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Braves Have No Room for Error

October 13, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ The Atlanta Braves never do anything the easy way.

Once again, the Braves have taken themselves to the brink of elimination in an NL championship series. Once again, they’ve left no room for error if they want to make it back to the World Series.

``We have confidence because we’re a confident team,″ pitcher Denny Neagle said after the Florida Marlins won 2-1 Sunday and took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. ``But it’s not like we want to be in these situations. It’s not fun to be put in these kind of situations.″

Last year, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who went to Atlanta with a similar advantage in the NLCS. The Braves won twice and moved on to face the New York Yankees.

This year, it’s the Marlins who have the upper hand, forcing the Braves to win both Tuesday and Wednesday at Turner Field if they want to make it back to the World Series for the fifth time in the 1990s.

``This is a tougher ballclub,″ Neagle said of the Marlins. ``The difference between this club and St. Louis is this ballclub has pretty good pitching all the way through.″

Look no further than Game 5. Rookie Livan Hernandez, who wasn’t even supposed to start in the series, pitched a three-hitter and struck out an NLCS record 15.

Florida figures to have a healthy Kevin Brown ready to pitch the sixth game, with Braves killer Tony Saunders standing by if there’s a Game 7.

The Braves have been taking the hard way in the league championship series for most of the decade:

_ In 1991, Atlanta fell behind 3-2 against Pittsburgh heading back to Three Rivers Stadium, where the Braves shut out the Pirates twice to win the pennant.

_ In 1992, the Braves led 3-1 before losing two in a row to the Pirates and falling behind 2-0 heading to the ninth inning of Game 7. Pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera came through with one of the most memorable hits in baseball history, a two-out, two-run single that capped a three-run rally.

_ In 1996, St. Louis won three of the first four and had a chance to clinch the series at Busch Stadium. Atlanta stayed alive with a 15-0 rout and came home to finish off the Cardinals 3-1 and 14-0.

``Do you ever give up? No,″ said Ryan Klesko, who struck out twice against Hernandez. ``This team never gives up. Even if we were down 3-0, we wouldn’t give up. They still have to beat us one more time.″

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox complained bitterly that Hernandez was the beneficiary of Eric Gregg’s liberal strike zone. The rookie right-hander set an NLCS strikeout record, retiring 17 of the last 18 batters.

``Some of those pitches were impossible to hit,″ Cox said, pointing specifically to the final pitch of the game, a called third strike on Fred McGriff. ``We’ve got a power hitter up there who could still hit ball out of the park, but there was no way he could hit that pitch.″

Four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux has lost twice in the series despite giving up only two earned runs.

``Obviously, that’s kind of tough to swallow,″ he said. ``But what are you going to do? I just try to make pitches. I don’t worry about the outcome of the game.″

Maddux allowed only four hits and struck out nine in seven innings, but he was hurt by two unusual plays. In the first, Devon White was struck on left knee by an 0-2 pitch and wound up coming around to score the first run of the game.

Maddux protested that White made no attempt to avoid the pitch and shouldn’t have been awarded first base. The television replay seemed to support the Atlanta pitcher.

``I think you’ve got to make an effort to get out of the way,″ Maddux said. ``It seemed to me that he made a lot more effort to get hit than he did to get out of the way.″

In the seventh, with the score tied 1-1, Bobby Bonilla hit a line drive to the wall in right. Michael Tucker had the ball in his glove, but it jarred loose _ along with a contact lens _ when he slammed into the wall. Bonilla made it to second and scored the winning run on the next pitch, Jeff Conine’s single to center.

``I thought I had it,″ said Tucker, who was forced to come out of the game because he didn’t have a spare lens. ``All I know is I hit the wall and came down without the ball and lost my contact lens. The ball just got jarred loose.″

Atlanta’s hopes to leave with a 3-2 lead were knocked loose, too.

``I know this team is capable of winning two in a row,″ Klesko said. ``We’ve got two left.″

He paused for a split-second and amended his statement: ``Hopefully, we’ve got two left.″

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