In the confusion, only one run scored on Sosa's double, but the Cubs made it 2-0 when Mark Grudzielanek, sprinting from third base on Moises Alou's grounder to third, barely slid under Lopez's tag. The Cubs proceeded to load the bases on Aramis Ramirez's single - with no outs, Sosa was held at third.

But Hampton not only struck out the next three batters to silence the Cubs, he also struck out the side in the second inning. The six consecutive strikeouts tied a postseason record done three times previously (all in the World Series) and most recently by the Cardinals' Todd Worrell against the Royals in 1985.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper

Baseball playoffs

Yesterday's scores

Florida 9, San Francisco 5 (Series tied 1-1)

Atlanta 5, Chicago Cubs 3 (Series tied 1-1)

Boston at Oakland

Today's games

Boston at Oakland 4:06 p.m., ESPN2

Minnesota at N.Y. Yankees, 8:18 p.m., Chs. 45, 5

On SunSpot: For more baseball playoff coverage, including late results, visit sunspot.net/baseball

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