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Not again

Atlanta hopes to avoid mistakes they made in 1997

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Posted: Sunday October 10, 1999 06:26 PM

  Greg Maddux Game 1 starter Greg Maddux is 3-5 in the NLCS with the Braves. Jed Jacobsohn/Allsport

ATLANTA (AP) -- Once again, the only thing standing between the Atlanta Braves and the World Series is a second-place team they already beat over the course of 162 games.

It may not be fair, but that's life in the wild-card era.

Atlanta reached its eighth straight NL championship series by defeating the Houston Astros in the opening round, finishing off the triumph with a 7-5 victory Saturday.

About the time the Braves were popping champagne corks at the Astrodome, Todd Pratt hit a 10th-inning homer against Arizona to send the New York Mets to their first LCS since 1988.

Atlanta dominated New York during the regular season and won the East by seven games. But those standings don't mean a thing now, as the Braves learned two years ago when they lost to Florida in the LCS after finishing nine games ahead of the Marlins in the division.

"You've got to throw all that out," Chipper Jones said. "This series is 0-0. The first team with four wins is going to the World Series. They're riding a lot of momentum and we've been playing good ourselves for the last month."

Atlanta beat the Mets 9-3 in the season series, winning five of six games in the final two weeks to seemingly knock New York out of the postseason. But the Mets swept their final series, beat Cincinnati in a wild-card playoff and knocked off 100-game winner Arizona in four games.

"Those guys never gave up," Atlanta's Brian Jordan said. "They stuck together as a team and right now they're on a high. We're on a high, too, so it should be a great series."

The Braves are expected to stick with the same rotation they used in the opening round, which means Greg Maddux (19-9) will start Game 1 Tuesday night at Turner Field.

Kevin Millwood (18-7), who had a one-hitter and a save against the Astros, will go in Game 2 Wednesday, followed by Tom Glavine (14-11) and John Smoltz (11-8) when the series shifts to Shea Stadium over the weekend.

After losing Game 1 in the best-of-5 division series, the Braves won three in a row over the Astros -- including a 12-inning, 5-3 victory Friday that will be remembered for years to come if Atlanta goes on to claim its second World Series title of the 1990s.

Houston was on the verge of winning the pivotal third game, loading the bases with no outs in the 10th. But John Rocker escaped the jam -- largely due to a brilliant defensive play by shortstop Walt Weiss -- and Jordan's two-out, two-run double clinched the victory in the 12th.

Then again, the Braves have been defying the odds all year. They lost cleanup hitter Andres Galarraga and closer Kerry Ligtenberg before opening day, then overcame season-ending injuries to Javy Lopez, Rudy Seanez and Odalis Perez to win more games than any team in baseball.

"This year is special," said Smoltz, who won the deciding game against the Astros. "We won 103 games. There is no way we thought we could go that. I can't tell you how many times this season that I thought we had lost and we came back to sneak out a victory."

Maybe that's why the businesslike Braves celebrated Saturday like little kids, swilling champagne, playfully dousing teammates and puffing on victory cigars after beating the Astros.

"People have not talked about us all year," Smoltz said. "This means a lot with all the struggles we've been through this year."

He remembered the muted celebration in the same clubhouse after the Braves swept the Astros in a 1997 division series, advancing to meet Florida in the LCS as a heavy favorite. Instead, the Marlins won the pennant 4-2 and beat Cleveland in the World Series.

"We had four tons of bricks on our backs two years ago," Smoltz said. "It consumed some of us. Now, who cares if we're the team of the decade? They're going to forget these 10 years some day. All we care about is we've got a chance to win again."


 
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